Bonsai tree: Kinkaku – the Golden Pavilion

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bonsai tree: Kinkaku – the Golden Pavilion

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Kinkaku – the Golden Pavilion

Upon telling friends that I was heading to Kyoto, I received a lot of suggestions about which gardens warranted a visit. “Kinkaku-ji,” “The Gold Temple,” or “The Golden Pavilion” came up a lot. Common sentiment: “Yeah, a lot of people go there and it’s really busy, but it’s worth it.” Having now visited, I wholeheartedly agree. The place is stunning.

Kinkaku is properly known as Rokuon-ji Temple, but it is better known by the phrase that refers to the famous gold building set alongside a reflective pond. It was built as a villa for Kintsune Sainoji in the 1220′s, and like so many old villas in Kyoto, it was converted to a temple long ago. Kinkaku received a facelift in 1987 and remains bright and shiny to this day.

Simply walking along the path to the garden, I knew I was in for a treat. Massive trees and splendid Japanese maples in fall color lined the way to the ubiquitous kiosk where I paid a few hundred yen to enter.

Massive old trees in outside the main entrance

Large tree with great roots

Massive old trees in outside the main entrance

Old and moss-covered trunk

Massive old trees in outside the main entrance

The biggest of the bunch right outside the garden’s entrance

Maples along the entrance path

Japanese maples

Maples along the entrance path

Maples and moss – a great combination

Once inside, a brief walk through a courtyard and passage through a Chinese style gate reveals the Kinkaku.

Kinkaku - the golden pavillion

Kinkaku – the Golden Pavilion

I couldn’t have asked for better weather. The air was still, allowing the Kyoko-chi pond to provide a great reflection of the bright gold building on its shore.

Kinkaku is formally known as “Shariden.” The first floor is built in palace style (Shinden-zukuri), and is named Ho-sui-in (The Chamber of Dharma Waters). The second floor is built in the style of a samurai house (Buke-zukuri) and is named Cho-on-do (The Tower of Sound Waves). The third floor is built in the Karayo or Zen Temple style and is called Kukkyo-cho. A bronze phoenix adorns the roof. The second and third floors are coated in Japanese lacquer and covered with a thick layer of gold leaf. (Notes courtesy Rokuon-ji Temple brochure and Wikipedia.)

The grounds are equally beautiful. A path leads visitors around the pond, alongside the Golden Pavilion, and up a small rise before leading back toward the entrance.

Kyoko-chi pond

Path along Kyoko-chi Pond’s southern shore

Kyoko-chi pond

Kyoko-chi Pond

Ashihara island

Ashihara Island

Small pine island

Small pine island

Golden Pavillion on Kyoko-chi pond

A beautiful setting for a not-so-subtle building

Like so many tourist destinations in Japan at the height of the fall color season, I was not alone.

The crowd

One guess what they were looking at.

Behind the temple, an old pine with a great first branch peeked out between two buildings.

Rikushu-no-matsu - old pine tree

Check out that first branch!

Black pines

Super pines like these covered the shoreline and most islands in Kyoko-chi Pond

Fall color

Enjoying the fall color

Isthmus on Kyoko-chi pond

An isthmus along Kyoko-chi Pond

Behind the temple buildings, garden workers were busy sweeping leaves from a surprisingly steep hillside.

Raking leaves on a steep hillside

Sweeping leaves

Crisscrossing roots holding the hillside together

Roots holding the hillside together

After leading visitors past the Pavilion, the path revealed shrines, statues, the spring that feeds the pond, and a small waterfall.

Ryumon Taki waterfall

Ryumon taki waterfall

Stone figures

Stone figures and offerings

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Dry creek

Dry creek

Japanese maple

Maples and moss again

A second pond,  An-min-taku, surrounded a small island with a stone pagoda called Hakuja-no-tsuka (the mound in memory of the white snake).

Hakuja-no-tsuka (the mound in memory of the white snake) pagoga in An-min-taku pond


The roof of the recently renovated tea house, Sekka-tei, was already covered with light green moss and lichens that provided a nice complement to the orange maple foliage.

Sekka-tei Tea House - restored in 1997

Sekka-tei Tea House

Even the walk away from the temple provided great views. At one point I looked over my shoulder to see Kinkaku rising above pines and red maples.

Kinkaku and koyo (fall color)

Kinkaku, matsu, momiji

Tomorrow: Notes from the Daitokuji Temple complex.


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