Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Kyoto's Silver and Golden Twins

Photo: Tetsuji Sakakibara on Flickr

Kyoto's Silver and Golden Twins

Bjorn Koolen

Twins tend to resemble each other but each of them is unique in their own way. Kyoto’s twin pavilions Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji, although they are not exactly twins, they perfectly exemplify this thought.

Photo: Ann Lee on Flickr
Photo: Ann Lee on Flickr

In the West the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji

When you insert “Kyoto” in any image search engine, you will easily come across a picture of Kinkaku-ji as one of Kyoto’s most famous buildings. Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple, but originally served as the retirement residence of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who upon his death requested that it would be converted to a Zen temple. What makes the temple so unique is the gold leaf covered exterior, which is very rare in Japan yet when one keeps in mind that the Japanese believe gold purifies any negative thoughts one holds when one approaches death, it does make quite a bit of sense.

The first thing most people say when they see Kinkaku-ji is that they imagined it would be bigger. The pavilion was just one of the many buildings that once stood within the residence’s estate, but unlike the other buildings the pavilion has been for rebuild several times after being destroyed by fires or natural disasters. The current pavilion dates back to 1955 when it was rebuilt after a young monk tried to commit suicide in 1950. Although you are not allowed to enter the pavilion itself you can catch some glimpses of its interior as well as the statues of Buddha and the shogun inside.

Something I learned after my own visit was how fascinating its architecture actually is as each floor has a distinctly different style yet the pavilion seems to come together as a whole. The first floor is in the typical style of the 11th century Heian period with its plaster walls and wooden pillars while the second floor is built in a style similar to samurai residences and the third floor is inspired by Chinese Zen halls.


Photo: Patrick Lin on Flickr

Although Kinkaku-ji is pretty much the only building within the precinct its vast garden and lake allow you to admire the pavilion from various angles and heights as you notice more and more of its fine details.

In the East the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji

On the eastern side of Kyoto lies Ginkaku-ji which was inspired by Kinkaku-ji and built to serve as a retirement villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s grandson. Originally the plan was to cover the pavilion in silver leaf but some say the shogun ran out of funds and the temple remained a “Spartan”-version of Kinkaku-ji.

Photo: Ann Lee on Flickr

What can be said about Ginkaku-ji though, is that unlike most of Japan’s ancient buildings, it has never been destroyed by fires or natural disasters. Furthermore, its surrounding gardens are far more vast and lush than its golden twin on the west-side of Kyoto. When you enter the precinct you will first stumble upon the Sea of Silver Sand, a gravel-garden with carefully maintained lines to represent rolling waves as well as a large cone of sand, the Moon Viewing Platform, symbolizing the beauty of Mount Fuji.

moon-viewing platform

Photo: Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Making your way across the sea you will pass through a garden landscape containing various water features, islands and trees to represent an ideal landscape before making your way up to the hills. As you follow the paved walkways meandering along the hillside you wonder in a moss-covered landscape taking in the beautiful disorder of nature compared to the arranged garden you left a moment ago. Like Kinkaku-ji the nature surrounding Ginkaku-ji allows you to admire the pavilion from various angles in surroundings that each have their own distinctive feel.

Photo: Satoshi Sawada on Flickr