Kinkakuji Temple (No.59 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) means Temple of the Golden Pavilion but the proper name of the temple is actually Rokuonji. Originally a mountain villa for the Ashikaga Shogun, but converted into a temple after his death, this gold-leaf-covered pavilion overlooks a small pond and has a beautifully laid out garden that covers 17,800 square meters. The view of the temple reflected in the man-made pond in the garden is one of classic Japanese images. Kinkakuji Temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The present Kinkakuji Temple is an exact replica of the 15th century structure that was burned down in 1950 and. Rebuilt in 1955, it is a three level structure with each level constructed in a different architectural style. The first floor is the “shinden-sukuri” style, traditionally used in residences of court nobles. The second floor is in the “shoin-zukuri” style found in mansions of the samurai elite in Kamakura period (1192-1333). The third floor is modeled after a Zen temple. The second and third floors are covered by gold leaf, which is five times thicker than the original. The Chinese-style roof is thatched with shingles.

Visitors to the temple are required to follow a one way roped off path. Turning around or wandering off the path is not allowed. The pond in front of the main temple is called Kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond). It contains many small island. A group of steps leads to another, smaller pond with an island pagoda raised in memory of a white snake. On the way to the exist you pass a classic teahouse and a small shrine with a stone Fudo-myoo enshrined as a guardian.

Kinkakuji Temple belongs to the Rinzai sect. About 1.5 million people visit it every year. In autumn the maples around the temple turn a deep red color. In the winter it is occasionally blanketed with snow. The largest island in the pond is said to be representation of Japan with the smaller islands symbolizing things like cranes and tortoises.

Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Kyoto Travel Guide kyoto.travel ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Kinkaku-ju Area Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO

History of Kinkakuji Temple

The original pavilion stood for over 550 years before it was burnt to the ground by a fanatical novice monk in 1950. “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) is a fictionalized story of the arsonist monk. The present building is a replica completed in 1955 and outfit with a sophisticated fire safety system, which pumps water from the pond and douses the temple a high-powered spray. Occasionally fire drills involving 60 firefighters, two helicopters and seven fire trucks are held.

The original Kinkakuji Temple was built in 1397 under Askikaga Yoshiimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, who had a residence built nearby. The current structure achieves its shiny, goldenness from layers of gold foil applied with lacquer over all the external walls, along with pillars, poles and beams of the second and third floors. The main coat of gold dates back to 1987 when 200,000 gold foils, weighing 20 kilograms, were applied by a team of 60 people, including laquer masters.

Components of Kinkakuji Temple

Gold also covers the walls and ceilings of Kukkyocho Hall, housing a small pagoda with bone fragments of the Buddha, on the third floor. The floor is covered by a polished, mirrorlike, jet-black layer of lacquer and is illuminated by natural light coming through the Zen-style Katomado windows. . Unfortunately this hall is rarely viewed b the public. The second floor is comprise of lacquered walls and floor. It houses statues of Kannon and Shiteno.

The gold is maintained by a single person, Takesato Yagyu, who spends long hours applying the gold foil sheets — which are 10.8 centimeters square as thin as five 10,000th of a millimeter — with an underlayer of adhesive lacquer. The gold foil can easily wrinkle when applied and get scratched when cleaned or dusted.

The work can only be done when the weather conditions are just right. When Yagyu is working he wears long sleeves to prevent sweat from damaging the foils and polishes the foil with silk floss. When he works on ceiling he holds his breath to minimize the gaps between sheets that breathing creates. Yagyu generally only works before and after the temple closes and closely watches weather reports. High humidity caused causes the lacquer to dry quicker. In high temperatures the adhesives becomes soft and less sticky.

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) Garden is a landscape garden for strolling around the pond to enjoy the changing view of the Gold Pavilion. Residence of the 3rd Ashikaga Shogun Yoshimitsu constructed in the 14th century. Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm Admission: ¥400. Getting There: Near Kinkakuji-michi Bus Stop.

