Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, formally known as Jishō-ji (慈照寺, “Temple of Shining Mercy”), is located in Kyōto’s Sakyō Ward and belongs to the Shōkokuji (相国寺) branch of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Ginkakuji stands on the site of an abandoned Tendai monastery, the Jōdo-ji, in a scenic area of Kyōto favoured by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利 義政, 1435–1490), the eighth Muromachi shōgun. In 1465, Yoshimasa announced his intention of building a retreat there and ordered that a search is made throughout the provinces to find materials of the highest quality for his new residence. He moved there formally in 1483, the year the construction of his new residence was completed. After his death in 1490, Yoshimasa’s residence was converted into a temple, following his last will, and given the name Jishō-ji, taken from his posthumous religious title, Jishōin. The great Zen monk Musō Soseki (夢窓疎石, 1275-1351), who had been selected as the first abbot of the Shōkokuji, was designated the honorary abbot of this temple as well. Hōsho Shūzai, a tonsured adopted son of Yoshimasa, was chosen as the second (actually the first functioning) abbot. Later on, most of the abbots of the Ginkaku-ji were selected from aristocratic families such as the Konoe (近衛家 Konoe-ke), a branch of the Fujiwara clan.
According to temple records, the Ginkaku-ji originally consisted of twelve buildings. Influenced by the gilded Kinkaku-ji built in 1397, Yoshimasa planned to cover one of the buildings, the Kannon Hall (観音殿 Kannon-den), with silver leaf but died before this could be done. Although the silver leafing was actually never accomplished, the Kannon Hall is traditionally referred to as the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku). Only two buildings, the Ginkaku and the Tōkudō, survived the disastrous fire that occurred in the Tembun Period (1532-1555). By the advent of the Meiji Period (1600-1868), the Ginkaku-ji had fallen into disrepair but was eventually restored thanks to municipal support and private donations.
The Ginkaku is a two-story structure. The lower story, laid out in the shoin-zukuri (書院造) style, contains the room in which Yoshimasa practised meditation. The upper story holds a golden image of Kannon. The Tōkudō, which served as the residence and private chapel of Yoshimasa, contains altars enshrining images of Amida Buddha and Yoshimasa as well as the memorial tablets of the Ashikaga shōguns. The northeast corner of the building holds a famous tearoom (茶室 chashitsu) designed by Yoshimasa, reputedly the oldest tea room in Japan. Between the Tōkudō and Ginkaku is a splendid garden, modelled initially on Saihō-ji (西芳寺) in Matsuo, Kyōto’s Nishikyō Ward, but redesigned during the Kan’ei Period (1624-1644). The Ginkaku is referred to as the epitome of the Higashiyama Culture.
Visiting hours and admission:
Daily 08:30 to 17:00 (December-February 09:00 to 16:30)
Adults 500 JPY, visitors under 18 years of age 300 JPY; pre-school children free.
Location and access:
Ginkaku-ji-chō 2, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto
Access: Kyoto City Bus 100 to Ginkaku-ji-mae