Kinkakuji temple / Do you know the history why its gold?


Please don't perceive Kinkakuji temple as just a dazzling golden architecture!

The color and the structure of the Kinkakuji temple is representative of the big change of power in Japanese history!

Just knowing a few stories (history, culture, food, souvenirs, etc...) will make your visit completely different! Please check the articles!

Read in Japanese (はじめに)




Historical Stories to enjoy the visit

1. Story of foundation / Gorgeous than white house!?

Tell me why and how this golden building started.

Kinkakuji temple started as the renewal open of a villa.

There was an old villa in Kitayama, where now Kinkakuji temple is. Originally, the clan Saionji owned it, but the family’s authority declined.

Then Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, who was a general of that time, decided to buy the old villa and the land. In 1397, he started to build a villa for himself there. The next year, the villa was completed.

Photo of KInkakuji Temple in snow in Kyoto

Kinkakuji-Temple in snow(金閣寺)

Why on earth did Shogun Yoshimitsu want to build his golden villa? 

Shogun Yoshimitsu wanted to flaunt his authority!!

Yoshimitsu Ashikaga(1333-1573) is the 3rd Shogun of Muromachi period(1333-1573) and said that he was a man of ability in both the political and economic world. He is also said that he was the man who held most power during the period.

It is said that he also schemed to wrest the emperor position by making his son the emperor. Japanese emperor was ascended by perfect hereditary system so this attempt was a real outrage. The result was...(wrote it below)

The villa and the garden, which is known as Kinkakuji-temple now, represented such ambitions of Yoshimitsu.

Photo of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga

Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (足利義満)

Kinkaku means Golden pavilion, which is like a golden office of a prime minister. Shogun Yoshimitsu was really doing his job at this golden building.
This “Golden House” looks much more gorgeous than the White House! Don’t you think so?

Photo of Whitehouse

White House(ホワイトハウス) CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

What does the garden represent then? 

The garden expresses the Buddhist paradise and the whole land of Japan. 

It means that Yoshimitsu had all the world in his hands!
It has been preserved as how it was in that time! Just imagine his ambition while seeing the garden.

Until his death, Kitayama was the political and cultural center of Japan.

Did Shogun Yoshimitsu's ambition come true?

His dream didn't come true. 

Sadly he died before having his son as the emperor and for that his attempt failed.

Do you know the imperial house of Japan is registered by Guinness World Records as the oldest continuous monarchy in the world?
If Yoshimitsu’s ambition had been achieved, this record could never exist.

After his death, the site of his villa became smaller. Almost all of buildings except for the Golden Pavilion were relocated to other temples such as Nanzenji temple, Ken'ninji temple and so on.

Then following the will of Yoshimitsu, it became a Zen temple. Kinkakuji temple is now been managed by Shokokuji temple which belongs to the same denomination.

What's the difference between Ginkakuji(Silver pavillion) temple?

Ginkakuji(Silver pavilion) temple is not painted in silver!

There’s another temple called Ginkakuji temple located in the northeast of Kyoto city. It means “Silver Pavilion”.

Yoshimasa Ashikaga, who was a grandson of Yoshimitsu and also a general, admired his grandfather. He tried to imitate what Yoshimitsu did!

He constructed “Silver Pavillion” like his grandfather’s “Golden Pavilion”, although it is not silver at all. It is said that the Shogun sadly didn't have enough power and money.

We will see about the Silver Pavilion on another occasion.

Gorgeous Golden Pavilion or Calm Silver Pavilion, which would you prefer? Go and see them with your eyes!

Photo of Silver Pavilion

Silver Pavilion(銀閣寺) By Oilstreet - 投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示 2.5, Link

Read in Japanese (ホワイトハウスより豪華!?)




質問: 将軍義満は、なぜ建物を金色に塗ったのですか?



また彼は、自分の息子を天皇にすることで、天皇の位まで奪い取ろうと企てました。 日本の天皇は、完璧な世襲制で継がれてきたので、この企ては完全な暴挙でした。 結果は・・・(ちょっと下に書いています)



質問: では、お庭は何を表現しているのですか?



質問: 将軍義満の野望は叶ったのですか?




質問: 金閣寺と銀閣寺の違いとは?



義満の孫であり、将軍でもあった足利義政は、祖父である義満を大変尊敬していました。彼は義満のしたことを真似、「金閣」ならぬ「銀閣」を建てたのです(銀色ではないですが)。 悲しいことに、義政は祖父ほどの権力とお金を持っていなかったことが銀色に塗られなかった理由とも言われています。



2. Golden Pavilion / Break the ranking!

What is the point of focus of this golden pavilion?

Please check the color and the interior style of each floor.

