Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ginkakuji Temple

As I wrote in the previous post, on the morning of 30th April hubby and I visited Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto. In the afternoon, we visited Ginkakuji Temple about which I will write in this post. Ginkakuji Temple is the more common name for Jishoji, a temple belonging to Shokokuji branch of Rinzai sect Zen Buddhism. The temple is located at the foothills of Higashiyama eastern mountains in Kyoto, and is an outstanding example of the Higashiyama culture of Muromachi period. The temple is one of the major sightseeing places in Kyoto. The temple is famous for its two-storied Kannon hall named Ginkaku silver pavilion. This silver pavilion is the symbol of Jishoji Temple, and has given the temple its more popular name of Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji complex was originally not a temple but was a retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shogun of Ashikaga Shogunate during Muromachi period. Although Yoshimasa was intellectually gifted, he was a poor administrator. So he handed over power to his younger brother Yoshimi in 1464 but soon afterwards tried to install his young son Yoshihisa as a shogun. This led to Onin war that destroyed much of Kyoto. A temple named Jodoji, the former residence of Yoshimi, was burned down during this civil war. After the war Yoshimasa, who was already in retirement, decided to construct a new residence on the former site of Jodoji Temple. In 1482, Higashiyamadono palace was established at the site. This palace served as Yoshimasa’s home from 1483, where he lived a peaceful retired life by holding Noh plays, tea ceremonies, moon gazing, and enjoying things of an aesthetic nature. He continued making many buildings inside the palace complex, and the construction of Ginkaku silver pavilion began in 1489. However, he fell sick and died in 1490 without seeing the structure completed. He was not able to coat the pavilion with silver-leaf which he had intended to do in imitation of Kinkaku golden pavilion built by his grandfather Yoshimitsu. Although no silver was ever applied to the pavilion, the name ‘Ginkaku’ lives on. This unfinished appearance illustrates one of the aspects of wabi-sabi quality. A total of 12 buildings and an expansive garden were completed until Yoshimasa’s death. Upon his death, the villa was transformed into Jishoji Zen temple in accordance with his will. Due to the decline of Ashikaga family in the following century, the temple was neglected and many buildings were destroyed. In 1615 during Edo period, a large-scale restoration of the temple was carried out. In fact, Ginkaku silver pavilion and a building named Togudo are the only original buildings from Muromachi period that remain standing in the temple complex. All other buildings as well as gardens date back from Edo period. This temple was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

Ginkakuji Temple is located about seven kilometers east of Kinkakuji Temple and it took us 30 minutes to reach there by taxi. After getting down from the taxi, we walked uphill along a narrow road lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. After 10 minutes of walking, we reached Somon main gate of Ginkakuji Temple.
A narrow road lined with souvenir shops leading to Ginkakuji Temple complex

Hubby standing next to a map of Ginkakuji Temple complex

A stone monument inscribed with words ‘old precincts of Jishoji Temple ruins’. This area was inside temple precincts prior to Edo period reconstruction.

Somon main gate

After entering the grounds of the temple, we walked on a fifty meter long beautiful pathway between the main gate and the inner gate. The pathway is lined with distinctive type hedges made of stones, bamboos, and camellias. These hedges are made in a style known as Ginkakuji-gaki style of fencing. At the end of the pathway, we turned left and reached a ticket booth where we purchased tickets worth 500 Yen per person as admission fee to the inner sanctum of the temple precincts. We also received a paper talisman along with the tickets.
Hedge at Ginkakuji Temple


Next, we walked through Chumon inner gate that took us to the inner grounds of the temple. The temple complex was so serene and we caught a glimpse of a unique sand garden.
Inner grounds of the temple complex

Part of a sand garden inside the temple complex

Just after entering the temple grounds, we got the first sight of Ginkaku silver pavilion to our right. There is a beautiful green pond in front of the pavilion. The silver pavilion is also called Kannon hall. It is a simple two-storied building with a wooden exterior. The pavilion is one of only two buildings on the grounds of the temple complex that is an original Muromachi period structure and has survived for more than five centuries. The building is designated as a national treasure. The two stories of the pavilion are constructed in two different architectural styles yet the two harmonize with each other and create an outstanding effect. The first floor is known as Shinkuden and is 5.5 meters by 6.7 meters in size. This floor is built in Shoin style which is a traditional residential architectural style. This floor contains an image of Jizo Bosatsu. The second floor called Choonkaku is built in Chinese temple architectural style. This floor contains an image of Kannon Bosatsu that is believed to have been created by Unkei in the 13th century. This floor has bell shaped windows and is surrounded by a small railing. The interior of this building is not open to the public. Atop the building roof, there is a bronze statue of phoenix facing east that constantly guards over the temple. The outside of the pavilion building was intended to be coated with silver-leaf although it was never applied. The simplicity of this building makes its beauty remarkable. Right after entering the temple complex we were too near the pavilion building, and so could not view the roof top architecture properly.
Ginkaku silver pavilion