Ryoanji Temple

Ryoanji Temple (No. 59 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) is a Zen temple established in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is belongs to the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and is best known for its dry landscape garden. The temple was once large than it is now as destroyed over the years by fire have not been rebuilt. Toyotomi Hideoyishi, the warlord who reunified Japan in 1590, is buried here with his wife and son.

The temple grounds are comprised of old soil and new soil mixed with saltwater and lime. In the strolling garden are cedars, whose branches are sawed off when the tree is young and trained to grow straight up. A stone basin in back of the abbot’s quarters has Chinese characters that read: “I just know satisfaction.” Address: 13 Goryonoshitamachi, Ryoanji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 8:00am-5:00pm (March–November), 8:30am-4:30pm (December–February) Admission: ¥500. Getting There: Near Ryoanji-mae Bus Stop. Websites: Ryoanji site ryoanji.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ;

Golden Temple, Ryoanji Temple Walk starts at Kinkakuji Temple. The majestic golden pavilion reflected in the still mirror-like waters of the Kyoko Pond is one of Kyoto's most famous sights. The cries of the crane perched on a rock follow you as you walk past the pavilion, up towards the simple Sekka-tei Teahouse. From here, you head down to the serene rock garden of Ryoanji Temple. Join the on-lookers on the viewing platform sitting in contemplative silence, looking out at the fifteen rocks placed in the sea of raked sand. If you can't find a gap to sit down, go to the toilet. Opening the toilet window, you have an unobscured view of the garden, but remember, the crowds on the viewing platform also have a view of you! Stroll down to the pleasant grounds of Ninnaji Temple, where the fivestory pagoda rises out of the Omuro-no-sakura, the famed multipetal cherry trees. [Source: JNTO]


Ryoanji Garden

Ryoanji Garden (at Ryoanji Temple) is a A world cultural heritage site and one of the most famous gardens in Japan. An exquisite example of a dry landscape-style garden, it consists of 15 rocks of various sizes, well placed on a carefully-raked bed of white gravel, this small garden was created sometime between 1499 and 1507 by Zen monks and covers 256 square meters. There are no trees or shrubs. the only green is from moss that grows on some of the rocks. One scholar described it as "a beautiful poem, a simple statuary, a deep philosophy, a wonderful picture...and a profound religion."

Ryoanji Temple Garden is noted for stone arrangements in a rectangular space of white sand. With the ultimate beauty in its simplest form, removing everything that is unnecessary, you are able to actually experience the thoughts of Zen Buddhism, facing the garden and rejecting any superfluous explanations. The 15 rocks and white gravel are supposed to imitate water. From nowhere except the temple can the rocks all be seen at once. The rocks are divided into five groups of two, three or five. Each group can be regarded as the cardinal directions and the center, which some interpret as representing existence and the universe But reading too much meaning into the garden defies the Zen aesthetic of simplicity and austerity. Many believe the stones represent a range of mountains or a coastal scene or a dry waterfall.

The creators of the garden are not known. Two names are carved on of the rocks but its is not known whether the are names of designers, laborers or ancient tourists. It is a good idea to go early to this garden if you want to contemplate its simple beauty without being engulfed by school groups and tourists.

Koryuji Temple

Koryuji Temple (south of Movie Land, No. 11 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) is one of the oldest temples in Japan. Founded in A.D. 622, it is famous for its wooden sculptures and ancient statues — some of the oldest works of art in Japan — created by Korean artisans in the Asuka Period. Koryuji Temple. Among its priceless Buddhist statues is the famed Miroku-bosatu (early 7th century) with its enigmatic smile. It was founded in 622 for the repose of Prince Shotoku’s soul.

The Lecture Hall is the second oldest building in Kyoto. It contains a 9th century Buddha flanked by manifestations of Kannon. Most of the famous statues, including the Crying Miroku, are in the Treasury House. The Miroku Bosatsu statue in the main hall is a beautiful wooden statue noted for its peaceful smile. In 1960, a college student was so overwhelmed by its beauty he embraced it and snapped off one its fingers.

