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Kinkaku-ji gets its name from the “Golden Pavilion” with its top two floors covered in gold leaf.  It is formally known as Rokuon-ji (Deer Park Temple).  The site was originally occupied by the Kamakura period country villa of Saionji Kintsune, then converted to Kitayama-dono, a retirement villa by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, in 1397 of Muromachi period.

Thirteen buildings were added to the two Shinden style palaces and pavilion to impress the emperor upon his visit in 1407.  After the Shogun’s death,  Muso Soseki converted it into a Rinzai Zen temple according to his will. The formal name is derived from Yoshimitsu’s Buddhist name.  The Pavilion was destroyed by fire set by the deranged monk, Hayashi Yoken, in 1950, and then replaced with an exact replica in 1955, except the new building featured 5 times the gold leaf on the top two floors.

The ground floor is known as the Chamber of Dharma Waters, and is in the Shinden style (a style from Heian aristocrats), aptly named for the view of the calm waters of the pond.  It was constructed from unpainted wood and plaster.  From here, guest could board their boats to enjoy the pond and admire the pavilion from the waters.

The second floor is known as the Tower of Sound Waves, perhaps for the architecture that captures and reflects sounds from the surrounding area.  This floor features a likeness of the Bodhisattva Kannon. The third story is decorated in a Zen style, and holds statues of the Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas.  In the original construction, only this floor was contained the gold leaf.  This was a special space used for tea and religious ceremonies and important meetings.

The surrounding 4.5 acre gardens were designed to resemble the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha.  The beautiful stroll gardens wrap above the pavilion along a small stream that flows into Kyouko-chi (Mirror Pond).

Arriving at Turtle Island

The boathouse adjacent to the Golden Pavilion. The “Arriving Turtle” island is one of many islands in the “Mirror Pond“. The Carp Stone of Ryumon-baku (Dragon Gate Waterfall). Legend says the carp persisted in the climb to the top of the waterfall, even though it was a hopeless journey.  One day, he reaches the top and becomes a winged dragon and flies to heaven.

It is also the home of the Sóan style Sekka-tei teahouse, constructed during the Edo period by tea master Kanemori Sowa under the direction of Hōorin Jōshō.  The name is thought to refer to the view of the setting sun’s reflection off the Golden Pavilion.