I am standing in front of the silver pavilion. Green pond is also seen next to the pavilion.

Hubby standing in front of the pavilion

Next, we walked towards our left inside the temple complex. Now we were a bit further from the silver pavilion, and got a beautiful view of the bronze phoenix atop the roof of this building.
I am standing in front of the silver pavilion

Hubby and the pavilion

Upper story of the pavilion and phoenix at the rooftop

Bronze phoenix

Along the walking route to our left we saw a building which is the abbot’s quarters. This building, named Hondo, is the main hall of the temple complex and dates back to Edo period. The principal image of worship inside the hall is a statue of Shaka Nyorai. This building is fragile and therefore closed to general public. There is a fantastic sand garden in front of the building. We saw that a small flower shrine named Hanamido was placed in the corridor of Hondo main hall to celebrate Buddha’ birthday. A statue of infant Buddha was placed in the shrine and I poured sweet tea over the figure as if bathing the body of baby Buddha.
Hondo main hall and the sand garden in front of the building

I am pouring sweet tea over the statue of baby Buddha

After praying at Hondo main hall, we turned around and saw an expansive meticulously maintained dry sand garden known as Ginshadan or the sea of silver sand. The garden consists of a 0.6 meters high platform of sand covering 7100 square meters of the ground, and is meant to be viewed as a sea. It is a wonderful sight and seems to resemble a calm, peaceful, silver sea. Adjacent to this garden towards the silver pavilion, there is a distinctive cone-shaped sand structure rising 2 meters into the air. This is called Kogetsudai or the moon-viewing platform. Legend has it that the sea of silver sand is meant to reflect the light of the moon, while the moon-viewing platform was meant to sit on while waiting for the moon to rise from Higashiyama mountains. These landscape features were added only in the 1600s during Edo period and were not part of the temple complex during its Muromachi period glory days.
I am standing in front of Ginshadan or the sea of silver sand

Hubby standing in front of Ginshadan

Kogetsudai or the moon-viewing platform

On our walking path, adjacent to Hondo main hall was another building named Togudo hall of the eastern quest. This hall is another one (along with the silver pavilion) of the two buildings in the temple complex that is an original Muromachi period structure. The building is designated as a national treasure. It was constructed in 1486 and was the personal Buddha hall of Yoshimasa. He took up residence in this building while living at the villa. It is the oldest Shoin style building existing in Japan. The hall is single-storied with Irimoya style roof thatched with sawara Japanese cypress. Inside the building there is a 4.5 tatami mat room called Dojinsai in the northeast side, which is thought to be the origin of Higashiyama culture. It is also said to be the beginning of Soan style tearoom and 4.5 tatami mat rooms. The interior of the building is not open to the public. We took the photo of this building from across Ginshadan sand garden.
Togudo hall

We walked along a paved path adjacent to the sand garden and reached a spot from where we got an exquisite view of Ginshadan sand garden and Kogetsudai sand mound along with the silver pavilion in the background. The contrast between the dark pavilion and the white sand of the garden and mound looked splendid and flawless.
Ginshadan sand garden and Kogetsudai sand mound along with the silver pavilion in the background

Kogetsudai sand mound and the silver pavilion

Kogetsudai sand mound and the pavilion

As we walked further along the path, we saw a beautiful moss garden that features ponds with various compositions of rocks, islands, bridges, streams, and plants. The path then climbs up a hill behind the buildings. From the highest point on the path, we got a nice view of the entire temple grounds and the city beyond.
I am walking up the stone steps in the temple complex

Temple complex and Kyoto city as viewed form the highest point on the walking path

Silver pavilion as viewed from the highest point on the walking path

Then we started coming down the walking path and once more enjoyed a closer view of the silver pavilion and the green pond in front of it. In fact, I loved this view of the pavilion the best.
A closer view of the silver pavilion

Hubby and I are standing in front of the silver pavilion. Green pond is also seen in front of the pavilion.

