Day One in Kyoto, part 2: Silver Pavilion

Of all the sites in Kyoto, one of the most famous is the Gold Pavilion, which I visited years ago (pictures on Flickr), but this time around, my wife wanted to visit the Silver Pavilion or Ginkakuji (銀閣寺), and I am happy to report it was a good recommendation. After our trip to Chion-in, we took a very friendly taxi over to Ginkakuji which is located pretty far on the eastern edge of Kyoto city in the famous Higashiyama district.

I was eager to see Ginkakuji for myself after reading about the life of the infamous shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who lived there before the Pavilion became a temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen. Before reaching the Ginkakuji/Silver Pavilion, there’s an uphill market street you have to pass through first. At the base of that street, just before the little bridge, I highly recommend this cafe which was on the right:

Ice Cream shop near Ginkakuji

The elderly couple there were very nice to our little girl and the ice cream was awesome. Stop and say hi. :)

Once you reach Ginkakuji, you pass through a small hedge maze, until you reach the very low-hanging gate, which I nearly hit my head upon:

Gingakuji Entrance 2

Once you enter, you are treated to the famous Moon-Viewing Platform or kōgetsudai (向月台):

Ginkakuji Sand Pyramid

It’s not clear what the significance of this carefully sculpted pyramid of sand is, but this website offers some interesting possibilities. Anyway to the right is the Silver Pavilion itself:

The Silver Pavilion, entrance view

This is actually a building called the Kannon-den (観音殿) and was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a devotional to Kannon Bodhisattva. According to the pamphlet, it features two different styles of construction: the first floor is Japanese shoin style, while the second is Chinese-style.

If you looked to the left, you would see this sand-sculpture as well with the other hall, the Tōgudō (東求堂) in the background:

Ginkakuji Sand Garden 2

Here’s another view of the sand “garden” up close:

Sand Garden at Ginkakuji

The website linked above mentions that this garden has to be sculpted daily and is pretty labor-intensive.

As we reached the main hall behind the sand-garden, I was pleased to see a small altar there for the Buddha Shakyamuni:

Altar room at Ginkakuji

Because the holiday of Hanamatsuri had just recently passed, someone had thoughtfully left out a small altar to the infant Buddha, which people could pour sweet-tea over. Our own temple in Seattle, though a different tradition, has a very similar practice, and we just did this recently at Tsukiji Honganji in Tokyo as well.

Behind in the hall itself, you can see some famous paintings by Japanese artists over the centuries.

Adjacent to the altar room, was the Tōgudō Hall itself, which I believe was the famous tea room designed and used by Ashikaga Yoshimasa:

Ginkakuji tea room?

I need to confirm this though once I get back to the US. Anyway, as you circulate the sand-garden, there are many lovely ponds, streams and gardens to view. Here’s a few pictures to show:

Ginkakuji Pond
Ginkakuji Garden 2
The Silver Pavilion

It’s also possible to climb up the hillside for a better view, but with my mother-in-law’s bad knee, and as it was getting late, we skipped that and headed home. At the Ginkakuji gift shop, I was treated to a very nice Rinzai Buddhist service book, which included the Heart Sutra, but also many other small chants, including some esoteric mantras borrowed from Shingon Buddhism, as well as a sermon. For ¥500, the tiny little book was a great deal. I hope to dissect it more in a later post about Rinzai Buddhist services (lay services at least), but that will have to wait another time. Many temples I encountered in Kyoto and Nara sold copies of the Heart Sutra as a prayer book, but this was the only one that had so much else with it. If you go there, go pick up one too.

Anyway, the Silver Pavilion, compared to its more famous cousin the Golden Pavilion, is less gaudy and has more Zen aesthetics, which typify the magnificent Higashiyama culture of the time. It certainly made me appreciate Rinzai Zen, Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s tastes, and Zen culture a lot more, and was well worth the visit.

Next on our tour was the temple of Kōfukuji in Nara. Stay tuned!

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Japan, Photography, Travel, Zen. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Day One in Kyoto, part 2: Silver Pavilion

  1. Stephen says:

    It is 15 years since I used to wander about this garden. Your photo’s have brought back so many good memories.
    I only visited the Golden Pavillion once and was mobbed by crowds. Your advice in your last post is sound – the lesser treaded paths are often more rewarding
    Reminds me of the quote from a NY Yankee legend “Nobody goes there anymore: it is too crowded”.
    Anyways thank you for the memories.
    Stephen
    PS I have heard that such mounds of gravel sometimes symbolise Mt Sumeru. Symbolism aside, the maintenance daunts me, I have such a small rock garden and yet when aked my occupation is, I am so tempted to say “gardener”.

  2. Doug says:

    Glad to help. :-) Definitely the roads and temples less travelled are worth the visit if you can find them.

    As for the Mount Sumeru analogy that’s pretty sensible given the Buddhist context. If we only could the late Shogun what he intended…

  3. Kendall says:

    thanks for sharing all the pictures from your trip. It’s a very beautiful region.

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