Koryuji sustained more damage than any other Kyoto monument during the 1995 Kobe earthquake: some cracks appeared in the walls and the left arm of a 13th century statue of a servant and the right arm of 9th century statue of a Goddess of Mercy fell off.

Arashiyama in the 19th century


Arashiyama (JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is famous for its mountains, temples, gardens and autumn colors, when Japanese maples that turn scarlet, yellow and purple during a fall season that can extend into December.There are nice walks along the river and lots of shops, selling ceramics and interesting items, and restaurants. It is also a nice place to explore by bicycle. Bicycle can rented near the train station. Young people in traditional costumes take people around in rickshaws starting at around ¥2,000. Websites: Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Arashiyama Map: Hankyu

Togetsukyo Bridge is the main landmark in Arashiyama. Other major sights include the of beautiful Tenryuji Temple, Jojakko Temple, and Nakonoshima Park. Cormorant fishing is done on the Hozu River at night during July and August. Boats that get close enough to see anything charge ¥1,300. Further downstream the Hozu River becomes the Katsura River.

Sagano Walking Course starts at Tenryuji Temple–a good place to try vegetarian temple cuisine–followed by an after-lunch stroll through the elegant gardens with the charming 'waterless waterfall', and then a climb up the moss-covered steps to Jojakkoji Temple. Continue to Nison-in Temple where maples shroud the main halls–a myriad of colors that lead you to the tranquility of Gioji Temple–then out onto the Togetsukyo Bridge (Bridge of the Moon Crossing the Sky) spanning the Hozu River. In the summer months, you can take a relaxing boat trip, following the cool breeze on the gentle water under the bridge.

Edo Fuzoku Hihokan (Kiyotaki Kanko Center, 15 minute taxi ride from Arashiyama Hankyu station) contains an interesting collection of Edo Period erotica, which includes "pillow books" given by mothers to their daughters on their wedding night; shunga erotic woodblock prints; a variety of objects, such as statues and rice-spatulas, with secret images of vaginas and penises.

Jojakkoji Temple (Arashiyama) is located on the side of Mt. Ogura. Featuring a 12-meter-high pagoda, it is regarded as one of Kyoto's best maple-leaf-viewing places. From here is a 10 minute walk to beautifully situated Nisson-in Temple and an addition 25 minute walk to Daikaku-ji Temple. A detour leads to the Adashino Nembutsu Temple, where the bones of the destitute were taken and memorialized with stone statues.

Tenryuji Temple and Garden

Tenryuji Temple (Arashiyama) was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Originally an imperial villa, where the Emperor Godaido grew up and was educated, it was established by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji in 1339 as a Zen temple and now is a popular place to view screen paintings and maple trees in the autumn. Tenryuji Temple ranks foremost among the Five Great Zen temples in Kyoto. Although the handsome buildings are mostly late 19th century, the spacious garden dates to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573).

The garden at Tenryuji is one of Japan's oldest. Designed to evoke an image of Mt. Horai in China, it blends the elegance of an imperial court garden with the austerity of a classic Zen garden and incorporates the local Kameyama and Arashiyama mountains. In the center of the garden is a large pond shaped like Chinese character for heart (“kokoro” ). In the north of the garden is a small water-less waterfall. Leading to the temple is a large bamboo grove where the famed poet Basho lived for a while in a small hut and the famous samurai film actor Denjiro Okochi had a villa.

