Its official name is Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple). But everyone calls it Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and for good reason. Even on a gloomy, drizzly day–sort of like we were back in Seattle–the Golden Pavilion shone bright and beautiful.
One of the most photogenic temples around, Kinkaku-ji sits atop the edge of the Mirror Pond along the northern part of Kyoto. The carefully maintained grounds are green in the spring and summer, red and gold in the fall, and beautifully blanketed in snow during the winter… all providing an incredible backdrop that always makes the golden pavilion stand out.
Kinkakuji shows off Japanese culture through its architecture, with each floor being modeled after a specific period. The outer walls on the top two floors (as well as the inner wall of the topmost) are painted with the gold leaf that gives the temple its popular name.
Admission to Kinkaku-ji is 500 JPY (about 5 USD). When touring the temple grounds, visitors are guided along basically a one-way path. It starts with a view of the temple across the pond, then skirts around the water to approach the side and back of the temple. There is no access to the temple itself.
The path flows through the carefully tended grounds, past the (inaccessible) former living quarters of the head priest, a small waterfall, and another small pond. There’s also a set of stones at which visitors toss coins for luck–there’s a small bowl to aim for at the center. I got mine in two throws!
Tea at Kinkaku-ji
At the end of the path, you can take tea at a small teahouse for another 500 JPY. We jumped on this opportunity–the temple was very crowded, so we wanted to take in the zen feel that the temple was clearly designed to convey. And 500 yen is an excellent price for tea!
So we took off our shoes, left our umbrellas at the door, and found spots on the tatami along the back wall. Perhaps due to the atmosphere, our fellow visitors were mostly silent, watching the line of tourists marching past and the rain dripping gently through the foliage outside. We didn’t wait too long before someone arrived with the tea implements.
In a brief ceremony, she talked to us about the tea, handing us the cups after very precise turns of the saucer. For a snack, we received a small rectangular sweet flecked with a couple bits of gold leaf and designed with the temple and the mountains. I’m horrible with identifying flavors in food, so all I can say is that it was sweet, smooth but not jelly-like, and absolutely delicious. The lady said it is only made at Kinkaku-ji (and indeed, I couldn’t find anything similar to it anywhere else), though they do sell it there. It was kinda pricey so we didn’t buy any, but sometimes I wish I had.
At the end of the path just before exiting the temple are stalls full of snacks and sweets. The vendors will let you try their wares in hopes of a sale. Sample a couple things and, if you do enjoy it, go ahead and take something with you along with photos and impressions of the truly memorable Golden Pavilion.