For anyone visiting Kyoto this autumn, it is important to note that Kinkakuji, one of the city’s most recognized landmarks, is currently undergoing roof repair. The Golden Pavilion is completely covered in scaffolding and there is a lot of construction going on just outside the entrance. As there is not much else to see within the compound, I do not recommend a visit until the repairs have been completed (end of December?).
That said, if you would just like to wander around Kinkakuji’s garden (almost) by yourself, this is what you will see.
This is just outside the entrance to Kinkakuji. Straight ahead, and to the left, is the ticket window.
Usually there are so many people heading toward the ticket windows that visitors do not take the time to get a look at the Kuri (priest’s quarters), which is thought to have been built in the late 1400’s.
*The Kuri can only be viewed from the outside.
This part of the garden was mostly forgotten until now. However, it is being renovated and will be an added attraction after it is finished at the end of March 2021. Interestingly enough, since I visited in May, moss has been added to the top of all the tree stumps.
Scaffolding will hide the Golden Pavilion until the end of December. There is a large poster, however, that shows what it normally looks like in late autumn.
The Hojo, or head priest’s quarters, now serve as the main hall of Kinkakuji.
*This is as close as visitors can get to the building.
The Rikushu-no-matsu is a 600+ year old pine tree that is said to be a transplant of a favorite bonsai of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga.
The central pond contains a number of islands and rock formations. As there are no tall buildings around the Kinkakuji complex, the garden surrounding it blends in with nearby forested hills.
An example of the roof repairs.
Yoshimitsu Ashikaga got water for his tea from the Gingasen, or ‘Milky Way spring’. Although visitors are not allowed to taste it, the spring water is said to be drinkable today. Just beside Gingasen is the Gankasui, a tiny stream that was used by Yoshimitsu to wash his hands (not pictured). Both of these spots are easy to miss if there are heavy crowds and seem insignificant if you do not know the story behind them.
Under Ryumon-taki, the ‘dragon’s gate waterfall’, is a special carp-shaped stone. It was given this name as a reference to an ancient Chinese story where a carp climbed the falls and transformed into a dragon. This waterfall is also easy to pass when Kinkakuji is crowded.
A second pond within Kinkakuji’s compound, Anmintaku is considered a sacred place to pray for rain since it does not dry up during droughts. On the small island in its center is a stone pagoda called the Hakuta-cho, or ‘white snake mound’. The pond is surrounded by trees and there is no completely clear view.
This traditional tea house was built during the Edo era. It sits on the top of a hill overlooking the central pond and it was designed to provide a lovely view of the Golden Pavilion. However, it is not possible to see that view from the outside and visitors are not allowed to enter the structure. Fortunately, if you are interested in Japanese architecture, there are many subtle, yet beautiful, features that can be seen.
The sign says, ‘Oyasumi dokoro’, or resting place. To enter and relax, you must purchase a 500 yen set of matcha and wagashi. The Japanese sweet is a white or light green square filled with sweet bean paste and a tiny bit of Daitokuji natto. It is decorated with a picture of the Golden Pavilion and some real gold flakes. During warmer months, there is a choice between hot or cold matcha.
*Even when Kinkakuji is very crowded, few people stop here – so it is often a peaceful oasis.
The Fudo-do is a small temple dedicated to the Buddhist deity, Fudo-myo. It is said that the stone image of Fudo-myo that is hidden inside was carved by the famous priest, Kobo Daishi. It can only be viewed on Setsubun and August 16.
There are yellow and red boxes on the right that sell omikuji (fortunes) in a variety of languages.
This staircase, located just past the Fudo-do, leads back down to the entrance of Kinkakuji. At the bottom, on the left, is a new souvenir shop, a large parking lot, and another ‘Oyasumi dokoro’ where anyone can rest. A small stand here sells ice cream decorated with gold shavings.
Kinkakuji is open from 9:00 to 17:00 daily, year round. The entrance fee is 400 yen.