Just a 30-minute train ride from Osaka, Kyoto is steeped in a thousand years of history and is filled with many things to do. If you only have a few days, make sure to top your list with a visit to the Kyoto Kinkakuji Temple. An awe-inspiring sight should not be missed when visiting Japan.

According to the history of the Golden Pavilion, the building was originally constructed for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397 as a retirement home, Kinkakuji became a Zen temple upon his death. People visit its grounds to enjoy its peaceful surroundings and delight in the dramatic architecture of the Golden Pavilion.

Seeing Kinkakuji for the first time is truly breathtaking. The three-story building, which stands 42 feet high, is actually composed of three very different styles of architecture. The first-floor, known as the Chamber of Dharma waters, was constructed in traditional palace-style design. Containing one spacious room and a veranda, it was used by the Shogun as a reception hall. The Hall of Roaring Waves, on the second floor of the Japanese Golden Pavilion, is built in the Buke-zukuri style commonly used for Samurai houses. The second floor of the Golden Pavilion was used for private appointments with dignitaries. Firmament Top, the small upper floor, was inspired by the architecture found in Chinese Zen temples. The tiny space was used by the Shogun for tea ceremonies and meetings with friends.

One of the most remarkable qualities of the Japanese Golden Pavilion is the fact that the two upper-stories are covered entirely (both inside and outside) by approximately 105 pounds of gold leaf. While this architectural feature certainly adds great value to the Golden Pavilion, the site also carries enormous spiritual significance as it houses historical objects of the Buddha.

The Japanese Golden Pavilion, which stands today, is an exact reproduction of the original temple. It was rebuilt in the 1950's after a fanatical monk set fire to it in 1950. It was rumored that the monk could not bear to look at beautiful things.

While Kinkakuji needed to be rebuilt, its gardens and grounds are exactly the same as they were hundreds of years ago. The temple is located right upon the edge of Mirror Pond, a calm body of water filled with lotus flowers. Stroll along the edge of Mirror Pond on a sunny day and you will see an image of the sparkling Golden Pavilion reflected in its waters.

Mirror Pond also contains numerous islands and stones that symbolize the Buddhist creation story. After visiting the Japanese Golden Pavilion, make sure to take some time to stroll the grounds. Along with natural springs, a moss garden and a waterfall, you'll find numerous staircases that afford views of the different islands.

Kinkakuji's grounds also contain a quaint little tea-house, Sekka-tei and a small temple that honors the god of fire and wisdom, Fudo Myo-o. If you look closely, you will notice that there are tiny pieces of paper tied to the bushes that surround this temple. According to Japanese custom, these little pieces of paper are placed by those who have a wish they hope to come true. If you would like to add your wish to the bushes, you can purchase a piece of paper at the vending machine next to the temple.

For transportation to Kinkakuji, leave from Kyoto Station, take the number 12,59,204 or 205 bus and get off at the kinkaku-ji-machi stop.

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