The temple’s area was originally the site of a villa called Kitayama-dai and owned by a statesman, Saionji Kintsune. Ashikaga Yohimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi period, took a liking to the area and acquired it from the Saionji family in 1397. He then built his own villa, which he named Kitayama-den.
The garden and the buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion, were said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. The villa also functioned as an official guesthouse, welcoming Emperor Gokomatsu (Father of Zen teacher, Ikkyu) and other members of the nobility. Trade with China prospered during the Muromachi period, and the villa reached its height of glory as the heart of what became known as Kitayama Culture.
After Yoshimitsu died, in keeping with his will, the villa was converted into a temple by the priest Muso-kokushi, who became the first abbot. The temple’s name, Rokuon-ji, was derived from the name Yoshimitsu was given for the next world, Rokuon-in-den.
In 1994, Rokuon-ji Temple was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site. It was designated as one of 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.
Shariden (Kinkaku / The Golden Pavilion)
Kinkaku or The Golden Pavilion is a shariden, a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha. It is a three-story building on the grounds of the Rokuon-ji temple complex.
Gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of Kinkaku and a shining phoenix stands on top of the shingled roof. The first level, called The Chamber of Dharma Waters, is built in the shinden-zukuri style of the 11th century Heian imperial aristocracy. It is designed as an open space with adjacent verandas and uses natural, unpainted wood and white plaster. The second level, called The Tower of Sound Waves, is in buke style of the warrior aristocracy. It consists of a Buddha Hall and a shrine dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kannon. The top level, called Cupola of the Ultimate, is built in traditional Chinese chán or Japapense zen style known as zenshū-butsuden-zukuri. Overall, Kinkaku is representative of Muromachi period architecture.
Kinkaku was an important model for Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion Temple), and Shōkoku-ji, which are also located in Kyoto.
The Sekka-tei Tea House
The detached tea house was built during the Edo period. Kinkaku is especially beautiful when seen from here in the late afternoon sun. This view is reflected in the tea house name, Sekkatei (Place of Evening Beauty). The famous alcove pillar iis of nandina wood (heavenly bamboo).
The temple’s main image is a stone statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo-myo-o. This statue is thought to have been made in the 9th century by Kobo-daishi, founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Although normally hidden from public view, the image has long been revered for miraculous powers. Opern-Door Rituals are held on Setsubun (in early February) and on August 16.
The pond with the Golden Pavilion and islets large and small is the center of the garden. Rocks donated by various provincial lords of the period are placed throughout the garden. As a pond garden designed for strolling, it is typical of the Muromachi period. The garden is listed as a National Special Historic site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty.
How to get to Kinkaku-ji
Kyoto City Bus 12,59, 101 or 205.
Adults (16 or older): 400 yen
Child (7 to 15): 300 yen
Children under seven: Free