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Ginkaku-ji

Listed under Temples in Kyoto, Japan.

  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
  • Photo of Ginkaku-ji
Photo of Ginkaku-ji
Photo by flickr user john w
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It surprised me how beautiful a garden of moss could be and how many different kinds of moss there are that can contribute to an outdoor area in a way that forces me to recognise it as a garden. Soft, cool, green and inviting, 30 different types of moss – I know because they have them displayed in little pots so moss-aficionados can learn all their names - grow up the sides of the hill this temple and pagoda are built on, exposing the undulation in the ground tree roots and rocks make like a bald head, but a very beautiful bald head. Japanese maple trees, and those flat branched fir trees from wood block prints provide the shady moisture friendly canopy and the watery soundtrack of waterfalls and tiny channels is both lovely to listen to and essential for moss growth – “Aaah,”, I sigh, that wonderful gift the Zen Buddhists have of making essential functions as perfectly pleasing as possible.

The outside of this temple ended up being the highlight. As well as the moss garden, which has a path you can follow up onto the side of the hill, there are some impressively faultless looking sand sculptures to admire. One, it's called Kougetudai, is like a flat cone with the tip removed and represents Mt. Fuji, the other is a larger sand pit with wiggly wave lines which made me think of the ocean – lucky seeing that's what it, or Ginsyadan as it's called, is designed to invoke.

The Golden Pavilion on the other side of Kyoto is now golden, covered in gold leaf, but the Silver Pavilion never received it's silver coating and is a dark wood and white screen building over two floors: the bottom in the style of a local residence, the top floor more like a Chinese Buddhist temple. The big question is why is it called the Silver Pavilion if it isn't silver? I'm still not sure but the implication from the information available is that its original builder,was planning to finish it silver – it would have looked especially lovely in the snow I imagine, but I'm not sure how the moss would have fared in the snow. There is a lot of information about the temple and its gardens changing fluidly with the seasons but I'm not sure about the moss... On the signs near the moss pot display it read: “Moss the Great Interrupter” and there was disagreement within our party as to whether they meant interpreter or interrupter and what the real meaning of Japanese heading could be. There were gardeners working, maintaining the moss but sadly none of them understood what I was asking. My charade action for snow may not have been clear though – and potentially their charade explanation would have been even more difficult so maybe they were politely sparing me the mental challenge.

You can't go inside the villa, which is Japan's oldest Shoin style one storey villa, to see the paintings on the screens which were done by a few different but equally respected local artists in the mid 18th Century until 11 o'clock, but you can still walk though the garden. The guide books all tell you to go early or late, as Ginkakuji is one of Kyoto's most popular sites and on the tourist bus routes but they fail to tell you you can't walk through the villa until 11 – so it could be that I was unlucky or else that the rules have changed – either way it's worth checking into if you can despite which the guide books may say. It's supposed to be one of the first buildings to really incorporate the aesthetics of both the local culture and the Buddhist minimalist approach to decoration and the painted screens are supposed to be lovely.

The street leading up to the temple is a polite gauntlet of souvenir, craft and food stores and at one end of the 'Philosopher's Path' I'd recommend visiting it at the beginning or end of the trail. Worth the inexpensive entry price for the moss garden alone.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

Other expert and press reviews

“Ginkaku-ji”

'Ginkaku-ji means "Temple of the Silver Pavilion," but the temple is not silver; it was only intended to be. Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga (1435-90) commissioned this villa for his retirement and decreed it would become a Zen temple after his deat… Read more...

Written by press. Fodors

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