After this, we exited the temple precinct and started walking back downhill along the narrow road lined with souvenir shops. Here at one of the food stalls we enjoyed a snack named potatornado, a spirally sliced French fries.
Hubby having potatornado snack

Next, we walked along the famous philosopher’s path named Tetsugaku no michi, which is a two kilometer long pedestrian stone path that begins around Ginkakuji Temple and ends in the neighborhood of a temple named Nanzenji. The path follows a canal which is lined with hundreds of cherry trees. The path is named after Nishida Kitaro who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. It was nice to walk on this path surrounded by cherry trees with fresh green leaves. On an adjacent main road, we saw several man-pulled traditional vehicles called jinrikisha which are a major tourist attraction in Kyoto. I wished to ride a short distance in jinrikisha but we did not have much time.
I am walking along the philosopher’s path

Hubby walking along the path


We loved the simple and serene atmosphere of Ginkakuji Temple. Next, we visited Kiyomizudera Temple about which I will write in the next post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kyoto Tower and Kinkakuji Temple

As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I had been to Nara and Kyoto during golden week holidays. On 29th April, we visited Horyuji Temple in Nara and stayed at a hotel in Tsuruhashi district of Osaka prefecture. On the morning of 30th April, we left the hotel at about 9 am. We travelled by a few trains and reached Kyoto railway station in Kyoto city at 10 am.
I am standing in front of Kyoto railway station

Kyoto Tower
In Kyoto city, first we visited Kyoto Tower which is located right across the railway station. It is an observation tower which is the tallest structure in Kyoto. The tower is 131 meters tall and is one of the few modern landmarks in the city. The observation deck is located at a height of 100 meters and offers a 360 degrees panoramic view of Kyoto. Built in 1964, the concept behind the characteristic shape of the tower is a lighthouse built to illuminate Kyoto. The 800-ton tower is built on the rooftop of a nine-storied building with three sub-floors. So this building serves as the foundation for the tower. The shape as well as the architecture of the tower is special. The tower is an example of Monocoque architecture where the thinner outer shell supports the weight of the structure. The tower's interior structure consists of many steel rings stacked on top of each other and then covered with lightweight steel sheets with a thickness between 12 and 22 mm. The sheets were then welded together into a cylinder.
Kyoto Tower

Reflection of Kyoto Tower on glass walls of Kyoto railway station

We purchased tickets worth 770 Yen per person as admission fee from a ticket counter located at the first floor of the tower building, and then an elevator took us to the 11th floor of the tower complex. At this floor, we took another elevator and went up to the 15th floor where the upper floor of the observation deck is located. From the observation deck, we got a wonderful view of Kyoto railway station as well as a post office building located nearby.
Kyoto railway station as seen from the observation deck

Post office building as seen from the observation deck

From the height of 100 meters, we got a beautiful view of Kyoto city and its surroundings. We saw a lot of concrete high-rise buildings around the tower area. In between these new buildings, we got a glimpse of the old traditional temple buildings like Higashi Hongwanji Temple and Nishi Hongwanji Temple.
Higashi Hongwanji Temple towards the left side of the photo

A closer view of the temple

Black roofs of the buildings of Nishi Hongwanji Temple in the center of the photo

There were several telescopes available free of charge on the observation deck. So we took our time and looked at various spots in details. Looking through a telescope to our left in the background, we saw a very clear image of a five storied pagoda and a statue of Ryozen Kannon. Somewhere in the middle portion of the background, we saw Kiyomizudera Temple complex. And to our right in the background, we saw a temple named Chishakuin. We could see these temples in great details although we were so far away.
I am standing next to a telescope

View of Kyoto city from the observation deck of the tower. 1, 2, and 3 represent the locations of a pagoda along with a statue of Ryozen Kannon, Kiyomizudera Temple complex, and Chishakuin Temple, respectively.

