Rokuon-ji temple (Kinkaku-ji temple)
[Official Name] Kitayama Rokuon-ji temple
[Religious Sect] Rinzai-shu (zen Buddhism)
[Common Name] Kinkaku-ji temple (the temple of the Golden Pavilion)
[Location] Kinkaku-ji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu
[Dedicated To] Sakyamuni Tathagata
[Kaiso] Musou Kokushi
[Kaiki] Ashikaga Yoshimitsu
[Brief History] Kinkaku-ji temple is properly called Rokuon-ji temple, and is a Rinzai-shu (Zen Buddhism) temple. Kintsune Sionji was the first to occupy this land where he built his villa. In 1397, however, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate, took over the property, and built instead his own villa, the Golden Pavilion. Yoshimitsu also created the Houkakuryu-chi pond, and called his property, Kitayama-dono. After his death, Kitayama-dono became a Zen temple, and Musou Kokushi was appointed Kaiso in accordance with Yoshimitsu's will. The abbot's chamber was directly controlled by Emperor Gomino, and the temple is dedicated to Kannon (Goddess of Mercy).
Kinkaku-ji temple is the common name for "Rokuon-ji temple" which is a Zen temple for the Rinzai Buddhist. The Golden Pavilion is especially famous because it enshrines the Buddha's ashes; this is why the name Kinkaku-ji is commonly used instead of Rokuon-ji. In the reconstruction of the Kitayama-dono by Yoshimitsu in 1397, the finest work was accomplished for both the building and garden: the most elaborate idea, however, was devised for the Golden Pavilion. One fact that is frequently misunderstood is that although Yoshimitsu laid out the basic structure of the temple, he did not build the Rokuon-ji temple. Yoshimitsu built the Golden Pavilion, and only after Yoshimitsu's death did the Kitayama-dono become a Zen temple called "Rokuon-ji temple". After becoming "Rokuon-ji temple", named after Yoshimitsu's Buddhist name, the Buddhist sanctum or the abbot's chamber were built.
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who built the first buildings of the Rokuon-ji temple, was originally the head of the Kamakura Shogunate and the grandson of Ashikaga Takauji, who disobeyed the Kamakura Shogunate and founded the Muromachi Shogunate. Yoshimitsu's time is said to be the most prosperous time in the whole Muromachi Shogunate. When Yoshimitsu became the 3rd Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, his first act was to mediate a settlement in the civil war between the North and South. After this, Yoshimitsu stripped Imperial Court of all its power and united the whole country under his powerful Shogunate. Yoshimitsu built a mansion called "Hana no Gosho" in Muromachi (Kyoto) and administered the affairs of the country there. This is why this Shogunate came to be called the Muromachi Shogunate. After uniting the North and South in the beginning of the 15th century, Yoshimitsu started trade with Min(China) to develop the economy of the Shogunate. (This period of trading between Japan and China is known as Nichi-Min trade) China would not agreed with the trade but on one condition: that Yoshimitsu would control the Japanese pirates called "Wako". During this trade, Shogunate's ships all carried an identifying card called "Kango-fu" in order to distinguish them from the "Wako", From this, the trade is also called "Kango trade".
Many Japanese cultures flourished during Yoshimitsu's Shogunate. The culture representing the Rokuon-ji Kinkaku is called Kitayama culture. Rokuon-ji Kinkaku is often said to be the symbol of the Kitayama culture. Kitayama culture prospered in the beginning of the 15th century, and was named in contrast to Higashiyama culture which flourished later on in the 15th century. Once the Shogunate had restored stability between the North and South, the samurais became powerful. The Buke culture, which was strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, fused with the traditional imperial culture and the general people's culture, attaining strong characteristics and a large following.
The Golden Pavilion is the place where Yoshimitsu lived in seclusion, after handing over his position to Yoshimochi in 1394. Until Yoshimitsu's death in 1409, the government stayed in this place. After his death, his son Yoshimochi appointed Musou Kokushi as the head priest in accordance with Yoshimitsu's will, and made the Golden Pavilion a temple, using the first two words "Rokuon" from Yoshimitsu's Buddhist name as the temple's name "Rokuon-ji temple". Yoshimitsu enjoyed the nature of the Rokuon-ji temple until his death at the age of 51, and used this place as his seminary for Buddhist services.
