Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, Temple of the Golden Pavilion?), also known as Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺, Deer Garden Temple?), is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. The garden complex is an excellent example of Muromachi period garden design. It is designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape, and it is one of 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. It is also one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting a large number of visitors annually. It has also been made widely familiar as being featured in a photograph in the desktop picture art of Apple's OS X computer operating system, labeled simply as "Golden Palace".


The site of Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, belonging to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune. Kinkaku-ji's history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionjis by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.

During the Onin war, all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down. On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, it was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses (persecution complex and schizophrenia) on September 29, 1955; he died of tuberculosis shortly after in 1956. During the fire, the original statue of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was lost to the flames (now restored). A fictionalized version of these events is at the center of Yukio Mishima's 1956 book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

The present pavilion structure dates from 1955, when it was rebuilt. The reconstruction is said to be an exact copy of the original, although some doubt such an extensive gold-leaf coating was used on the original structure. In 1984, the coating of Japanese lacquer was found a little decayed, and a new coating as well as gilding with gold-leaf, much thicker than the original coatings (5/10,000mm instead of 1/10,000mm), was completed in 1987. Additionally, the interior of the building, including the paintings and Yoshimitsu's statue, were also restored. Finally, the roof was restored in 2003.

Design details

The Golden Pavilion (金閣, kinkaku?) is a three-story building on the grounds of the Rokuon-ji temple complex. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf. The pavilion functions as a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha (Buddha's Ashes). The building was an important model for Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion Temple), and Shōkoku-ji, which are also located in Kyoto. When these buildings were constructed, Ashikaga Yoshimasa employed the styles used at Kinkaku-ji and even borrowed the names of its second and third floors.

Each floor of the Kinkaku uses a different architectural style. The first floor, called The Chamber of Dharma Waters, is rendered in shinden-zukuri style, reminiscent of the residential style of the 11th century Heian imperial aristocracy. The second floor, called The Tower of Sound Waves, is built in the style of warrior aristocrats, or buke-zukuri. The third floor is built in traditional Chinese cha'an style, also known as zenshu-butsuden-zukuri. The building is topped with a bronze phoenix ornament.

The Golden Pavilion is set in a magnificent Japanese strolling garden (回遊式庭園, kaiyuushiki teien?). The pavilion extends over a pond, called Kyōko-chi (鏡湖池, Mirror Pond?), that reflects the building. A small fishing deck (釣殿, tsuridono?) is attached to the rear of the pavilion building, allowing a small boat to be moored under it. The kinkaku-ji grounds were built according to descriptions of the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, intending to illustrate a harmony between heaven and earth. The largest islet in the pond represents the Japanese islands. The four stones forming a straight line in the pond near the pavilion are intended to represent sailboats anchored at night, bound for the Isle of Eternal Life in Chinese mythology.


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