Sunday, May 4, 2014

History of the Kinkaku-ji Temple

By Phil Mevert

The Kinkaku-ji complex which translates to the “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” was originally an existing villa called Kitayama-dai owned by the powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune. In 1397 Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu purchased the villa from the Saionji family. Having been constructed in the late 14th century, it was not designed by an architect as we would call them today.  At this time those who were wealthy enough to hire others to build their buildings were essentially the architects as they were the ones who would instruct the builders how the building was to look and what materials were to be used. It is unknown who the builders of the Kinkaku-ji actually were. 

The Kinkaku-ji Temple is divided in both style and material use by the three levels that make up the structure. Each level has its own unique use and purpose. The overall structure of the building is wood columns and beams. The pyramid shaped roofs are thatched with shingles and the top roof is topped with a bronze phoenix ornament. The first level, which is called The Chamber of Dharma Waters, is made up of unpainted wood and white plaster. The walls are shorter to allow natural daylight and views out to the water (  The Wood and plaster look on the outside of the first level allow the water and other natural elements to be the focus of the lower level to provide a peaceful feeling. The second and third floor exteriors are covered with pure gold leaf. Many think this is to reflect what is on the insides of those levels. Much like the first floor is a rather plain exterior to allow the natural experience to happen both on the interior and exterior of the level, the second and third floors exterior are to show the beauty on the outside of what is inside. The second floor is known as the Tower of Sound Waves and is intended as a Buddha hall ( The second floor gives off a feeling of impermanence with its slidding wood doors and latticed windows. The shrine on the second floor is dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kannon.   The third floor is built in a more traditional Zen style and contains around 25 Bodhisattvas ( The third floor is known as the Cupola of the Ultimate.

As mentioned with the extreme beauty of the second and third levels having the gold leaf and the lower level being non exuberant color, the upper levels are able to complement the nature that surrounds the building and is connected to the first floor since the first floor is at ground level. 
The reflection pond that surrounds about a quarter of the building makes the building look even more beautiful by reflecting the gold upper levels and extending the beauty on to a horizontal plain as well as the vertical plain that the building itself creates naturally. It is possible that the beauty of the Kinkaku-ji is what kept the building standing through a civil war and two world wars even though some of the surrounding buildings in the complex. It is rather Ironic that the beauty of the Kinkaku-ji was able to keep it standing for around 500 years and that the beauty is also what cause a psychotic student monk, who hated everything beautiful convinced himself the only solution to solve his problems was to burn the building down. 
Although it is a shame to see a building that was able to stand the test of time disappear, the replication of the exact building actually became even more beautiful by the addition of more gold leafs to the second third levels. 

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