Sight Seeing

Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto


Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple is located in Kinkakuji town which is at northwest end of Kyoto city. It is one of the sub-temples of Sokokuji Temple and the official name of the temple is Rokuonji Temple. However because its Shari-den (reliquary hall) which is called “Kinkaku” is the most famous part of the temple, it is usually called “Kinkakuji” instead of its official name.

Kinkakuji Temple is included in a place of scenic beauty with Kinugasa Mountain in the West and Hidaridaimonji Mountain in the back. The range of these gently-sloping mountains in North of Kyoto city is known as Kitayama, but only Kinkakuji Temple and its surrounding area that leads to Kitayama are specially called Hokuzan. The history of this Kitayama and Hokuzan area had started back in the beginning of Heian Era. After mid Heian Era many graveyards were built in this area and there are still a lot of crematoriums, mounds, and imperial mausoleums including Imperial Tomb for Emperor Enyu are left. Today, the area adjacent in west to Kinkakuji Temple is called Himuro which named after government owned ice storage rooms (Hi no muro) created inside of deeply dug holes on the side of Hidaridaimonji mountain and the others in this area. Moreover, throughout the ages, the land of this area had been believed to be suitable for building temples and huntings. However only the area of Kinkakuji Temple’s premise was used to be rice fields and a farm. So after Kintsune Saionji acquired the land from the former owner, Saionji Temple and Kitayamadai Mountain Cottage which were the origin of Kinkakuji Temple were built for the first time.

The Saionji Family has gained its power during Kamakura Era and their influence were shown in magnificence of Kitayamadai Mountain Cottage. However once Kamakura Shogunate was down, the power and influence of the Saionji Family faded away together and so as the magnificence of KitayamdaI Mountain Cottage. Then Yoshimitsu Ashikaga took over Kitayamadaj Mountain Cottage to build Kitayamadono Palace.
Before Yoshimitsu built Kitayamadono Palace, he built Murachidai Mansion to run Muromachi Shogunate. The mansion was called Hana no Gosho (Imperial Palace of Flower) because there were so many flowers planted in its garden, and it became the center of Muromachi Shogunate. Then he started to devote himself to an ascetic practices attended by very famous Zen master, Shin no Kumyo. This practice brought him a desire to establish a temple so he built Sokokuji Temple right next to Muromachi Shogunate. Sokokuji temple prospered as the center of the new culture where Gozan literature was first appeared. But none of them fully satisfied Yoshimitsu, he started remodeling Kitayamadai Mountain Cottage which was blighted back then into Kitayamadono Palace. Its Shari-den (reliquary hall) was called Kinkaku and Shaka-sanzon (statue of Gautama Buddha flanked by two attendants) was enshrined in the 1st floor, 2nd floor was Kannon-den, and Busshari (Buddha’s ashes) was dedicated to the 3rd floor. Since the palace was built, all the important ceremonies and events that was held at Muromachidai Mansion had been held at this Shari-den and function of Muromachi Shogunate was transferred to Kitayamadono Palace. When Yoshimitsu started foreign trades with Ming (China) he met an imperial envoy from Ming at Kitayamadono Palace. With various kind of Chinese culture collected by this foreign trade, Yoshimitsu established Kitayama culture.
After Yoshimitsu passed away, Kitayamadono Palace lost its qualification as a mansion for Shogun, it has become a Zen temple by Yoshimitsu’s will. The temple’s name Rokuonji was named after Yoshimitsu’s posthumous name “Rokuonindono”. The early history of Rokuonji Temple is unknown.


Many Zen temples that were supported and controlled by Shogun Ashikaga Family faced economical difficulty when the family started to loose their power and influence. Then by break out of Onin War, many Zen temples including Sokokuji Temple were burnt down. Rokuonji Temple was also burnt partially but Kinkaku and two other building was saved. After the war, a long history of Shogun Ashikaga Family came to the end, and after going through chaotic Azuchi-Momoyama Era, Ieyasu Tokugawa successfully unified the country for peaceful Edo Era.

Saisho Jotai was ordered by Ieyasu Tokugawa to be a chief priest of Rokuonji Temple. Saisho Jotai was considered to be very important person by both Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa as their political supervisor, and he was called “Kokui no Saisho (government minister who is Buddhist priest). The strong economical foundation of Rokuonji Temple was built under his direction and it had been continued by Saisho’s law.

When it came to Meiji Era, Rokuonji Temple lost its economical foundation due to lack of its supporter. It has gone through so many tough times but with a great effort made by successive chief priests, Rokuonji Temple made it through and continued. In 1894, an exposition was held in Osaka and the temple first accepted public visitor.

On July 2nd, 1950, the National Treasure Shari-den and enshrined statues were burned down due to incendiarism. National Commission for Protection of Cultural Properties in Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and Kyoto Board of Education were gathered for meeting and decided to unregistered the temple from the National Treasures qualification and to rebuild the Shari-den. To support this reconstruction economically, donation was collected from all over the country. Including a support fund from Kyoto city, it sums up to thirty million yens. In 1952 the construction started and three years later it is done to bring it back to its original appearance.


In 1994, the Cultural Properties of Ancient Capital Kyoto including Rokuonji Temple were registered as World Heritage Site.

Did you know that Ginkakuji Temple is a sub-temple of Sokokuji Temple as well? Much later than the time Sokokuji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple were built, Ginkakuji Temple was established by Yoshimasa Ashikaga. As one of Zen temples constructed by successive Shoguns of Ashikaga Family, it became a sub-temple of Sokokuji Temple and continuing its history. Today, as a sub-temple of Sokokuji Temple, the monks from Sokokuji Temple is taking turn in fixed-term appointment to manage and inherited the great culture of the both Kinkakuji Temple and Ginkakuji Temple.

Landscape gardens of Buddhist Temples are very different from what it is of Christian Church. It is designed based on a perspective of Buddhist world and just like Buddhist temple buildings and divine protection, it represents perspective of Buddhist world. By visiting Buddhist temples to put oneself in the special sacred environment, the perspective of Buddhist world can be understood and felt convincingly more than just by listening to sermon or preach.

Together with rapidly grown Japanese economy after the World War II, more and more visitors to visit Kinkakuji Temple. Thanks to the growing numbers of its visitors, Zen and Zen culture obtained an opportunities to be recognized and understood by so many people around the world and its value has been accepted universally.

[How to get there]
Kinkakuji Station by city bus

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