Ginkakuji (Silver Temple)
Ginkakuji belongs to the same Shokokuji Rinzai School of Buddhism as Kinkakuji but located in the northeast part of Kyoto close to the Philosopher’s Path. Either use the #100 (main) bus from Kyoto Station or take a taxi. The temple lies at the foot of Daimonjiyama Mountain where the conspicuous “big” 「大」character is visible. This character is one of a total of six ensconced into the hills surrounding Kyoto and are lit up to mark the end of Obon お盆 (period observing the souls of ancestors).
Hours of Operation
Open Year Round
Winter (December 1〜End of February) 9:00-16:30
Other (March 1〜November 30) 8:30-17:00
Adult 500 Yen
Child 300 Yen (14 yrs. & under)
View Ginkakuji (Silver Temple) in a larger map
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa was the 8th descendent of the Ashikaga Shogunate (military government). He encountered much opposition to his rule as shogun. In 1441, his father Yoshinori was assassinated by Shugo warlords (powerful warlords) and this event shook the foundations of the shogunate. After this event the Shugo warlords attempted to take power from the Ashikaga clan. Yoshimasa was only eight years old at this time. Many within his personal circle and beyond had self-directed interests, and deceit and betrayal ran rampant during his reign. This along with an internal dispute concerning the next heir to Yoshimasa sparked the Onin war (1467-77) and conflict continued on into the Warring States period (1493-1590). This period was characterized by conflict between warlords vying for the title of shogun. Despite this destructive and turbulent period, Yoshimasa’s interest and sponsorship of arts greatly advanced the development of Japanese arts and created a new culture.
It appears exchanges with Zen monks of the Enrakuji Temple located on Mt. Hiezan, left an indelible mark on Yoshimasa’s life. These exchanges focused mainly on culture and the arts. During this period the precursors to many of the contemporary traditional Japanese arts were formed. Noh theatre, tea ceremony, ikebana, renga poetry (mother of haiku), dry landscape gardens, and architecture of traditional houses. In contrast to Kitayama culture characterized by extravagant works and other treasures, Higashiyama culture espoused beauty through simplicity and stillness. Some characteristics embodied in the concept now referred to as wabi sabi.
Design and Architecture of Silver Pagoda (Kannonden)
Yoshimasa actually died before completion of the Silver Pagoda in 1489. Together with the Togudo, they survive as enduring symbols of the Higashiyama era with features of their design and structure still noticeable in residential houses and temples throughout Japan. More specifically, these features are tokonoma-alcove, shoji-thin paper sliding doors, and fusuma-decorative sliding doors. These characteristics compose Shoin-style architecture, traced back to Ginkakuji.
Looking at the pagoda, one is left wondering why it is called Ginkakuji (Silver Temple) when there is actually no silver adorning it. Yoshimasa built the silver pagoda using the gold pavilion as a model. As a result, he always envisioned adorning the outside, but instead of gold he pictured silver. Yoshimasa appears to have been uninterested in states affairs, resulting in his reliance on his wife a two hereditary families named Hosokawa and Yamana. They turned out to be poor magistrates, and combined with the destruction of the Onin wars a number of debt amnesties happened, leaving the state coffers next to empty and Yoshimasa unable to adorn the temple in silver.
The actual name of the Higashiyama villa was changed to Jishoji upon Yoshimasa’s death. Yoshimasa insisted Higashiyama Villa become a temple and soon after his death the villa became known as Jishoji, his Buddhist name. In relation to Kinkakuji (Gold Temple) the name appears to have changed to Ginkakuji some time after the Edo Period (1600-1868). Also, due to its cultural significance it was registered as a National Treasure and later as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994.
Gardens and Ponds
The stroll-type landscape garden encircles the Kinchouchi pond directly in front of the Silver Pagoda. Saomi, a very distinguished landscape garden artist, apparently designed the original garden at Higashiyama. His other work consisted of Saihoji (Moss Temple) and Ryogenin (inside Daitokuji Temple compound). However, similar to Kinkakuji the garden underwent considerable remodeling sometime in the late Edo Period. It is reputed to have changed very much from its original design. In general, dry-landscape gardens are meant for the observer to recognize the existence of an infinite worldview. Looking over an expanse of rock and sand has somewhat of a calming effect on the thinking mind, allowing one to access the wisdom mind or state where meditative practice takes place.
Many people are often struck by the odd shaped cone object made out of sand. I’ve heard a few interpretations as to its meaning. The first coincides with the general land and water dichotomy underpinning many dry-landscape gardens. This explanation fits because one of the gardeners actually told me it represented Mount Fuji. Another idea I heard was it used to be a place for moon viewing, however a raised platform similar to the moon viewing platform at Katsura Villa originally stood in place of the “sand cone”. The Chinese characters in the name Kogetsudai, support this as they roughly translate into “platform facing the moon.”
The other uniquely shaped sand object represents a great expanse of water such as the ocean. The white sand included in both was meant for more than just ascetic purposes. The sand has a unique property that makes it highly reflective. For example, snow is considered to be one of the most reflective substances and this white sand is fairly comparable. Sunlight reflects off of the sand during the day and moonlight in the evening. Since electricity and modern day lighting were unavailable, the sand functioned as a natural form of lighting as light reflected off the sand and into the main hall.
This was one of the first buildings constructed on the grounds in 1486. It is said Yoshimasa spent the majority of his final days here. It encapsulates the various characteristics in the Shoin-style mentioned above and the Togudo is also thought of as Yoshimasa’s shoin (study). Also of note is the chigaidana (staggered shelf), another characteristic in the Shoin-style. The deep architectural impact of the Togudo on resulting architecture and design resulted in it being registered as a National Treasure. Usually the Togudo is not open to the public, but for an extra 1,500 Yen you are able to have a look inside. You must inquire at the office.
There are various types of moss throughout the grounds, and sometimes they have small samples on display. No question Saomi’s elegant touch is embodied here and at Saihoji (moss garden).
Daimonji Festival Connection
Yoshihisa the 9th descendent of the Ashikaga clan and son of Yoshimasa, inherited the title of shogun in 1473. He served as shogun until 1489, the year he died from a brain hemorrhage. It is said he was a heavy drinker and couldn’t get enough of women. This overindulgence appears to be one of the main factors in his death. Yoshimasa decided to honour his son’s spirit by sending it off in grand fashion on the final day of the annual Obon festival on August 16thth. He wanted to be able to see it from the Togudo so stacks of wood were arranged in the shape of the “big” character and lit on the side of Daimonjiyama mountain. This appears to be the genesis of the Daimonji festival that continues today.
◊ Pictures taken by Greg Koch and Wikipedia Commons
◊ Information referenced from Wikipedia and 臨済宗相国寺派 Homepage