Tenryuji Temple Garden is a Landscape garden for strolling and viewing from within a building constructed in the 14th century. The main motifs of this garden, which almost seems as though it were a landscape drawing in Indian ink, are Ryumon Falls and a stone bridge. A landscape of mountains, rivers and the ocean is presented with a pond and the above two in the center. Ryumon is a rapid current ravine which lies on the border of China’s Yungxian and Wanxian. There is a 3-tier waterfall that even fish can’t go up, but there’s a legend that if fish could go up the waterfall, they would become dragons. This represents the process of a zen priest attaining enlightenment after strict practice. The stone bridge is a symbol of the first step into the state of enlightenment. Address: Susukinobaba-cho, Saga Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 8:30am-6:30pm (–5:00pm October 21–March 20) Admission: ¥500. Getting There: 2-minute walk from Arashiyama Station on Keifuku Dentetsu Arashiyama Line.

Monkeys, Trains and River Trips in Arashiyama

Hozu river trip
Iwatayama Monkey Park (Arashiyama) contains a troupe of snow monkeys that roam free on the forested slopes of Arashiyama (Storm Mountain). A train ride is also feature along a gorge on the Katsura River.

Sagano Scenic Train (JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is tourist railway that follows the Hozugawa River Gorge and was opened in 1991. The trip is short and expensive but popular during the spring cherry-viewing and fall maple-leaf viewing season. The passenger cars have roofs but are open and the sides. May people get off in Kameoka and return on the popular river ride. Website: Sagano train site sagano-kanko.co

Hozu River Trip (accessible by Sagano Scenic Train and the JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is done on long narrow boats. The down river trip begins at Kameoka Station and takes one hour and 45 minutes to cover the 16 kilometer distance to the finishing point at Togetsukyo Bridge in the middle of Arashiyama. The route was first used in 1606 to carry rice and vegetables from local farms to Kyoto.

Boats operate on Hozugawa river all year. The spring rafting season begins in March. On the busiest days of the year in October and November up to 100 boats make the trip. Each boat is propelled forward by a punter and oars man and steered from the back by a helmsman. Up to 30 people can ride in each boat. Most of the journey is in swift but relatively calm waters. There are a couple of exhilarating stretches through small rapids but nothing large. Wildlife seen in the mountains includes herons, nightingales, deer, boars and monkeys. The cost of the trip is ¥3,900 for adults and ¥2,500 for children. Website: Kyoto Visitors kyotovisitors.blogspot.com

Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa Gardens

Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa Gardens(No. 33 bus from Kyoto Station in southwest Kyoto) is regarded as one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture. Built in the 17th century by Prince Toshihito, the brother of the Emperor, it is a beautifully arranged complex with a main villa, tea houses, and garden. Guided tours (English Audio Guidance) are available.

Katsura Rikyu boasts a lovely pleasure-style garden laid out in the 17th century. Covering 45,000 square meters, the garden is renowned as an outstanding example of Japanese landscape gardening. it consists of stones, pine trees, flowers and foliage set up around a series of paths that lead to delicately constructed tea houses around a pond fed by the Katsura River. Frequent rains keep the dense azaleas and camellias almost permanently damp. Katsura Rikyu ranked No. 2 as the best garden in Japan by the U.S. publication the “Journal of Japanese Gardening” . The gardens at Adachi Museum in Yasugi Shimane have been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years.

Katsura requires special permission to visit it but is well worth the time to obtain the permission. The ‘stroll-type’ exquisitely landscaped garden is dotted with delicately constructed tea houses. Reservations are made at Imperial Household Agency on the west side of Imperial Palace Gardens (near the Imadegawa subway station). Reservations are required in advance at least one day before the tour date. Bring your passport or Alien Registration Card to the Agency office. Or apply by Internet four days before the tour date. Apply as far in advance as possible. Requests sometimes have to be made three months in advance. Entry is limited to those aged 18 or over. Application should be made internet or through in person with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency at Kyoto Imperial park (Tel:075-211-1215) For more info and reservation kunaicho.go.jp Address: Misono, Katsura Nishikyo-ku, Getting There: 20-minute walk from Katsura Station on Hankyu Dentetsu Line or reached from Katsura-Rikyu-mae Bus Stop. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Imperial Household Agency sankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Tour of Katsura Rikyu katsura-rikyu.50webs.com