Five-storied pagoda along with the statue of Ryozen Kannon as seen through the telescope

Entrance gate of Kiyomizudera Temple as seen through the telescope

Pagoda of Kiyomizudera Temple as seen through the telescope

Main building of Kiyomizudera Temple as seen through the telescope

Chishakuin Temple as seen through the telescope

After enjoying the views of Kyoto city from the 15th floor observation deck of the tower for some time, we walked down the steps to the 14th floor observation deck for taking an elevator to go back down to the 11th floor. While walking down the steps, the glass panels surrounding the observation deck made me a bit dizzy.
I am standing near the glass walls of the observation deck

At the 11th floor, we took a photo along with the tower mascot character Tawawa-chan. At this floor, there was a mirror that made us look so funny. We had a nice laugh seeing ourselves in the mirror. We left Kyoto Tower complex at about 11 am. Next, we went to see Kinkakuji Temple.
Hubby and I along with the mascot character Tawawa-chan

Funny image of hubby and I

Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple is located about 9 kilometers north of Kyoto railway station, and generally takes about 25 minutes to reach there by car. We took a bus and it took us almost 1.25 hours to reach the temple. Since it takes a lot of time to travel by bus, we avoided using them for further sightseeing. We reached Kinkakuji Temple at about 12.30 pm.

Kinkaku golden pavilion is the name of one of the buildings of Rokuonji Temple, which is a Rinzai-sect Zen temple. Kinkaku pavilion is so well known that it has given the entire temple complex its popular name of Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji Temple is one of the most popular sightseeing places in Kyoto. In 1220s during Kamakura period, the land was the site of a villa called Kitayamadai that belonged to an aristocrat named Saionji Kintsune. Later the estate withered away. In 1397 during Muromachi period, Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of Ashikaga shogunate, took over the site and build his own villa called Kitayamadono as a retirement estate. He made a special effort to make the complex a breathtaking site. Its gardens and architecture focused around the central golden pavilion, which is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond. After Yoshimitsu’s death in 1408, Kitayamadono was transformed into a Zen temple in accordance with his will. During Onin war, all of the buildings in the complex were burned down, except Kinkaku golden pavilion. In July 1950, the pavilion was set on fire by a monk and the present pavilion structure was rebuilt in 1955. The reconstruction is believed to be an exact copy of the original pavilion. However, an extensive thicker gold-leaf coating was used during reconstruction. The gardens inside the temple complex remain unharmed by any disaster and can be enjoyed as it was hundreds of years ago. The temple was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

After entering a gate named Kuromon, we walked for about 3 minutes along the approach to the main gate of Kinkakuji Temple. At the ticket office, we purchased tickets worth 400 Yen per person as admission fee to the inner sanctum of the temple complex. We also received a paper talisman along with the tickets.
Kuromon gate of Kinkakuji Temple complex

I am standing next to the gate

I am walking along the approach to the main gate

Hubby reading a map of the temple complex

I am standing next to a stone monument inscribed with the words - World Heritage, Kinkaku Rokuonji


We entered the main gate named Somon and walked inside the temple precinct. To our left, we saw Shoro bell tower. The bell housed in this structure was originally owned by Saionji family and is thought to date back to Kamakura period.
I am standing in front of Somon main gate

Shoro bell tower

As we walked further, we passed by Hondo main hall, the abbot’s chamber, and priests' quarters located to our right. Visitors are not allowed to enter inside these buildings. Next, we walked through another gate, and a large pond along with the golden pavilion became visible. Kinkaku golden pavilion is set in a magnificent Japanese strolling garden. In fact, 92400 of the 132000 square meters of land in the temple precincts are devoted to gardens, which are considered to be a historical landmark. At the center of these gardens is a large pond named Kyokochi, which covers about 6600 square meters of space. The pavilion is built overlooking Kyokochi pond. This pond is like a mirror that beautifully reflects the pavilion building. The pond has lotus plants, several rare rocks, and many small as well as big islands. The largest one of these islands is named Ashihara Island.
Golden pavilion across Kyokochi pond