Rokuon-ji temple belongs to Sogoku-ji temple, which played a huge role in the Muromachi culture's prosperity. Also, the Golden Pavilion, gardens and other buildings were said to represent the Land of Happiness. In this place, Yoshimitsu invited Emperor Gokomatsu and contributed to the cultural flourish by trading with Min(China).
In the years that followed, Kinkaku-ji temple continued to keep its elegant appearance. During the "Onin no Ran", however, everything except the Golden Pavilion was burned down. In the Azuchi Momoyama era, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu reconstructed the temple. In July, 1950, however, a priest from the Rokuon-ji temple set fire to the Golden Pavilion. It was reconstructed five years later. In 1987, the gold leaf was recovered, and the Golden Pavilion's dazzling appearance was revived. Today, the Golden Pavilion reflects its graceful and harmonious image onto the Kyoko-chi (mirror pond).
The Golden Pavilion
The first floor of the Golden Pavilion, a three story building which faces the mirror pond, is called "Hosui-in". This building, which was built in the palace style, was used for meetings and entertainment. The second floor is called "Chouon-dou", built in the Samurai style, and enshrines the Kannon. The third floor is called "Kutsukyocho", built in the Zen-temple style, and enshrines the Buddha. The Golden Pavilion harmonizes these three different styles marvelously. The Hogyo style roof is covered by thin wood dust called Kokera-buki, and on top of the roof, shines a golden Chinese phoenix. The second and third floor are covered with gold leaves. It is considered as a harmonious mixture of the Heian noble, Samurai, and Buddhist cultures. The mixture of Japanese, Indian, and Chinese styles known at that time, there exists an original architectural beauty. The Golden Pavilion is the oldest of all the many-storied buildings of which the third story can still be used.
There are many ingenious devices in the structure of the Golden Pavilion. For example, the Golden Pavilion retains a bright image by making the pillars and structures of the building slender, and giving the roof, made from Japanese cypress covered by thin wood dust, a gentle slope. Also, four pillars in the South instead of six, emphasizes the wide and open verandah. There are no roofs between the first and second floor, but the Golden Pavilion still manages its proportion by the surrounding verandah, and the gold leaves which cover only the second floor. There is also a slope change due to the rectangular shaped first floor compared to the square shaped third floor, making the ridge of the roof not 45 degrees.
However, the building is still very well-balance, and this shows how this building has such a rare but brilliant design.
General Japanese Opinions About The Golden Pavilion
Since the fire in 1950, the Golden Pavilion shines beautifully with its newly recovered gold leaves. While many people prefer the sober Golden Pavilion with its faded color, others say that the godliness is beautiful. Before the incendiary fire in 1950, there were no gold leaves which covered the Golden Pavilion. The gold leaves, which must have shone when it was first built, gradually faded off, leaving a refined appearance. It is said to have looked just like the Ginkaku-ji temple today. Before the reconstruction, visitors mainly came to see the gardens and never took pictures of the shining Golden Pavilion as they do today. They went up into the building, which we are not allowed to do today, and looked out over the gardens. There were passageways upstairs where one could see the panoramic view of the Ashihara-jima island, Kusenhakkai-seki rock, Yodomari-ishi rock, Akamatsu-ishi rock, Hatakeyama-ishi rock, Tsuru-jima island, Kame-jima island and the Yonaki-ishi rock fro m up there.
Many Japanese prefer the beautiful garden to the shiny Golden Pavilion. In the first place, many people think that the gaudiness of the gold does not fit the refined Japanese image.
Most Japanese prefer a Buddhist image where the gold leaves have given way to the black material underneath. The gold leaves on the Nara's Buddhist image has never been recovered because many Japanese people prefer the rustic image. In some masons, rust is pasted on new stone lanterns because of Japanese's preference of old and rusty stone lanterns. In this way, it is understandable that most Japanese people prefer the garden to the Golden Pavilion.
