The breathtaking beauty of the Golden Pavilion
Kyoto, once the ancient capital of Japan, is a city renowned for its temples.
One of the most famous, and most popular with visitors, is Kinkaku-ji - the golden pavilion.
Kinkaku-ji is spectacular at any time of the year, and should definitely be on your itinerary when you’re visiting Kyoto, but if you get the chance to see it when it’s snowing then try and make that happen.
Getting to Kinkaku-ji
A few winters ago, I was working in Kyoto over the winter. Kyoto isn’t a great place to spend the winter – it gets really cold. When the snow began to fall, my colleague Jade suggested that we take an expedition to Kinkaku-ji. I was reluctant - I had a lot of work to do, I didn’t really fancy going out into the snow, but she insisted.
Kinkaku-ji is on the north side of the city. We took a bus. The bus system in Kyoto is pretty efficient - a bit overwhelming at first, but actually fairly easy to understand and use. A taxi would also be fairly affordable.
Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple. Its history dates back to the fourteenth century. Originally owned by the wealthy and powerful Saionji family, the estate was purchased by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu – the third shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. When Yoshimitsu died in 1408, his son carried out his wishes to turn the main villa of the estate into a Zen Buddhist temple.
The temple that we see today is a long way removed from the original construction. The original temple was completely destroyed during the Onin war in the mid-fifteenth century, and more recently the temple buildings were burnt to the ground in 1950 by a novice monk.
The temple today
The three-story temple pavilion was rebuilt in 1955, and is believed to be a relatively faithful reconstruction of the original – although the current temple probably features a lot more gold leaf than the original would have. Gold leaf decoration is indicative of the love of visual excess that defined the Muromachi period, but it’s also present to help purify the worshipper from any negative thoughts towards death.
Kinkaku-ji in the snow
My camera doesn’t do justice to just how stunningly breathtaking the surreal and magical snowy fantasy landscape of Kinkaku-ji in the snow is. I don’t have the words to describe it.
If you ever get the chance to visit Kinkaku-ji on a snowy day, don’t miss that moment.