Here's one perk of being a shogun: When you retire, you get to do it in style. Take, for example, the retirement villa that Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built. Kinkakuji (or Kinkaku-ji), Yoshimitsu's famous Golden Pavilion, literally shimmers and shines. Lavishly coated in gold leaf and set amidst lush gardens and a tranquil pond, the image it presents is simply breathtaking. 'Wow' doesn't quite say it.
Located in Kyoto, Japan, Kinkaku-ji is more formally known as Rokuon-ji (the Deer Garden Temple). It was built in 1397 and was part of Yoshimitsu's estate. However, after the Shogun's death and in compliance with his will, the villa was converted into a temple. Today, it is a branch temple of the Zen temple of Shokoku-ji and houses priceless treasures – Buddha's sacred relics. It is also a temple dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
The Golden Pavilion is the compound's most prized gem. It has three stories, with the upper two glazed with pure gold leaf. It proudly stands 12.8 meters high. The first floor is called Hosui-in or the Chamber of Dharma Waters. During Yoshimitsu's time, this was used as his reception hall as it contains a large hall with a veranda. The second floor is named the Cho-on-do or the Hall of Roaring Waves. This is the place where the Shogun held his private meetings. The floors are adorned with Kano Masanobu's paintings. You can also find an image of the Goddess Kannon here. The third floor is called the Kukyocho or the Firmament Top. This is the smallest room and was where Yoshimitsu held tea ceremonies and intimate meetings with the closest friends. A golden phoenix or fenghuang sits perched on the pavilion's roof. The three floors are made with different architectural styles in mind, but these three blend perfectly to present a marvelous picture that is quite awe-inspiring.
It is best seen during the autumn or winter. In the autumn, the leaves are painted a bright red and orange, which greatly complements the golden hues of the pavilion. Come winter, and pure white snow further heightens the pavilion's golden beauty.
The peaceful waters of the Mirror Pond (Kyouko-chi) seamlessly reflect the Golden Pavilion and evoke an image reminding one of heaven and earth and existence in between these two. It also works to tell the creation story from the Buddhist point of view. In fact, all the gardens and ponds in this compound, in their own way, have a story to tell. These works of natural art draw you in and make you experience firsthand what Buddhism is all about. These are sermons you can touch and feel.
Aside from the Golden Pavilion, there are still plenty to see and explore. Do drop by to see the Priest's Quarters (Kuri), Bell Tower (Shoro) and the Main Hall (Hondo). Then, make it a point to visit the Shinun Shrine, built as a dedication to the god guarding the temple grounds. Walking further along, you can see the carp swimming upstream and a waterfall (Ryumon-baku). There is also the Sekka-tei, a simple tea house to mark Emperor Go-Mizuno-o during the 17th century.
The whole compound was designed to represent paradise on earth, and we dare say that it has succeeded in this mission. It enthralls and excites the senses, yet at some point, you can literally breathe in the tranquility the gardens represent, even amidst the hustle and bustle of the tourists. Kinkaku-ji is a must-see site. It is one of Japan's gifts to the world. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Come and discover why.