At first you would easily see that it is a 3 story building.
And next, you would recognize that the 1st floor of the building is not gold but painted in black.

The color and the interior style of the pavilion is constructed like this.

  • 1st floor= Color “Black” / Interior “Imperial Palace style”
  • 2nd floor= Color “Gold”/ Interior “Samurai Palace style”
  • 3rd floor= Color “Gold” / Interior “Buddhist Style”
Photo of Golden Pavilion Kyoto

The Golden Pavilion (舎利殿)

Unfortunately you can't go inside the building, so just check the interior style in the brochure.

It is noteworthy that the imperial palace style floor(1st floor) is constructed below the Samurai palace style floor(2nd floor) and painted black.
Also, the Buddhist style floor(3rd floor) is constructed above the Samurai palace style floor(2nd).

These color and interior style designated by the Shogun “Yoshimitsu Ashikaga(1358–1408)” was representing a turning point of the Japanese History.

What do you mean by the turning point of the Japanese history?

It was the timing when the Samurais officially got power than the nobles.

The color and the structure is representing that the Samurais are more important than the nobles.

Before the era of the Shogun “Yoshimitsu”, Samurai were the subordinates of the Court nobles.
This is an important point!

Samurai rose as the soldiers of the Court Nobles and because of that they barely ever opposed to their masters before the era of “Yoshimitsu”. That is, Japanese culture showed most respect to the lineage or the blood line and the nobles held all the power and honor for it.

But “Yoshimitsu” asserted the change of it.

He expressed that the ones(=samurais) who had the Force and Money should hold the power, not the bloodline. He was thinking severely that “Nobles are just the people who exhaust the money and the resources”.

Why the imperial palace style floor is not gold and constructed under the samurai style floor is strongly expressing it…
And also the Buddhist style was constructed on the top because Shogun "Yoshimitsu" was a priest. He wanted to express that he himself is the greatest!

It's only 700 years ago when the samurais took power in Japan.
Golden pavilion is not only a dazzling architecture, but the symbol of the change of power.

How much does it cost to paint it in gold?

The gold costs 7 hundred million YEN※ !!
※7 hundred million yen ≒ 7 million dollars ≒ 5.5 million euros

During 1986-1987, a major renovation of the Golden Pavilion was executed. It is said that 20 kg of Gold were used and the gilt gold leaf was 5 times thicker than the former one.

Previously, the gold got damaged easily and lasted only for 10 years because of the sun and rain. It is said that some gold leafs were completely exfoliated and the woods were exposing before the renovation.

Of course the cost got enormous to do the renovation!

The total cost was 740 million yen. Surprisingly, 700 million Yen was for the Gold. Please never think to peel off the leafs!

Renovation of Kinkakuji temple Kyoyo

Renovation (修復風景) Photo by 朝日新聞社 - 『アサヒグラフ』 1955年9月28日号, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

Read in Japanese(2. 舎利殿 / 序列をぶっこわせ!)

質問: この建物で注目すべき点はなんでしょうか?







質問: どんな歴史のターニングポイントがあったのですか?










質問: この金箔を塗るのにはいくら位かかるのでしょうか?





Cultural stories to enjoy the visit

1. Novelist “Yukio Mishima” and the arson / The unhappy trainee monk obsessed with the beauty of the Golden Pavilion

Is the arson happened at Kinkakuji temple a fiction or non-fiction?

It is an affair which really happened.

A fire broke out in the Golden Pavilion before dawn on the morning of July 2, 1950.

There was nothing to start a fire there, so that the police concluded that the fire was set intentionally by somebody. And a man named Shoken Hayashi, who was just going to commit suicide in the mountain behind the temple, was arrested.

He was a trainee monk of this temple.

Fortunately, he narrowly escaped death and admitted his guilt.

Burned Kinkakuji Temple Japan

Burned Golden Pavilion (燃えた舎利殿) By 不明 -, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

What kind of person was the arsonist Shoken Hayashi?

He was a person of pure faith...

Shoken Hayashi was born in 1929 as a son of the chief priest of a Zen temple in a desolate fishing village.

He was suffering from a serious stammering (speech problem) from his childhood.

Since his father was poor, he wanted his son to be a monk at Kinkakuji-temple. His wish came true and Shoken became a trainee monk there in 1944.

Afterwards the chief priest of Kinkakuji-temple funded him to go to a college of Buddhism. But as he seriously studied Buddhism, he gradually became to realize that the actual life in Kinkakuji-temple was against the teaching of Buddhism.

Because there was no training which the monks primarily had to do for Zen Buddhism in the temple.

It seemed that making money was the most important for the temple. And he was also tired of the clerk staff, who had more power than the monks did.

Besides his mother’s wish was only the success of Shoken. It was a heavy load on him.

