October 27, 2011
Kinkaku-ji, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, was originally the retirement villa of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1408) the third Ashikaga Shogun. Yoshimitsu was one of the more successful rulers of the period. He settled the major civil conflicts and established something approximating peace during his reign.
His “retirement” in 1394 was a sham, as was common in those days. Yoshimitsu continued to run Japan until his death in 1408. Under the terms of his will the estate was converted into a Zen temple after his death.
The main attraction is the Golden Pavilion, a three-story structure covered in gold leaf. It was not built this way for any religious reasons. Yoshimitsu intended it to impress visiting dignitaries, especially envoys from China with which he worked hard to establish closer relations.
The ornament on the top is a phoenix, which is Asia is considered a symbol of peace. It is said that the phoenix will return when the world is at peace (or alternatively, when Japan has a wise Prime Minister.)
This is not the original structure. That was burned down in 1950 by a deranged young monk. For 5 years the monks traveled around Japan raising funds to rebuild it. (It took a long time because Japan was pretty poor back then.) Construction began in 1955 and the resulting building is supposed to be identical to the original. (Actually if probably looks better if only because the gold leaf doesn’t have 6 centuries of accumulated grime.)
The fishing pier at the back looks oddly plain compared to the magnificence of the rest of the building. Supposedly this was done deliberately. Like the inverted pillar in Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine it was intended to avoid the hubris of construction a perfect building.