Kinkaku golden pavilion is the main attraction of the temple complex. The pavilion building is also called Shariden reliquary and houses the sacred relics of Buddha. It is a three-storied building which is 12.8 meters high, 10.0 meters wide, and 15.2 meters long. Each floor of the lavish pavilion is designed in a different architectural style yet the three harmonize well and creates a spectacular effect. The first story is known as Hosuiin, which is built in Shinden-zukuri palace style associated with Heian period nobility. The second story called Choondo is built in Buke-zukuri style used for samurai houses. The third story called Kukkyocho is built in Karayo (Chinese architecture) Zen temple style. These three divergent styles are masterfully combined in the pavilion and is an outstanding example of Muromachi period architecture. The exterior of the first story is built of natural wood pillars and has white walls. However, the exterior of second and third stories are coated with lacquer and completely covered with pure gold-leaf, which contrasts yet complements the first story of the pavilion. In 1987 the building was given a new coating of lacquer and was gilded with gold-leaf that was much thicker than the original ones. In addition, replicas of the ceiling painting and the portrait of shogun Yoshimitsu placed in the first story were also restored. The roof of the pavilion is thickly shingled with thin boards of sawara Japanese cypress and crowned with one meter high gilded finial statue of a phoenix, an imaginary bird with auspicious associations in China. The roof was restored in 2003. We got beautiful view of Kinkaku pavilion from across the pond and took several photos of the pavilion.
Kinkaku golden pavilion overlooking the pond

Kinkaku pavilion

Hubby and I in front of the pavilion

We changed our position a bit and got a wonderful front view of Kinkaku pavilion with Ashihara Island in the foreground.
Front view of Kinkaku pavilion and Ashihara Island in the foreground

Upper two stories of Kinkaku pavilion

After viewing Kinkaku pavilion from across the pond, we walked on a path that passes by the pond. To our right, we again passed by the abbot's former living quarters although this time we got another view of this building. While walking on this path, we again took a few photos of the golden pavilion overlooking the pond.
Another view of golden pavilion overlooking the pond

Kinkaku pavilion

After walking for some time, the path once again passes by Kinkaku pavilion from behind. The pavilion looked wonderful from all directions and angles.
Back side of Kinkaku pavilion

The path then leads through the gardens of the temple complex which have retained their original design from Yoshimitsu's days. The gardens hold several spots of interest. We climbed a flight of stone steps and walked further on the path which led us to a waterfall named Ryumon Taki. The waterfall drops a distance of 2.3 meters before emptying into the pool below. In the pool there is a diagonal rock that resembles a carp fish. The rock seems to rise up out of the water at the base of the falls, which gave us the image of a carp swimming upstream. According to ancient Chinese mythology when a carp climbs up the waterfall it transforms into a dragon, and hence this waterfall is named Ryumon dragon gate.
Ryumon Taki

We climbed a few more steps and came to a place where there were a few stone statues in the temple grounds along with a small metal bowl to throw coins at for good luck. Hubby could throw a coin into the vessel at his first attempt itself.
Hubby throwing coins at stone statues

Climbing another staircase and a bit more walking took us to Sekkatei Teahouse, which was added to the temple complex during Edo period. It is a small teahouse built in honor of a visit by Emperor Gomizunoo in the 17th century. It is a simple three-tatami mat structure built in sukiya style. Its location offers an excellent view of the setting sun reflecting off the golden pavilion. The teahouse burned down in a fire in 1874 and was reconstructed in 1884. The house was restored in 1997. From the teahouse area, we got a wonderful view of the topmost story of the golden pavilion.
Sekkatei Teahouse

View of the topmost story of golden pavilion

We strolled through the gardens for some time and then exited the paid area of the temple grounds. Next we went to the visitors’ teahouse which was a peaceful place. This place serves matcha whipped green tea and sweets for 500 Yen. Seats are available in the adjoining garden as well as inside the teahouse. We preferred to sit inside on tatami mats and enjoyed our tea.
Visitors’ teahouse

Garden inside visitors’ teahouse complex

A staff serving tea

Matcha green tea and sweet

I am having green tea

Hubby having green tea

Next, we went to a hall named Fudodo located near the visitors’ teahouse. The principal icon of worship in this hall is a stone statue of Fudo Myoo which is thought to have been carved by priest Kukai during Heian period. Fudo Myoo is the god of wisdom and is the protector of Buddhism. Just in front of the hall there is a large cauldron of incense, smoke from which is believed to bestow good health. I prayed at the hall and wafted incense fumes over my body.
Fudodo hall

I am wafting incense fumes over my body

Finally, we went to one of the souvenir shops located near the exit of the temple precincts. We bought a pair of shiawase (happiness) dolls as souvenir. The wooden dolls look so cute.
A pair of shiawase dolls

We left Kinkakuji Temple complex at about 2 pm and next went to see Ginkakuji Temple about which I will write in the next post.