Moreover when he became to have doubts about the temple he seemed to have already gotten a schizophrenia (mental disease).

It is said that such reasons made him cause the arson.

How was the judgment and post incident of Shoken?

Shoken was sentenced to seven years of prison on December 28, 1950.

But his schizophrenia and tuberculosis (disease of lung), which he had already contracted, got worse in the prison and died of these diseases on March 7, 1956.

He was 27 years old then. Poor young man…

What kind of novel "The temple of the Golden Pavilion” is?

It is a fiction composed as an original novel derived from the incident.

A lot of writings were published about this shocking arson case of the Golden Pavilion. Above all “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” written by Yukio Mishima is very famous.

Throughout the novel the author Yukio Mishima wrote about his thought and his sense of beauty. In this novel, a trainee monk who set a fire to the Golden Pavilion confesses his guilt.

He is looking back over the past and talking about the process which led him to the crime.

Through this work he gained a position of the representative writer of Japanese literature.

If you are interested in the arson case, why don't you try to read “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” by Yukio Mishima?

Novel the Golden Pavilion Kyoto

Novel the temple of the Golden Pavilion (小説「金閣寺」)
By Source, Fair use, Link

Read in Japanese(1.小説家「三島由紀夫」と放火 / 金閣寺の美にとりつかれた悲しき修行僧)
質問: 金閣寺で起きた放火の話はフィクション?ノンフィクション?





質問: 放火した林承賢はどんな人だったのですか?











質問: 判決と承賢のその後はどのようなものだったのですか?



質問: 「金閣寺」とはどんな小説なんですか?






Food and souvenirs to enjoy the visit

1. Golden souvenirs / Are you sure? Eating such an amount of Gold...

What kind of souvenirs can we buy at Kinkakuji temple?

Picked up three souvenirs that we want to recommend.

Golden ice cream, golden key holder and a traditional confectionery. It's all related to Kinkakuji's gold.

Do you have any specialty sweets we can snack on?

Yes, there is an ice cream shining in gold!!

It is Kinkaku soft ice cream topped with great volume of real gold leaf imitating the Golden Pavilion.

Thankfully, the shop staff will show you the procedure of topping the gold in front of you! You can take pictures while the topping and it will become a good memory of your trip.

The price is about 1000 yen, mmm…. It's quite expensive...though the taste is awesome!

You might be anxious about the negative influence of eating gold leaf.
But don’t worry, they use the special food grade gold leaf.

Kinkaku Softcream

Kinkaku Softcream(ソフトクリーム「金閣」)

What about some kind of knickknack?

How about this real gold leaves contained key holder!

You would see this unique key-holder sold at the souvenir shops in and outside the temple.

The gold leaves inside the bottle are edible which can be used for tea, meal, and so on…
Please make your friends wonder in your country “What’s that funny Keyholder!”

Gold Leaves Key holder Kinkakuji Temple Kyoto

Gold leaves Keyholder(right)(金箔入りのキーホルダー(右))

Do you have any traditional confectionery?

The most famous confectionery here is Kinkaku!

You can eat Kinkaku at the tea house near the exit of the garden.
It is a Japanese traditional confectionery. (Sweet bean paste wrapped with Japanese traditional hard candy and decorated with gold leaf)

Matcha & Confectionery Kinkaku, Kinakuji temple Kyoto

Matcha & Confectionery Kinkaku(抹茶と和菓子金閣)

We call these kind of traditional Japanese confectionery “Wagashi” in Japanese. Literally, “Wa(和)” means “Japanese” and “Gashi(菓子)” means confectionery.

Originally, Wagashi developed with tea ceremony. That is, it’s lingering sweetness was intended to complement the bitter taste of Matcha.

So as a traditional formal rule, Wagashi has to be eaten before drinking Matcha.
But to tell you the truth, I prefer eating Wagashi and Matcha one after the other...because I think It more delicious…

Actually, it is OK to have it alternately at a casual tea place like golden pavilions.

But please make sure that you must eat the Wagashi before drinking Matcha at a formal tea ceremony. It’s an important traditional rule! Others might give you a cold look if you don’t follow it.

Kinkaku is sold at the tea shop and you can take it home as a souvenir too.

Even if you don’t have Matcha in your home, sweet Kinkaku also goes well with coffee!

Tea house in Kinkakuji temple Kyoto

Teahouse in Kinkakuji temple(金閣寺内のお茶屋)

Read in Japanese(1.金のお土産たち / そんなに金を食べて大丈夫!?)
質問: 金閣寺ではどのようなお土産が買えますか?


質問: 何か歩きながら食べられる名物のスイーツはありますか?





質問: 何か面白い小物はありますか?




質問: 伝統的なお菓子はありますか?











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