There is a Buddhist temple in Japan that is a must-see destination… another one of those places that you’ll commonly find photos of in many travel materials that you will come across. Nestled in the northern part of Kyoto city, it’s the one that features walls lined with the bright color of gold… Kinkaku-ji, or the golden pavilion.
About Kinkaku-ji: The temple is actually known as Rokuon-ji, but the gold leaf surrounding the three-story shariden (pavilion) is where the Kinkaku-ji name is derived from. The temple is dedicated to the Bosastu deity, which embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Kinkaku-ji, like the rest of Kyoto, was untouched by the Allied bombings in World War II, but nevertheless has burnt down and been rebuilt numerous times, including as part of civil wars. Most recently in 1950, a young monk attempted to set himself on fire in a suicide attempt; he survived, but the building did not.
The current Kinkaku-ji dates from 1955. The pavilion underwent restoration between 1987 and 2003.
Did you know? The pavilion is covered in gold leaf because it is believed that the gold color purifies any negative thoughts related to death. The effect of the gold leaf is enhanced through sunlight reflecting off of it, as well as from reflections off of nearby ponds in the temple complex.
Kinkaku-ji is not limited to the pavilion itself. A beautiful Japanese garden surrounds the pavilion and can be found throughout the temple grounds.
Kinkaku-ji is on UNESCO’s list of 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, making it a World Heritage Site.
Costs: It costs 400 yen for admission to the temple grounds. They are open every day of the year from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
How to get there: Kinkaku-ji is a little bit out of the way on the map of Kyoto’s attractions. The best way to access the temple is by bus , though Kyoto’s traffic conditions may make the going a little slow.
Several bus routes run to Kinkaku-ji, including the 101 and 205 buses from Kyoto Station, which are the limited-stop buses that run toward Kyoto’s major sightseeing destinations… and therefore tend to get crowded. These buses, like many that run within Kyoto, cost just a flat fare of 230 yen to ride.
When I visited Kyoto in 2013 and traveled to Kinkaku-ji, I followed some advice posted online and used a combination of subway and bus. This involved taking the subway north from Kyoto Station to Kitaoji Station (7 stops, 260 yen), then changing to one of the buses that goes to Kinkaku-ji – either the 101, 102, 204 or 205 bus (230 yen). While the subway was reasonably busy heading northbound during the morning hours, it ran on time. There was little wait for a bus when I got to Kitaoji, and the bus ride from there to the temple was pleasant and not at all crowded.
Using the subway/bus method effectively doubles your one-way fare to 490 yen, though the use of some sort of all-day pass might help mitigate this cost. Examples include a 1-day or 2-day Kyoto sightseeing pass valid for the bus and subway (1,200 yen and 2,000 yen respectively). Since I did a lot of traveling around Kansai on my trip, I utilized a Surutto Kansai Ticket (also called the Kansai Thru Pass) which permits 3 non-consecutive days of travel on Kansai’s private railways, subways and most buses. This pass costs 5,200 yen as of February 2017.
What’s Nearby: I combined my trip to Kinkaku-ji with a visit to nearby Ryoan-ji temple, which is noted for its zen rock garden. The number 59 bus easily runs from Kinkaku-ji to Ryoan-ji, or you can take a quick taxi ride for around 1,000 yen.
If you have time later in the day, head southwest to charming Arashiyama, home to shops and restaurants, as well as a landmark bridge (Togetsukyo) with a monkey park on the other side. I recommend making the Randen, or Keifuku Railway Tram, part of your trip to Arashiyama. From Kinkaku-ji, take the 204 or 205 bus south to Kitano Hakubaicho (230 yen) and then take the Randen to Arashiyama (210 yen, one train change required). From Ryoan-ji, take a nice stroll south of the temple entrance for about 600 meters (10 minutes) to Ryoan-ji-mae station, and take the Randen to Arashiyama (210 yen, one train change required).
Returning to Kyoto Station, my recommendations:
*From Kinkaku-ji, bus number 101, 102, 204 or 205 to Kitaoji Bus Terminal (230 yen), change to Subway to Kyoto Station (260 yen).
*From Ryoan-ji, bus number 59 to Karasuma Imadegawa (230 yen), change to Subway to Kyoto Station (260 yen).
*From Arashiyama, you can walk northeast for approximately 800 meters (10-15 minutes) to the JR station at Saga Arashiyama and take a direct JR train to Kyoto Station (15 minutes, 240 yen). Alternatively, you can take the Randen to Tenjingawa Station (210 yen) and then take the subway (260 yen, one train change required).