The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) is a three-story viewing and pleasure pavilion constructed on the edge of a pond as the focal point to a much larger garden on the grounds of the Rokuonji Temple. It gains its more popular name of 'Kinkakuji' from the gold plating on the exterior of the pavilion.
The site in northern Kyoto was the developed as a large retirement estate by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1409) beginning in 1394. The pavilion itself was sited at the edge of a sprawling palace complex that no longer exists. This was intended as proof that the warrior shogunate could contribute to the cultural and aesthetic life of the land to an extent equal to that of the imperial aristocracy. This was born out by the visit from the emporer in 1408, the first time an emperor had ever stayed with a person that was not a member of the imperial court. The shogun died the following year. The palace complex was turned over to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism upon Yoshimitsu's death and it has remained in their care since then.
The pavilion is based on the Chinese Sung style, though each floor has a somewhat different aesthetic. The first floor was used as a reception room for guests and as boarding site for pleasure boating around the small pond. The second story was for more private parties with an outstanding view of the garden. The third floor was an intimate space for meeting with confidantes and holding tea ceremony. Originally, only the ceiling of the pavilion's third floor was gilt, but in 1950, a student monk burned the pavilion to the ground. When an exact replica was reconstructed in its place, it was decided to cover the exterior in its namesake gold.
The grounds surrounding the pavilion lie on four and a half acres, but the use of landscape elements make its apparent size much larger. The foreground is filled with small scale rocks and plantings. The more distant elements blend into the background, visually extending the garden. Mt Kinugasa rises in the background. Meanwhile, the chaotic shoreline undulates to and fro, disguising the pond's true size.
The delicate nature of the pavilion make entry by the large number of annual visitors impossible. Most people follow a path that encircles the pond and then continues up the side of a hill to a very rustic tea pavilion.
Mishima Yukio. translated by Ivan Morris. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Princeton, NJ: ***, 1969.
Hisafumi Uehara, Kinkakuji, Kyoto.
Japan a great stone garden in the sea.
Echoes of hoes and weeding,
Centuries of leading hill-creeks down
To ditch and pool in fragile knee deep fields.
Leafy sunshine rustling on a man
Chipping a foot-square rough hinoki beam;
I thought I heard an axe chop in the woods
It broke the dream; and woke up dreaming on a train.
It must have been a thousand years ago
In some old mountain sawmill of Japan.
A horde of excess poets and unwed girls
And I that night prowled Tokyo like a bear
Tracking the human future
Of intelligence and despair.