Golden Years: Kinkaku-ji, Japan

Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is located in northern Kyoto, Japan. It was originally built as the retirement villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397. A man who obviously wanted to live out his golden years surrounded by the stuff.

The second and third levels of the building are covered in gold leaf and a large gold phoenix sits on the roof. The pavilion’s ornate decoration was in keeping with the ostentatious style of architecture popular at the time.

(pic by Cosmin Serban @ unsplash)

Following the death of Yoshimitsu in 1408, the Golden Pavilion was converted into a Buddhist temple. Now at first, this might seem a bit incongruous given the extravagance of the building. I’ve never associated Buddhism with bling. Turns out there’s more than one way to achieve Nirvana.

Pure Land was a sect of Buddhism popular in Japan during the construction of the pavilion. It was known for its emphasis on faith over action and, from what I’ve read, it offered followers the possibility of Paradise/Nirvana (or the Pure Land) without all the pesky meditation, rituals and good deeds type stuff.

It was basically, Buddh-lite.

Having faith was the direct route to the Pure Land, where according to Buddhist scholar monk and saint, Kukai, “if you do good, gold and silver pavilions appear”.

And so, the Golden Pavilion, with its reflecting pond full of lotus flowers and tranquil forest setting, was considered the earthly representation of Buddhist Paradise.

cabin in forest
(Pic by Charles Postiaux @ unsplash)

Like many Japanese pagodas and temples, the building you see today is not the one built for the Shogun. In fact, the Pavilion has been burnt down and rebuilt several times, thanks to civil war and one disgruntled 21 year old monk who apparently just had enough.

Yeah, that’s right an angry young monk burnt down the pavilion in 1950. No one really knows why, although Japanese author Yukio Mishima wrote a fictionalised account of the incident in his novel Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956).

In the book, the novice monk is compelled to destroy the pavilion because it’s just too perfect.

view of pagoda by water and trees
I mean, look at this place. Who wouldn’t be angrily compelled to destroy it?
(pic by Cosmin Georgian @ unsplash)

Interestingly, I heard a story that the only part of the building to come out unscathed after the fire was the phoenix on its roof. Although, not for any magical, mystical reasons. Rumour has it the bird was “at the shop” getting repairs at the time of the fire.



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