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Kyoto temple offers a place of quiet reflection amid nature

Even as crowds of tourists vie for the perfect photo of the “golden pavilion,” the temple and its grounds inspire serenity at the deepest levels.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 10, 2015

Despite its opulence, Kinkaku-ji is perhaps the greatest symbol of Japanese culture, modest magnificence and beauty.

Even as crowds of tourists vie for the perfect photo of the “golden pavilion,” the temple and its awe-inspiring grounds — with a maze of picturesque walking trails, a reflecting pool and petite islands adorned with majestic wildlife — inspire serenity at the deepest levels.

In a fast-moving, colorful nation, where fashion and technological advancement often take center stage, the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site keeps the nation grounded in its traditions. It is one of the many reasons why Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, remains its spiritual heart.

It was initially built at the end of the 14th century as a villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu; he willed it to Zen Buddhists when he died in 1409. The villa was later transformed into a temple.

The trip from downtown Kyoto to the outskirts where Kinkaku-ji is located passes a geisha or two, another symbol of Japanese antiquity, followed by temple after temple and shrine after shrine, each more impressive than the last. There are towering pagodas, giant statues of Buddha and large wooden structures with thatched roofs, seemingly built into the sides of a mountain. The views are breathtaking.

However, walking up the long rock drive to Kinkaku-ji, it’s clear that something special lies ahead. A Buddhist prayer for protection, luck, long life and happiness serves as a ticket.

The 132,000-square-meter grounds of the temple are meticulously manicured. Silence permeates from the surrounding wood.

Veiled in gold leaf, Kinkaku-ji catches the sun and reflects beautifully in the Kyoko-chi mirror pond that surrounds it. A crane basks in the brilliant glow from the small islands of Naka-jima and Iwa-jima, flanked by peculiar rock formations.

It might be covered in gold, but one can’t help but view it as simple, stunning and serene.

The temple has been burned down numerous times in war and more recently due to arson, according to Japan’s National Tourism Organization. This act by a 21-year-old monk in 1950 was popularized in the novel “Kinkakuji” by Yukio Mishima.

The latest incarnation was restored in 1955. Major improvements were made three decades later, and sacred relics are housed here.

Kinkaku-ji is a place of quiet reflection where the riches of man are second to the riches of nature, thus capturing not only the spirit of Japanese culture but also the hearts of its people.

burke.matt@stripes.com

 

Kinkaku-ji 

 

Directions

The temple is located at 1 Kinkakuji-cho Kita-ku, Kyoto. The easiest method of transportation is to take the city bus. Day passes are available for several dollars. If you go to the JR Kyoto Station, take the bus for 30 minutes to the Kinkakuji-michi stop. There is then a 3 minute walk to the temple. Follow the throngs of tourists.

 

Times

Open daily, 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Cost

Entry is 400 Yen or 300 Yen for children 15-years-old and younger.

 

Information

Telephone: 075-461-0013; website www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/shritemp/kinkakuji.html

map of Japan showing Kyoto
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