Ginkaku-ji, officially named Jishō-ji 慈照寺 which means “Temple of the Silver Pavilion”, is a temple most known for its two-story Kannon Hall, called the Ginkaku or the Silver Pavilion, as the temple’s name obviously suggests. It was originally built in 1482 as a retirement villa for Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the founder of the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
THE SILVER PAVILION THAT IS NOT
While the temple is sensational with everything perfectly manicured to detail, be prepared for the revelation that the building itself is not really silver. Although Yoshimasa’s initial plan was to build something like his grandfather’s Golden Pavilion, even with a phoenix on top of the roof, but will use a silver leaf instead of gold, the plan never materialized until his death in 1490 which scholars believe was because either he ran out of money, or because of the Onin War, or the name “Silver Pavilion” was simply to distinguish itself from the Golden Pavilion. The building was left as it is when he passed, then converted into a temple as he wished and was just recently registered on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1994.
Sadly, the price to pay for visiting one of Kyoto’s most beautiful temples is rubbing elbows with an overwhelming swamp of tourists. The Silver Pavilion is not accessible to public so your nimble moment standing in front of the Ginkaku is one of your slender chances to see it up close. Your better luck is before you exit the temple. However, its beauty is appreciated while strolling around the temple’s sand garden, Togudo buildings (tea ceremony rooms) and its beautiful Zen garden.
On a very crowded day at Ginkaku-ji like we had, everyone is shoved to the only route that leads to the sand garden, known as the “Sea of Silver Sand“. It is famous for a perfectly sculpted mound called Kogetsu-dai that is said to represent Mt. Fuji. One can only imagine how much work it is to maintain this meticulous art.
In addition to the Silver Pavilion, Togudo or tea ceremony rooms covered in tatami mats, occupy the temple, which unfortunately most tourists would leave unnoticed as it is overshadowed by the Ginkaku.
Some parts of the temple’s grounds are carpeted with moss to which my husband commented to be most beautiful when it rains. I could not disagree especially in a temple as divine as this. The pond with small bridges surrounding the area, perhaps quintessential to Japanese gardens, makes the stroll exciting sans noisy tourists. Few mini waterfalls are also seen along the way which tourists turned (inappropriately or otherwise) into a wishing well. At the time of our visit, pink and orange flowers were in full bloom.
A walk further leads up to a small hill that gives an elevated view of the temple and Kyoto City from a distance. Past the hill is the exit which gives you one more glimpse of the pavilion, and with a lesser crowd this time, perhaps exhausted, makes a better photo opportunity.
Past the hill is the exit which gives you one more glimpse of the pavilion, and with a “lesser” crowd this time, perhaps exhausted, makes a better photo opportunity. Ginkaku-ji is a must visit when in Japan, and as I have mentioned numerous times in my other blog posts about Kyoto, autumn colors will magnify the beauty of every city’s scenery, that is, if you are brave for a much much denser crowd of tourist.
Check on Google Street View below for an additional information and perspective on Ginkaku-ji: