Monday, 12 April 2010

Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji; when it comes to Japanese temples, you can't find much more striking designs than these two masterpieces, located, along with Shokoku-ji, on the northern outskirts of the city. Kinkakuji, located by Kinkaku-ji Cho, Kita-Ku, is for many the default image of Kyoto, it's golden form dwelling serenely amongst the surrounding gardens. Although the real name of the temple is Rukuon-ji ('Temple of the Deer Park), it is the popular name, 'Temple of the Golden Pavilion' which has stuck. The Phoenix sitting atop it (as over it's 'sister temple', Ginkakuji) is really the icing on a very attractive cake and a hint at one of the most enchanting features of the gardens- wild birds make their appearance, enhancing the sense of stillness with their graceful behaviour and cries. Seeing this heron land on a small island was like a scene from a Chinese plate come to life- perfect, timeless, yet so very real, as if I was seeing nature as it should be seen.

Asking people for their recommendations in Kyoto made me find that there seems to be a bit of a fashion for people to say that this isn't their favourite- after all, Kinkakuji gets all the attention and who wants to appear uncouth in adding to it? Yet even a casual visitor will see why it gets so much praise. In short, this is a masterpiece of marrying artistic, man-made designs with nature and one which the many centuries of civilisation that have come and gone since it's inception has come no-where near matching. As in so many locations in Kyoto, you may well be seeing something made in the past, but you have a deep sense that it will last far further into the future than most of the buildings existing around us every day.

The shiny, delicate gold structure stands before a large pond. On a clear day, reflections make it into the waters, stretching out like golden sunlight and into the ripples. Around it are various Japanese trees, some of them bearing blossoms, others hanging their branches over the waters, catching the passing reflections. To truly appreciate the garden, you need to remember that it is a form of living art, animated by nature, showing appreciation for her delicate beauty. As the seasons change, so do the colours and moods, something no painter or graphic designer has yet managed since (though perhaps the seasonally-changing colours on my Playstation 3's home screen is a nod to such possibilities in the digital realm). A garden like Kinkauji is a dream come to life, a taste of pure and heavenly lands here on the Earth; a search for perfection that has managed to find some taste of it. This, of course was the whole idea, it representing a 'pure land', in which the path to enlightenment might be so much easier to find. What more could you ask for, more gardens, perhaps? Well, they are there to be seen!

As you follow the regular route around you can see why this Disneyland of spirituality has survived and stayed popular so long. Another, larger pond awaits you, the Kyokoji pond, with it's still waters reflecting various buildings and unusual rock formations. There is also both the ritual teahouse, the Sekkatei, or 'favourable sunset teahouse', as it apparently gives a wonderful view of the setting sun reflected off the golden centerpiece (which unfortunately, due to early closing times, we can perhaps never be around for) and one for visitors, which as per usual I was too late to go to, for a nice cup of matcha; frothy, creamy, whipped green tea, as different from that found in vending-machine bottles here as real ale is from a can of lager.

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