GOLDEN PAVILION, KYOTO, JAPAN

One of the more famous sites in Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji:

The site of Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, belonging to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune.[8] Kinkaku-ji’s history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionjis by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex.[8] When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.[7][9]

A few shots from across the pond.

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Our guide explained that it is not an original, having been burned down by a young monk who felt that the gold was contrary to the Buddhist ways:

During the Onin war, all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down.[8] On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses (persecution complex and schizophrenia) on September 29, 1955; he died of tuberculosis shortly after in 1956.[10] During the fire, the original statue of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was lost to the flames (now restored). A fictionalized version of these events is at the center of Yukio Mishima‘s 1956 book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.[2]

The name’s origin:

The name Kinkaku is derived from the gold leaf that the pavilion is covered in. Gold was an important addition the pavilion because of its underlying meaning. The gold employed was to mitigate and purify any pollution or negative thoughts and feelings towards death

I cannot remember the exact cost, but the gold cost is significant (20KG of gold rings a bell?). I could not find it, so feel free to drop a comment if you can fill in that gap in my memory!

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The pond is filled with koi and turtles, including a few very long necked and rather vicious looking snapping turtles.

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Beside the pavilion is a main building with a tree that has been shaped to look like a ship over hundreds and hundreds of years. The mast and bow are clearly seen, with the pebbles representing the ocean.

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Our guide mentioned a few interesting facts:

You clean gold walls very carefully, every day.

The pipes are for shuttling the rain off the roof.

On the right you can see a single wire going to the top .. a lightening rod protecting the wooden building.

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A beautiful garden and sight.

A 3 DAY TRIP TO KYOTO

We spent 3 days in Kyoto recently and it was a fantastic trip, although complex to organize.

I present this itinerary for others, with a few suggestions that I hope help.

TripAdvisor City Guides. If you have not downloaded this application, you need to. I lived on it with my iPhone. It has all of the top restaurants, sites and hotels which you can easily search at any moment via a map. One of the best features is that I “saved” the sites we wanted to see and as we visited, I “checked-in” (turning the post to Facebook option off – no one needs to see we are not at home). At the end of the tour, it provides a complete list by day of what we visited, in chronological order as a journal and provides an area to write notes. Amazing app, available for many cities.

Our trip journal can be found at http://cityguides.tripadvisor.com/checkins/428596. The trip via Lightroom – quite a lot of ground covered.

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We spent 3 days there and that was the perfect amount for us.

The first day was the Shinkansen from Tokyo, arriving at 11AM. Quick check into the Westin, an afternoon of exploring followed by private dinner with a Maiko (geiko/geisha in training) .. and yes, the experience was a once in a lifetime.

The second day went from 9AM to 6PM with a private tour guide hitting all of the highlights of Kyoto. A private guide is expensive but as we found out in Rome and in Egypt, worth every penny as it leads to a very different trip than going from site to site on your own and really not learning anything.

One of our frustrations with Japan is that it is very hard to learn the history and culture due to the language barrier. 3,000 years of isolationist history means that Japan is not really fussed about not sharing what happens at a location. We connected with Kyoto Limousine which was highly recommended by expat friends of ours and is well known among the concierges. Our guide Yoshida-san has hosted many celebrities, princes and even Jean Chretien the former Canadian Prime Minister (I apologized on behalf of Canada) and he was UNBELIEVABLE. At every site he shared the deep history of what had happened there, different religious insights and more history than we could ever retain. It was 9 fascinating hours learning about the real Japan, seeing the best sites in Kyoto (including many hidden gems that are off the beaten path) and truly enjoying his company. He was an amazing host and even followed up our day with an email listing every site we saw with internet links. Just look at the 2nd day of our itinerary and you will see just how much we covered, and more importantly – learned.

On the third day we hit the Monkey Park, explored a shopping area, had lunch and then trained home.

For us, 3 days was perfect.

On the seasons, this is also difficult to understand until you get hold of someone. Here is a rough guide; May brings the cherry blossoms and millions of people. June brings the sun and lots of Japanese children on school trips. It also gets hot, it was 32C and humid while we were there, and we were lucky to avoid rain. July and August are insanely hot but the slow season if you are brave. The fall brings the spring colors, with October and November being the best seasons for viewing the fall colors. We were there in green June and I visualized what it would be like in the fall – beyond stunning.

As an aside, 50M people visit this city of 1.3M every year … 50 million.

As many Japanese will tell you, Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan. A thousand temples, beautiful forests, castles, amazing cuisine, culture (geishas) and incredibly rich in history. It truly was an adventure of a lifetime and I have a few pictures and stories to share ahead.

Hopefully these few simple insights help others. If you can get there, you will not regret it.

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(Golden Pavilion, Canon 5D Mark III, handheld HDR, Canon 28-70mm)