The Kyoko-chi pond which spreads in the central of the garden, is made in the Chisen Kaiyu style with the Kinugasa-yama mountain in the background. It expresses Kusen-hakkai with all kinds of famous and rare rocks. Inside the pond are eight vary sized islands or famous rocks dedicated by feudal lords of that time, expressing the Land of Happiness by likening it to the Shichiho-ike pond drawn in the Jyodo (paradise) mandala. It was in the Muromachi era that placing Kusenhakkai-seki rocks as a pumice in the pond of a Jyodo style garden was started. The limestone placed between the islands in the pond and the Golden Pavilion is one example. The Kinkaku-ji temple follows the Jyodo style garden very well as the gorgeous Golden pavilion symbols the Land of Happiness. The Golden Pavilion and the Kita-yama mountain stands in the North, whereas the pond rests in the South.
There is no bridge built across the pond to reach the is land named Ashihara-jima island. As one can infer from the name Kyoko-chi pond (mirror pond), the pond reflects the Golden Pavilion like a mirror, emphasizing the many-storied building creating a dreamy atmosphere, and makes the gorgeous Golden Pavilion shine even more. The Golden Pavilion reflected in the pond, does not cease to marvel the tourists every season with its superb view. This is the foremost reason why the Kinkaku-ji temple is designated as a scenic and historical spot.
In the old times, there was a custom to put names on rocks and islands in gardens. Even now, some gardeners put names with famous origins on the ponds or rockworks that they have created. In the ancient times, Japan was called "the country Mizuho of Toyoashihara" "ashihara" in "Toyoashihara" means rice fields. Kinkaku-ji temple's pond, Kyoko-chi pond is a Shichiho-ike pond, which symbolizes the ocean surrounding Japan.
There is a pumice called Akamatsu-ishi rock between the Ashihara-jima island and De-jima island, and was presented to Ashikaga Yoshimitsu by Shugo feudal lord Mr. Akamatsu. This rock, a Soji-seki rock, is the most highlighted rock among all the garden rocks. From the East of the Golden Pavilion to the South of Ahihara-jima island, a couple of rocks are placed in line. These are called Yodomari-ishi rocks. Ashihara-jima island, Kusenhakkai-seki rock, Yodomari-ishi rock, Akamatsu-ishi rock, Hatakeyama-ishi rock, Tsuru-jima is land, Kame-jima island, and Yonaki-ishi rock. Although the form of Yodomari-ishi rocks are fixed, the reason for placing Yodomari-ishi rocks beside the pond is not clear. There are many theories: it expresses the fleet leaving for Horai-jima island where sennin, or mountain wizards live; it is a view of ships staying at anchor; it is an equipment used for boats not to drift away. There is even a theory which states that the rocks were used as magnets for the building. The most persuasive, however, is that the ships were prevented from drifting away by placing themselves between the shore and rocks. One fact remains clear; in spite of our efforts to carry on the old traditions, time did not allow us to remember the true meaning of Yodomari-ichi rocks.
The Abbot's Chamber
In the North of the abbot's chamber, there is a pine tree called "Rikushu no Matsu", planted by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. This is one of the Kyoto's three greatest pine trees. On the left side of the abbot's chamber's garden is a camellia called "Wabisuke Tsubaki" planted by Emperor Gomino. In the North is a mound called "Shirohebi no Tsuka" in the middle of a small pond.
On the North of the Golden Pavilion lies the Kita-yama mountain, and in the west, the Kinugasa-yama mountain. The whole area of the Kinugasa-yama mountain was famous for excursions among the Heian nobles.
The Tea Ceremony House "Sekkatei"
The tea ceremony house "Sekkatei", built in the Sukiya style, was built by a master of ceremonial tea, Kanamori Sowa, in the beginning of the Edo era. The rustic thatch-roofed building stands in great contrast to the shiny Golden Pavilion.
The tea ceremony house is famous for the nandin alcove posts, and the Hagi shelves.
In the early dawn of July 2nd, 1950, a priest set fire to the Golden Pavilion, which led to the destruction of the whole building. After being arrested, the priest claimed his wish to burn to death with the Golden Pavilion. A Japanese writer, Mishima Yukio (1925-1970) wrote the famous novel "Kinkaku-ji", based on this incident. Enraptured by the beauty of abstraction, this novel is said to be a masterpiece of the ideological novel. Mishima made his debut in the world of letters when he was 19, became a prolific writer. He received attention when he briefly joined the Self-Defense forces, and in 1970, tried in vain to enter the Self-Defense forces in Tokyo. He committed hara-kiri and died.