Ginkaku-ji Temple - 銀閣寺 (built 1484-90 onward)
Ginkakuji is one of the outstanding temples of the Muromachi era (1338-1573). Located in the foothills on the east side of Kyoto, the temple is famous for its two-story Kannon Hall, the Silver Pavilion, which takes its name from the anecdote that Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the temple's patron, intended to cover the pavilion with silver leaf in imitation of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) built by his grandfather. Although no silver was ever applied, the name lives on.
The temple owes its existence to Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490), the 8th Shogun of the Ashikaga line. Although intellectually gifted, Yoshimasa was a poor administrator. His reign witnessed one of the most destructive events in Japanese history--the Onin war (1467-77)--a conflict that reduced much of Kyoto to ashes. The war began after Yoshimasa belatedly tried to install his young son Yoshihisa (1465-89) as Shogun not long after handing over power to his own younger brother, Yoshimi. During the war, Yoshimi's former residence, Jodaiji temple, burned in one of many battles. After the war was over Yoshimasa, who had been in retirement even before the war began, decided to construct a new residence on the site of Jodaiji temple. This Higashiyama villa, named for its site in the eastern hills, served as Yoshimasa's home from 1484 to the time of his death in 1490.
After Yoshimasa's passing the villa was converted to a temple in accordance with his wishes. The temple was officially known as Jisho-in (later, Jisho-ji), but popularly became known as Ginkakuji.
Although the temple largely assumed its present form in the mid-1600s, much of interest can be traced to Yoshimasa's original concept for his retirement villa. Yoshimasa was simultaneously patron and designer, shaping his retirement villa according to Zen Buddhist sensibilities acquired from his long association with Zen monks as teachers and companions. Yoshimasa consciously based his villa on the Kinkakuji temple of his grandfather, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who in turn had based his design on the Saihoji "moss garden" temple built by Muso Soseki (1275-1351).
The central concept seen in all three designs is the juxtaposition of a dry Zen garden of raked sand and minimal form with the verdant miniature landscapes of a Chinese-style paradise garden. Even though Yoshimasa was not responsible for much of the more obvious Zen-style features (such as the "Sea of Silver Sand" and the volcano-shaped "Moon-viewing platform"), which were added in the 1600s, it might be said that these features fit so well because they are consonent with Yoshimasa's inspiration from Saihoji and Kinkakuji.
Another feature of note is the Hall of the Eastern Quest (Tōgudō), located next to the Edo-period Abbot's Quarters (Hōjō). Many scholars regard its Dojinsai tea room as the predecessor of the Tea Pavilion--a quintessential feature of Japanese architecture that emerged in the following century. Yoshimasa would often take tea here with one of the key figures in the development of tea culture.
Perhaps one reason that Ginkakuji makes such a strong impression on the visitor is that the site engages the eye with a limited number of forms that constantly change alignment with one another as the visitor strolls through the landscape. This limited vocabulary of objects includes strategically placed rocks, small stone bridges, mounds of sand, the Silver Pavilion itself, as well as sharp-edged patterns such as the lines in the raked sand. The genius of Ginkakuji is the integration of these elements into a memorable experience that engages the visitor and encourages him or her to explore the site from a variety of angles.
Plan adapted and redrawn by Timothy Ciccone based on signpost on site.
All images copyright 2007 Timothy M. Ciccone. Photographed May 2007.
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