Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺): The Golden Pavilion Temple is by far the most famous landmark of Kyoto (if not all of Japan) and is the most well known of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto.

This short video was taken during my visit in summer, a long 6 week holiday free of work and teaching in Japan…

History of Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji was built in the Kamakura period (between 1185 – 1332) as an aristocrat’s country estate. In 1397 it was taken over by a retired shogun who transfored the temple into an elegant recreational villa. He had aspirations of becoming a dynastic figure, hence the gold leaf gilding.

HDR photo of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto during summer
Panasonic DMC-LX3 (5.09mm, f/3.2, 1/500 sec, ISO80)
A wide view of the temple and pond from the main photo spot (HDR photo)
Golden Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Japan - side view
Taken from the very edge of the main photo spot.

When the shogun, Yoshimitsu, died in 1422 it was converted into a Zen Buddhist Temple. After death, this shogun was awarded the name “Shari-den Kinkaku” (金 = kin/gold). That’s why today the temple is commonly refered to as Kinkaku-ji (or Golden Pavilion) and not its real name of Rokuonji Temple.

Design of the Golven Pavilion Temple

The temple has a very interesting design which is the inspiration for Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion Temple).

Golden Pavilion Kyoto closeup shot in HDR
The brilliance of the temple in real life just can’t be done just through photos, even HDR photos.


The first floor (ground floor) contains 2 statues and is built in the court noblemen’s residence style, reflecting an era of around 1000 years ago.

1st Floor of Kinkakuji
1st floor – you can just make out the statues inside.


The second floor (gilded in gold leaft) is designed in the samurai warriors house style and contains 2 statues.

2nd Floor of the Golden Pavilion Temple
2nd Floor.


The third floor (also gilded in gold leaf) is built in a Zen temple style. It also holds ashes, said to be those of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.

3rd Floor of Kinkakuji including the Golden Phoenix on top.
3rd Floor, including the Golden Phoenix on top.


On top of the temple is a golden figure of “ho-o” – a classical Chinese mythical phoenix bird.

Close-up of the golden 2nd and 3rd floors of Kinkakuji
Close-up of the golden 2nd and 3rd floors and the “ho-o” mythical bird.

The surprising thing about Kinkaku-ji, aside from the sheer brilliance of the temple itself which pictures cannot do justice, is the garden of the temple grounds.

The garden utilises the sight of a local mountain and specially selected rocks have been placed in the pond. There is also a lookout area along the path.

A small pagoda ornament in the Anmintaku Pond of the Kinkakuji Grounds.
Anmintaku Pond in the temple grounds.
Along the path in the strolling garden of Kinkakuji.
Somewhere along the strolling garden path.
Kinkakuji as seen from the lookout area.
Taken from the lookout area.

There are also various buildings such as halls and tea houses in the temple grounds. And of course, a souvenir shop to buy lucky charms and other standard stuff.

Hojo building in the Kinkakuji Grounds
Hojo Building.

Visiting Kinkaku-ji

The grounds of Kinkaku-ji are relatively smalled when compared to other sites in Kyoto. Your visit would last around 45 minutes, with plenty of photo taking time and a liesurely stroll through the entire garden.

From Kyoto station it is a 15-20 minute bus ride to the entrance of the temple grounds. You’ll find signs in English at the station as well as a screen inside the bus telling you where you are and when the stop to Kinkaku-ji is coming up.

If you’re spending the day in Kyoto, be sure to grab the 500 yen all day bus pass. The buses run to all the major historical sites and areas and a one way trip usually costs 200 yen. There are vending machines for these passes at the bus stops in front of Kyoto station, if you have trouble finding them, go to the information center inside the station where the English speaking staff can help you.