The Construction of Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Architecture, buildings, living spaces. These are things that are common throughout all of human civilization. Whether it is a sprawling farm house with a craftsman door, or a well thought out machiya with sliding screens, a home is a home and that is a beautiful thing. However, some are just frankly more beautiful than others.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, named Kinkaku-ji is found in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most beautiful and popular tourist attractions in the country, drawing millions to see its stunning architecture and artistic landscape. The temple has an interesting and ancient history, dating to the 1300s. A statesman named Saionji Kintsune built it for his private use. In 1397, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu purchased the building; and at his death in 1408, his son converted it into a Zen temple. From that time forward, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion has been a dearly-loved feature of Kyoto. The rebuilding projects and design of Kinkaku-ji are instructive.

1. Rebuilding

The pavilion and other small buildings have burnt down and been rebuilt two notable times. The Onin War, which lasted from 1467 to 1477, left most of the complex burnt to the ground. Luckily, both the pavilion and the gardens were spared. The minor buildings were rebuilt, and the temple was restored to its magnificence.

In 1950, however, a monk named Hayashi Yoken burnt down the pavilion in a failed suicide attempt. He was arrested for the damage and, following his trial, received a seven-year prison sentence. However, Yoken was released after only five years when his mental illness was determined to be the cause of his attempted suicide. In 1955, the most recent reconstruction project was completed and, other than a couple restoration projects that keep the building in good repair, it stands as it was rebuilt in that year.

2. Design

Each of the three pavilion floors has a unique meaning and style. They work to complement each other and create a new, distinctive design. Few buildings in the world show such separate architectural designs in parts of one building, but it has been done masterfully in Kinkaku-ji. The three styles are:

  • Shinden- The first floor uses the shinden style. The floor is named The Chamber of Dharma Waters. It reminds visitors of the eleventh century palaces, with unpainted wood and open space. White plaster takes emphasis away from the building itself and magnifies the natural beauty of the landscape and gardens. The walls on this level are mainly shutters that open to bring in light and a magnificent view.
  • Samurai- The second floor is named The Tower of Sound Waves. It is styled reminiscent of the samurais, who were aristocratic warriors. The sliding doors are intended to suggest a temporary home. On the same floor, the temple houses a shrine to Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
  • Zen- The top floor is named the Cupola of the Ultimate. It is filled with gilded gold, representing the beauty of death. Gold was meant to purify the mind to free it of the negative connotations naturally associated with death.


Surrounding this magnificent building are beautiful gardens. The entire building is reflected in a pond named Kyoko-chi, the translation being Mirror Pond. The pond is adequately named, because its glassy surface reflects the building with pristine crispness. The gardens are landscaped with meaning, directing the mind to harmony and peace between life and death. The placement of rocks and other structures point to major features of Japanese and Chinese literature, such as four stones in a pond that represent sailboats from the Chinese mythology about boats headed to the Isle of Eternal Life.

Please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *