Kyoto, Japan: Silver and Golden Temples

One of the reasons I love to travel is that new sights and experiences always spark the imagination and widen the mind. So this month I’m going to catch you all up on my trip to Japan last December. I hope my adventures there inspire you to write new stories or give you ideas for your own vacation.


December 5, 2012 – Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple), Kyoto

Giovano’s Italian restaurant, which we had dinner in the previous night was transformed into a bright breakfast bar. The long queue was worth braving, as we were rewarded with a buffet, consisting of both traditional Japanese and Western breakfast foods.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we finished packing and bade goodbye to the timeshare hotel.

Our first stop for the day was Ginkaku-ji, also known as the Silver Pavilion.

entrance map


A Little History:

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built Ginkaku-ji in 1482 as a retirement villa. He modeled it after the famous Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion).  In 1485, Yoshimasa became a Zen Buddhist monk, adopting the name Jisho-ji. Thus, after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the villa was converted into a Zen temple.

The Silver pavilion, also known as the Kannonden (Kannon Hall), was the first thing I saw as I entered the grounds. Although the interior of the building wasn’t open to the public, I discovered that within the temple was a statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon. (hence the name)

silver temple up close

The Kannonden (Kannon Hall) or Silver Pavilion

Maiko’s dad, being the wonderful host that he was, purchased an audio guide so I could learn all about the pavilion and its various buildings.

by the waterfall


The red audio guide slung around my neck

We walked along the path leading from the pavilion, passing several beautiful landmarks. The first was in front of the pavilion– a beautifully maintained dry sand garden, which locals call the “Sea of Silver Sand.”


silver pavilion

 The dry sand garden in front of the pavilion

The next two landmarks were the main hall (Hondo) and the Togudo hall. Both, like the pavilion are closed to the public. But thanks to my audio guide, I learned that the Togudo study room, containing 4.5 tatami mats, is considered to be the oldest example  of the Shoin architecture. Most contemporary tatami rooms  built today are based on the Shoin architectural style.



The Togudo, with a beautiful pond beside it.

The (extremely) cold weather didn’t stop us from enjoying Ginkakuji’s beautiful moss garden. Ponds surrounded by beautiful trees and plants, and little streams with small islands and bridges were scattered throughout the garden.



Moss garden pond

Despite it being winter,  we were still able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors of the trees around the area.

fall colors

Fall colors on the leaves of the Japanese Maple tree

pathways with leaves

Stone path strewn with orange leaves

The path around the garden led us up beautiful stone steps to a hill where we saw breathtaking views of the temple and the surrounding city.

view from the top

view from the hill

After taking in the beautiful aerial view, we made our way down the path to the other side. We bumped into two girls dressed in traditional kimono (which they rented).  They were nice enough to take a picture with us.

with kimono girls


Japanese girls wearing traditional kimono

Thanks to my trusty audio guide, I learned the reason for the Silver Pavilion’s name.  The temple was never covered in silver, instead, it used to be covered in black lacquer which looked silver in the moonlight.

To round off our tour of Ginkakuji, we bought souvenirs. Then, we headed to our next stop.

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Kyoto


By the entrance to the temple

A Little History

The golden temple, formally known as Rokuon-ji, was the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Yoshimasa’s  (who built the silver temple) grandfather.  After Yohismitsu’s death, the villa was turned into a Zen temple for the Rinzai sect.

Unlike the silver temple, the golden temple is exactly what it says it is. The first two floors are completely covered in gold leaf

golden temple

The usual crowd of tourists and school kids on field trips was present at Kinkaku-ji. We had to wait for a few minutes before we could even take a proper picture in front of the temple.

golden temple between

We followed the route around the pond so we could view the temple up close. We even got to see this rare, and rather amusing sight of a raven resting on the temple’s golden bird.

bird on bird

We passed by the hojo, the head priest’s former living quarters. The building is known for its fusuma, or painted sliding doors.


the hojo

Aside from gardens surrounding the temple, there really wasn’t much else to see.


So we headed toward the exit, where we passed by a small tea garden and some souvenir shops. We also passed by another small temple which housed a statue of Fudo, protector of Buddhism and one of the Five Wisdom Kings.

fudo hall

Fudo Hall

Tired of bumping into people and wanting to get away from the bitter cold, we piled into the car and began our hour long trip back to Osaka.

Dinner was at Maiko’s Dad’s favorite Udon restaurant. We ended the day’s adventure the way we began it–by sharing a wonderful meal.

udonUdon dinner

 ** This Friday: Japanese Tea Ceremony



Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple)


Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple)


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24 Responses to “Kyoto, Japan: Silver and Golden Temples”

  1. More pics of Japan! Thanks for posting. We want to get over there so much so we are planning to learn some basic Japanese.

  2. Karen Strong says:

    Sigh. This is high on my list: Visiting Japan. Thanks so much for sharing these pictures.

  3. Thanks for sharing your awesome photos. And that maple tree is REALLY red.

  4. mooderino says:

    It’s all very beautiful. With a side order of delicious.


  5. Southpaw says:

    Wow, that sounds fantastic and I loved the pics! The temples and the ponds were beautiful.

  6. Nas says:

    SO very beautiful! Thanks for sharing the photos. I’d love to visit Japan some day!

  7. Those pics are so beautiful! I’m jealous because I never get to go out of the country. The furthest away I’ve been is Canada. 😀

  8. Oh, wow, such beautiful photographs. What an experience! Those moss gardens are magical, and that Japanese maple is so vibrant.

    And now I want udon…

  9. spacerguy says:

    All you have to say is Acer Palmatium, Aesculus Hippocastinum, or Pinus Sylvestris etc and up springs a new japanese buddy who understands your lingo because his universal tree lingo is in latin too!

  10. I love the pictures! Wonderful to see you travels.

  11. Akoss says:

    The few things that I know about Japan, I learned them from watching Anime. I’m delighted to see from your picture that a lot of them were based on very real places, scenery, food, customs and even nature (the momiji). :)

  12. Jemi Fraser says:

    Stunningly beautiful! I’ve always loved the shapes of traditional Japanese structures, but I hadn’t realized the foliage was so pretty too! Thanks for sharing :)

  13. Those are some lovely pictures. So green for winter! I’m glad you had such a nice trip. :)

  14. I love visiting places like those pavilions. The Japanese Maple was gorgeous! I’m glad you’re sharing some of your photos here :)

  15. Cherie Reich says:

    Oh, wow! Such beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing about your trip!

  16. Gorgeous photos. I want to go there, now. You’re so lucky to have gone. :)

  17. Gorgeous. Truly breathtaking. Thanks for sharing your photos. It looks like you had a fantastic time!

  18. The landscape is so lush and beautiful. You’re giving me the travelling bug.

  19. Lexa Cain says:

    I love these post of your travels in Japan! The pictures are so wonderful I almost feel like I’m there. Thanks for sharing all this with us. :-)

  20. So many beautiful pictures. The Golden Temple is fascinating. And that stone path just made me want to find a bench, and pull out some paper and a pencil. Inspiring to say the least! Thanks (again) so much for sharing your adventures with us.

  21. Suze says:

    Stunning photography! That vivid maple alone just stunned my very soul into another level of wakefulness — thank you!

  22. unikorna says:

    Beautiful poetic Japan, I am sure you returned fully inspired and ready to write 10 000 words :).

  23. Nick Wilford says:

    It looks wonderful. I’d love to go! What a beautiful colour on those maple leaves. Thanks for sharing about your holiday.

  24. ava quinn says:

    Sigh. I think I could spend days wandering the gardens of the Silver Pavilion. And I loved that the black lacquer of the roof shone silver in moonlight. What a beautiful image.

    And I’m even more jealous!! lol. Thank you so much for sharing you pictures and the wonderful history that you learned while you were there! Domo arigato gozaimashita! (As I used to say at the end of my lessons from my sensei.)

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