KYO: The Golden Pavilion - Rokuonji Temple

The Golden Pavilion – Rokuonji Temple

Rokuonji, we often call it “Kinkakuji Temple”, can be said one of the most famous historical buildings which symbolizes Kyoto. When somebody says “I go to Kyoto”, many people would say it is a kind of “MUST-VISIT” place. For people in Kyoto, it is not always a “MUST”, and actually, I have never been to that temple till I was around 20 years old. I do not remember the 1st time so well, so, this time was the 2nd time to visit there in my life. I was wondering what kind of impression I would have after the visit, and I was a little bit excited.

One day in June, I decided to visit Rokuonji Temple. The golden pavilion has been said to be very beautiful especially after rain, but it was a cloudy sky, unfortunately. When I arrived there by taxi, there were so many people waiting for buying tickets. Anyway, I paid JPY400 to enter, and they gave me a kind of charms for a good luck. At this point, I had been already a bit tired, but right after I entered the area, I amazedly said “Oh!”, because the golden pavilion appeared in front of me suddenly and it had such a great presence. Strangely I felt high, and I thought I could have seen a blessed object. With perhaps a bit of overstatement, it was worth visiting. I was defeated by that great presentation by the temple.

I stared absently into the pavilion, and started walking around the Kyokochi pond (mirror pond). Everybody walking around the pond was watching that pavilion. Some of them were trying to take pictures from various angles. After all, I noticed that the pavilion was the central player in this temple.

By the way, the golden pavilion was burned down (was fired on purpose) in 1950 and reconstructed in 1955. When processing the reconstruction, luckily, they had detailed information how the pavilion used to be before the affair because the pavilion was repaired in Meiji period (1868-1912) and at that time, a detailed schematic plan was made. According to the people familiar with the matter, the golden pavilion right before the fire was humble, and most of the golden leaves fell out of the walls so that nobody found out it was gilded. However, at the time of reconstruction, a bit of gold leaves were found out, and people decided to cover the pavilion with gold leaves like today.

From this time, I changed my mind towards a historical site. For example, it is natural to be impressed by a 200 years-old building which retains the original form, but I became to think that the reconstructed one also has its amusingness, too. This temple used to be the mountain villa of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Shogun of Muromachi Shogunate, and he was the leading figure when we talk about Kitayama culture flourished in the 15th century. The Kitayama culture is said to be gorgeous, so it became easy to guess how the culture was due to the reconstruction (covered with golden leaves). Personally, when I visit a historical site, I like to guess what kind of people were there, and for me, the construction was successful because I could imagine the ancient period.

Note: The Kitayama culture
It is said to be the mixture of the culture of court noble and samurai, and Zen sect which came from China. So, if you see the pavilion, we can see those 3 cultures; the 1st layer is built in the style of Heian residences (Shinden-dukuri) which features the court noble, the 2nd layer is in the style of Samurai residences (Buke-dukuri), the 3rd layer is in the style of a Buddhist hall.

After that, I walked further into the temple. It was easy to follow a series of allows, and I could not move against the flow of people. (There was no choice.) On the way, I was knocked out because there was a store which was selling talisman bags, key chains, and other things which seemed like souvenirs. Many school students shopped around. Inadvertently, I recalled an article writing about the frame of mind of the fire-raiser. I am not sure if it is true or not, and of course, nobody knows how he really felt. Anyhow, the article said that he felt abhorrence to the temple who weigh heavily on business. (He was an ascetic monk at the temple.)

Finally, I prayed at Fudodo Hall, and reached the exit. In conclusion, it is still very difficult to decide if this temple is a MUST. On one hand, most of the visitors visit this temple, so it is a bit regretful to remove from the itinerary. On the other hand, it was also true that this temple could be seen a “touristic” place. However, at least, I could be amazed by the first sight of the pavilion, and could give more than a passing thought to the Kitayama culture, and it gave me the opportunity to know the shocking affair which was novelized by Mishima Yukio, Minakami Tsutomu, and so on. So, I think it is not bad to visit this temple once in your lifetime.