We visited Ginkaku-ji, otherwise referred to as the Silver Pavilion, on the third day of our trip to Japan in September 2013. We had actually planned to go to Okayama that day, but due to a typhoon further north, most of the trains weren’t running. So, we improvised and headed to Ginkaku-ji instead.
Ginkaku-ji is on the eastern side of Kyoto, nestled up against the mountains. It is one of the main attractions of Kyoto and attracts a lot of tourists every day. The main attraction here is the two-storey temple pavilion. It closely resembles Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) only the roof is not covered in gold. Instead, it is brown.
I’m not entirely sure why it is called the Silver Pavilion. Some sources suggest the original plan was to cover the roof with silver foil. It may, however, simply be a nickname it acquired to distinguish it from the Golden Pavilion. Or, the name may have arisen from the time when the roof was covered in black lacquer. It is said that the moon reflecting off the lacquer gave it a silvery appearance. Whatever the reason for its name, the Silver Pavilion is a national treasure and well worth a visit.
*** Warning: There are LOTS of photos in this blog post ***
Getting to Ginkaku-ji
Getting to Ginkaku-ji is easy. If you are using the Kyoto bus system to get around, you will find several bus routes stop near Ginkaku-ji. Please keep in mind though, that the bus system can be very slow. And, if you are leaving towards the end of the day, you will find long queues to get a bus back to the station and other areas of Kyoto, so please allow yourself plenty of time.
Ginkaku-ji is a short walk from the bus stop. Most people getting off the bus with you will be heading for the same place, so just follow them. 🙂
To get to the main gate, you will need to walk up a hill. This is essentially a shopping street full of cute souvenir stores and places to eat. Unfortunately, the typhoon that had passed through the area the night before we visited had flooded many of the stores so most of them were closed for business and there was a big clean-up going on.
Arriving At Ginkaku-ji
The shopping street will bring you to the main gate to Ginkaku-ji. From there, you will find yourself following a path to the middle gate and the ticket counter. Once you have your ticket, you can enter the main complex. In 2013, the entrance fee was 500Y per person.
As you can see from the map, Ginkaku-ji is quite a large complex. Of course, most people are there to see the Silver Pavilion itself, but there are also several other buildings in the complex, a beautiful garden and a pathway up into the mountain.
As you enter the complex, the first thing you will probably notice are the cultural buildings on your left.
Sadly though, if you’re like me, you probably won’t pay much attention to them, as you will be eager to see the main attraction, the Silver Pavilion:
There is a viewing area just in front of the Pavilion. Unfortunately, as this is the first viewing area you come to, this area is always very busy as everyone is trying to take photos here. It is a great photo spot, but do remember you will have plenty of opportunities to photograph the Silver Pavilion from different viewpoints as you make your way around the complex.
If you do manage to get down to the bottom of this viewing area, you will also find a small shrine, the Hachiman Shrine.
As you make your way along the walking path, you will notice the sand mound and sand garden on your right.
The sand garden is called Ginshadan or the Silver Sand Sea. It has been designed to resemble waves in the ocean.
The sand mound is call Kogetsudai or Moon Viewing Sand Mound. Some believe it was designed to resemble Mt Fuji. Others, however, suggest that mounds like this were created to reflect divine light from the moon into the hearts of the viewers. On moonlight nights, this mound reflects moonlight onto the Silver Pavilion and from above the Silver Pavilion, it is said that it resembles a full moon reflected in a deep lake.
Next, the path will take you through some beautiful gardens centred around two ponds.
I love Japanese gardens like this. I can never spend too much time in them. They are just so beautiful and relaxing to walk through. I love the way they create bridges too. Just stunning!
As you make your way around the garden, you will come to the Sengetsusen Waterfall. It is only a small waterfall, but its setting is beautiful.
From there, it’s time to head up the hill and onto the side of the mountain. It’s not a particularly difficult walk but there are plenty of inclines and steps. If you have mobility problems and can’t make it up the stairs, I believe there is a second path to bypass this part of the walk.
A short way up the hill is the Benzaiten Shrine, a small shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of music, poetry, learning and art. She is one of Japan’s seven lucky deities.
Further up the hill is a well called Ochanoi. Water from this well is used in tea ceremonies.
As you reach the highest part of the path, you will find yourself with a fabulous view of the Silver Pavilion from above. You’ll also find it’s a great spot for a birds eye view of the surrounding areas and the perfect way to get a feel for how the Silver Pavilion fits in with the geography and layout of Kyoto. You might even be able to spot your hotel!
From here, the path takes you down hill, towards the exit. I noticed that by this point, a lot of visitors are rushing to leave, but try to keep a few minutes up your sleeve for one last photo stop at the bottom of the hill. This is probably my favourite spot for photographing the Silver Pavilion, so please take a moment to enjoy it. It’s a great vantage point, plus a lot less people crowd around here than at the viewing area near the front entrance.
If you have time, stop by the gift store on the way out. They offer a wide range of traditional Japanese souvenirs as well as some cute kawaii items. Here, we found several items that had been made specifically for Ginkaku-ji and that feature Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse and other characters. And they were all so cute!
I really enjoyed our time at Ginkaku-ji, particularly the walk around the gardens and up the side of the mountain. If you’re in Kyoto, it’s worth a visit, but please allow yourself plenty of time to wander around and really enjoy the setting. If you are thinking about visiting, or you just like the pictures, please pin them to Pinterest. Thank you. 🙂