Built in the 14th century for a shogun, then rebuilt twice, this temple is now a Buddhist site and its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
Of all the temples you’ll see in Kyōto, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is perhaps the most breathtaking. Also known as “Kinkaku-ji,” the temple’s top two floors are coated in gold leaf, creating a dazzling mirror image in the pond on which it’s built.
Surrounded by the Hokuzan mountain, the temple gleams brightly on sunny days, and is just as beautiful when dusted by snow in winter. Though you can’t enter the pavilion, some of the statues kept on the first floor can be seen through the open windows.
The temple was originally Shogun Ashikaga’s residence, and became a Zen Buddhist temple after his death in the 15th century. The building was damaged and ruined more than once, and has been rebuilt each time, most recently in the 1950s. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Interestingly, the three floors of the temple are built in different architectural styles. The top level uses elements of Chinese Zen architecture, and is capped with a golden phoenix. The middle level is built in the style of Samurai residences, while the bottom level reflects the style of palace architecture from the Heian period (794-1185). It’s said the Golden Pavillion houses some of the Buddha’s ashes.
The garden here was designed during Shogun Ashikaga’s residence as a place for meditation. A teahouse was added during the Edo period (1603-1868). Along the paths you’ll find shrines and statues which many visitors throw coins at for luck.
On your way out ring the bell at Fudo Hall, dedicated to the god of fire. The hall houses a carving of Fudo Myoo, one of the five wisdom kings seen as Buddha’s protectors. You can also stop here at a small garden to sit and enjoy tea and sweets.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is in north Kyōto. It takes a little under an hour to get there direct by bus from Kyōto Station, the city’s main transportation hub. The temple is open daily and has a small admission fee.