Kinkakuji, Kyoto

Kinkakuji ("Golden Pavilion Temple") is the common nickname of Rokuonji ("Deer Garden Temple"), a beautiful Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan.


History of Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji was built in 1393 as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1409). He intended to cover the exterior with gold, but only managed to coat the ceiling of the third floor with gold leaf before his death. The shogun lived here in luxury as Kyoto's people suffered the effects of severe famine, earthquakes and plague - as many as 1,000 people died each day during this period.

After his death, his son converted the building into a Zen temple of the Rinzai school named Rokuonji, in accordance with Ashikaga's wishes. This was an established tradition and many of Kyoto's temples are former retirement villas.

Kinkakuji burned down several times during the Onin War. In 1950, the Golden Pavilion burned again, this time by a fanatical monk. A fictionalized version of the events is told in Yukio Mishima's 1956 book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

The present temple structure dates from 1955, which was rebuilt true to the original except for a significant enhancement: both upper stories are covered in gold leaf, in accordance with Ashikaga's original intentions. In 1987, the temple was re-covered in gold leaf five times thicker than the original coating!

What to See at Kinkakuji

The heart of the temple complex is the Golden Pavilion (kinka-ku), situated picturesquely in its garden at the edge of a lake. This layout is typical of the Shinden style of the Heian period and is intended to suggest a position between heaven and earth. The pavilion extends partially over the pond and is beautifully reflected in the calm waters. It is one of the most beautiful sights in Kyoto.

The wooden pavilion has three stories surrounded by balconies, the upper two of which are completely covered in gleaming gold leaf. As mentioned above, the shogun only managed to gild the interior ceiling, but he always intended to cover the outside as well. On a sunny day, it can be difficult to look at without sunglasses!

In addition to its worldly treasure, Kinkakuji is highly valuable because it is a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha.

The first floor of the pavilion, known as the Hôsuiin ("Temple of Dharma Water"), is built in the shinden style (shinden zukuri) associated with 11th-century Heian nobility. The walls separating it from the balcony only rise half-way, allowing plenty of light and fresh air into the room.

The second story, called the Chôondô (alternatively translated "Grotto of Wave Sounds" or "Tower of Sound Waves"), is built in the buke style (buke zukuri) of samurai houses. It houses a statue of Kannon.

The third floor of Kinkakuji is built in the style of a Buddha Hall in a Zen temple and is known as the Kukkyôchô ("Superb Apex"). It has round-headed windows and is more richly ornamented than the other floors. Inside, it shelters an Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas. The roof is topped with a golden Chinese phoenix.

Quick Facts on Kinkakuji

Site Information
Names:Deer Garden Temple · Golden Pavilion Temple · Kinkaku-ji · Kinkakuji · Rokuon-ji · Rokuonji
Categories:temples; forest settings; World Heritage Sites; lakeside setting
Status: museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:35.039542° N, 135.728453° E
Address:1 Kinkaku-ji-cho
Kyoto, Japan
Hours:Daily 9am-5pm
Lodging:View hotels near Kinkakuji
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Fodor's Japan, 17th ed.
  2. Frommer's Japan, 8th ed.
  3. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) -
  4. Kinkaku-ji Temple - Asian Historical Architecture

More Information

© David Sanz
© Brian Jeffery Beggerly
© Lauren
© Joka2000
© Nathan Duckworth
© Galen Frysinger

Map of Kinkakuji, Kyoto

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