With its moss covered gardens, bamboo groves, and interesting dry-sand garden, Ginkaku-ji lives up to the phrase “simple is beautiful”. Located in northeastern Kyoto, the temple was built in 1482 by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who built Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion). Originally Ginkaku-ji was a retirement villa from which Yoshimasa propagated the surge of cultural pursuits that would later be referred to as “Higashiyama Culture”, but it was converted into a temple after Yoshimasa’s death in accordance with his wishes. Now the temple stands as a testament to the intrinsically Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, with a simple wooden pavilion overlooking a pond and carefully crafted sand designs full of symbolism and deeper meaning.
The temple stands as a testament to the intrinsically Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, with a simple wooden pavilion overlooking a pond and carefully crafted sand designs full of symbolism and deeper meaning.
Fenced Off From the World
Even before you enter the temple grounds you are greeted by a bamboo fence lined along towering hedges that stretch on for 50 meters. You can’t help but look up as you walk along and admire the beautiful view of a line of sky between the foliage.
It’s said that this entrance served to remind the visitor that they were separating themselves from the material world and traveling to the more enlightenment-minded grounds.
Good Luck Entrance Ticket
Entrance to the temple grounds is 500 yen.
Make sure you keep your admission ticket as it also doubles as a good luck charm!
You can hang these charms on the entrance way of your home or on the door of a room. The charm is for good fortune and keeping your family safe.
Kannon-den (Silver Pavilion)
Hear the words “Silver Pavilion” and what do you imagine? An extravagant temple covered from top to bottom in silver? Well, the Silver Pavilion is actually a two-story pavilion made from wood called the Kannon-den. With its simple wooden design it is instead a fine example of the wabi-sabi style. Wabi-sabi is a style that demonstrates a tranquil simplicity and sense of refinement. The first floor of the building is built in the shoin-zukuri style, which is a traditional Japanese architectural style that was commonly used in residential mansions and temples, and the second floor is built in a more austere Zen Buddhist style.
What really makes Ginkaku-ji stand out is its elegant and detailed garden. When you first enter the garden you are greeted by a sand sculpture in a shape of a cone and a garden of sand raked in to specific designs. As you make your way up the hill you will come across many ponds, trees and plants that truly display the essence of a Japanese garden. Although the design and layout may be simple, it’s not short on beauty and sophistication.
This approximately two meter high cone of sand is called the Kōgetsudai, which translates to “moon viewing platform” in English. There are several theories on what this structure’s shape represents, from the great Mount Fuji to the full moon reflected in a deep lake when viewed from above the Silver Pavilion.
The wavy patterns raked into the white sand in the garden are believed to resemble China’s Lake Xī Hú. Just like the Kōgetsudai, the Ginshadan reflects moonlight and that light bounces off the main hall to illuminate the whole garden.
You can also find the Sengetsusen spring, a small pond filled with coins. Visitors throw coins into the pond trying to get the coin onto the flat rock in the middle. It’s believed that getting the coin onto the rock will bring you good luck. It might take you a few goes, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Moss is a prominent feature in the Ginkaku-ji garden. A green moss carpet covers the foot of the garden to the top hills of Ginkaku-ji. Moss, koke in Japanese, is encouraged to grow in gardens and is one of the signature plants of a Japanese style garden. While in Western cultures moss might be unwanted in the garden, in Japan it is a symbol of age, harmony and tradition.
Walk up a winding stair path at the back of Ginkaku-ji and you’ll come to a viewing point where you can see a panoramic view of Kyoto and the temple’s garden. Seeing the garden from a bird’s eye view lets you appreciate its beauty in a whole new way. You can see how all the different features in the garden complement each other and come together as one.
Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 – 1490), the 8th shogun in the Ashikaga line of military rulers in 15th century Kyoto, began planning Ginkaku-ji as early as 1460, though the estate was intended at the time as a retirement villa, not a temple. The Ōnin War (1467–1477), caused by disputes over his successor, delayed construction on the site for many years as the civil war tore through the old capital while Yoshimasa himself seemed to ignore the goings on of the world in favor of artistic philanthropy at his estate while the city burned.
Construction on the most iconic building on the property began after the war in 1482, with Yoshimasa aiming to replicate the style of architecture used at Kinkaku-ji, which had been built for his grandfather, the 3rd shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Having already retired as shogun and passed the mantle to his young son, Yoshihisa, Yoshimasa still largely held the power in Kyoto from his position in seeming retirement. He took the tonsure in 1485 and became a monk, and his retirement villa was the center of the Higashiyama Culture revival sweeping through Kyoto at the time which would later be known for nurturing the traditions of tea ceremony, flower arrangement, painting, and nō theater, as well as popularizing the wabi-sabi aesthetic. When living at Ginkaku-ji, Yoshimasa often hosted salons attended by the most cultured and artistic minds of his time.
After Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the land was turned over as a Buddhist temple that was called Jishō-ji after the former shogun’s Buddhist name. It is said that because Kinkaku-ji and this temple were often compared to each other, Jishō-ji began to be called Ginkaku-ji, as the name “Silver Pavilion” complimented Kinkaku-ji’s title as the “Golden Pavilion”.
Sometime in the Edo Period the more commonly used name of Ginkaku-ji began to appear in the public consciousness and it is primarily known by that title in the modern age. Extensive reconstruction was recently concluded in 2010.
- General Admission: ¥500
- Primary School, Junior High School: ¥300
- General Admission: 08:30 - 17:00 (09:00 - 16:30 from December to February)
Closed: No closing days