Saiho-ji Temple Moss Garden

Saiho-ji Temple Moss Garden (No. 29 bus from Shijo Street Station on Karasuma subway line in southwest Kyoto) is Kyoto's most famous garden and one the most famous gardens in the world. Brochures say that 120 varieties of lush green moss flourish in the heavily wooded garden, but the true figure is closer to 20. The best to time see the garden is after a rain storm when the trees and moss are dripping wet and steamy sunbeams pierce the shade. Admission is limited to 100 visitors at one time and booking has to be done up to 90 days in advance.

Saihoji Temple Garden is a world cultural heritage site. It consists of upper and lower layers of arranged rockwork, the spring pond garden on the flat ground and the dry landscape on the mountainside, creating a world of “yugen” (quiet beauty or the subtle and the profound) with its 100 or so different kinds of moss and tree groves. A landscape garden in the go-round style or boating style. Reservations are required to visit.

Saihoji Temple Garden can only be visited as part of an organized tour. Costing around $30 and starting at exactly 10:00am, the tour begin with a visit to the temple, where guests pray and write their name with a calligraphy brush, and then follow a path from the temple that leads past carefully-placed rocks, treasured pines, Japanese maples, Hinoki cypress, “sugi” (Japanese redwood), towering sasanqua — all surrounded by carpets of moss in varying intensities of green, dark green and yellowish green. If you walk slowly, the tour group forges ahead, while you can stroll serenely and soak up the damp beauty.

Address: 56 Matsuo-Jingatani-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto Getting There: Near Koke-dera Bus Stop or walk from Kami-Katsura Station on Hankyu Arashiyama Line. Websites: Official site saihoji-kokedera.com ; Photos damien.douxchamps.net Applying for Admission: Apply by mail from one week to 2 months ahead of the date of your intended visit. (Applicaion must reach the temple at least one week before your visit.). On a return postcard, please write your preferred date, time, representative’s mailing address, name and number of people. Sightseeing time is one and a half hours, but depending on that day’s religious event, time for sightseeing differs. Cost is more than ¥3,000. Visitors participate Kito (chant) and Shakyo (sutra copying) before seeing the garden. Apply to: Saihoji Sanpaikakari, 56 Matsuo-Jingatani-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 615-8286 Tel: 075-391-3631

Jizo-in Temple (a few minute walk from Saiho-ji Temple) is sometimes called the poor man's Saiho-ji Temple. The temple is modest and the moss garden has received nearly as much attention as its neighbor. It is a nice place to relax and contemplate.

Toei Kyoto Studio Park

Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Uzumasa Station on the Keifuka train line) contains large open sets and full-scale model of feudal houses and streets. Sometimes there are actors and actresses in samurai armor and geisha outfits walking around. Many Edo Period movie and television dramas are filmed here. If shooting is going on when you visit you're welcome to watch.

Toei Kyoto Studio Park is also known as Toei Uzumasa Movie Land and called Toei Movie Land. It consists of an outdoor set of a feudal age town still in use for period movies. Actors in costume ready for shooting heighten the historical mood. Miniature castles, houses and shops for filming in the Film Art Hall on the grounds are displayed along with a brief history of Japan’s film industry.

Toei Movie Land was established 1975. It welcomes about 1 million visitors a year and contains a small movie-making museum Misora Hall, dedicated to Japan's most famous singer, opened in 1991 and cost $55 million, most of it yakuza money, according to some sources. At the park it is possible to rent a samurai outfit or another traditional Japanese costume and spend the day strolling around in it. Most of the visitors are Japanese. Hours Open: Open 9:00am to 5:00pm (March to November), 9:30am to 4:30pm (December to to February). Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com

Image Sources: 1) 2) 7) Ray Kinnane 3) Wikipedia 4) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 5) Kyoto Prefecture site 6) 8) 10) 11) Kyoto Visitors site 9) Aomolife

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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