Rokuon-ji Temple (鹿苑寺)

Rokuon-ji Temple is a Rinzai sect Shokoku-ji School temple located in Kita Ward, Kyoto City. The name of the temple is derived from the posthumous Buddhist name of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. It is commonly known as Kinkaku-ji Temple (Gold Pavilion Temple) and the honorific mountain prefix is Hokuzan. In 1994, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the "{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}."
The entire temple, of which the Shariden Hall (reliquary hall) known as 'Kinkaku' is central, is commonly known as 'Kinkakuji Temple.'


In 1224, during the Kamakura Period, FUJIWARA no Kintsune (Kintsune SAIONJI) established the Saion-ji Temple and his mountain villa named "Kitayama-tei" on the site. It was handed down to successive members of the Saionji family of Kintsune's descendants. Members of this family were appointed to the position Kanto-moshitsugi with the duty of managing communications and relations between the Kamakura Shogunate and the Imperial Court. However, just after the downfall of the Shogunate, the then head of the family Kimmune SAIONJI was executed and the Saionji family's extensive territory and assets confiscated after he was accused of plotting to invite Emperor Godaigo to Saion-ji Temple to assassinate him. For this reason, Saion-ji Temple gradually fell into disrepair and became dilapidated.

In 1397, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA came into possession of Saion-ji Temple after exchanging it for his territory in Kawachi Province and completely restored it by repairing existing structures and building new ones. At this time, Yoshimitsu's Kitayama mountain villa was known as "Kitayama-dono" or "Kitayama-tei." The mansion served as a political center and was of a scale to rival that of an imperial palace. In 1394, Yoshimitsu gave up his title of Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") in favor of his son Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA but did not release his grip on power and continued to maintain authority from Kitayama-dono.
Following the death of Yoshimitsu, Yoshimochi intended to disassemble Kiyatama-dono villa and leave only the Shariden Hall intact but, as requested in Yoshimitsu's will, the site was converted into a Zen temple and named 'Rokuon-ji Temple' after Yoshimitsu's posthumous Buddhist name 'Rokuon'in.'
Muso Soseki was posthumously declared as the kaisan (temple founder) in name only.

During the Onin War, the site served as a camp for the western army and many of its structures were destroyed by fire.

Kinkaku (Shariden Hall)

The Kinkaku structure, from which the temple gets its nickname 'Kinkaku-ji Temple,' is a three-storey building covered in gold leaf and is formally referred to as the 'Shariden Hall' (requilary hall) that houses Buddha's ashes (originally, only the top two stories were covered with gold leaf. However, there is also a theory that only the top storey was covered in gold). The lower, middle and top floors of the characteristic building each feature a different style. The ground floor, known as "Hossui-in," is rendered in the shinden-zukuri-style and in the center is a Hokan-Shaka-Nyorai-zo statue facing a portrait of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA depicted as a Buddhist priest (some sources claim the statue to be Amida Nyorai). The middle floor, named "Choon-do," is in the domestic style of warrior aristocrats (buke zukuri) and contains a statue of Iwaya-Kannon and Shitenno. The top floor, called "Kukkyo-cho," is built in the Zen temple style and houses Buddha's ashes. The roof is made from kokera-buki (thin wooden shingles) and is topped by a Chinese Phoenix.

The Kinkaku of Rokuon-ji Temple had formerly been designated a national treasure since before the World War II but in 1950 the pavilion was burned down (The Kinkaku-ji Temple Arson Incident) in an act of arson committed by a monk named Shoken HAYASHI (aged 21 at the time). Following the incident, he attempted to commit suicide on the hill behind the temple. His mother was called to Kyoto to talk with the police and on her way home, she committed suicide by jumping from Hozukyo Gorge. The building was completely destroyed along with the National Treasure portrait of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. The Chinese Phoenix that adorned the roof had been removed prior to the blaze and has been preserved. These events are at the center of Yukio MISHIMA's novel "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" and Tsutomu MIZUKAMI's novels "Goban-cho Yugiriro" and "Kinkaku enjo" (the burning of the Kinkaku-ji Temple). The present Kinkaku structure dates from 1955 when it was rebuilt based on the original.

It is said that the ceiling of the top floor was originally made from a single piece of camphor wood, but this is not true and it was in fact a panelled ceiling using several wood panels.

The 8th Shogun Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA emulated the design of the Shariden Hall built by his grandfather Yoshimitsu in the construction of the Kannonden Hall at his Higashiyama sanso villa (what came to be known as Jisho-ji Temple).

Kinkaku is one of "Kyoto's three great pavilions" along with Ginkaku (Jisho-ji Temple Kannonden Hall) and Hiunkaku (West-Hongan-ji Temple).



Please see the above article regarding Kinkaku (Shariden Hall).

Hojo (abbot's quarters)

This building dates from the middle of the Edo period.

Rikushu no Matsu (pine tree)

This pine tree to the north of the Hojo is said to have been planted by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA himself. One of Kyoto's three greatest pine trees.


This building dates from the middle of the Edo period.
It was known for the images painted on its partitions (fusuma) by Jakuchu ITO, but these have since been transferred to the Jotenkaku Museum for preservation (please see the below article on cultural properties) and it now features images by Toichi KATO which include 'A light-ink cherry blossom,' 'Osugi,' 'The sun,' 'The moon,' 'Cormorants,' 'Garyobai plum trees,' 'Plovers' and 'Young bamboo.'

Gingasen (Milky Way Spring)

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA is said to have used the water from this spring to make his tea.

Gankasui (Water beneath the Rocks)

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA is said to have used the water from this spring to wash his hands.

Sekkatei Teahouse

It is said that Sowa KANAMORI was particularly fond of this teahouse. The main building with a hipped thatched roof consists of a three-mat room, a preparation area and an earthen-floored. This larger room is connected to a smaller two-mat room called 'Hoseiro' with a shingled gable roof and a raised floor. This was destroyed by fire early in the Meiji era and the present structure dates from 1874 when it was rebuilt. In 1997, the building underwent disassembly and repair. Amazingly for a tea preparation area, heavenly bamboo has been used in the construction of the alcove posts of the three-mat room and this is well known.


The Chisen Kaiyu style garden is centered around the Kyokochi pond (mirror pond) that reflects Kinkakuji on its surface and has been designated both a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty. Kyokochi pond contains islands that include Ashihara-jima island, Tsuru-jima island and Kame-jima island, as well as numerous famous strangely-shaped rocks such as Hatakeyama-ishi rock, Akamatsu-ishi rock and Hosokawa-ishi rock.

Cultural Properties

Important Cultural Properties
Color on silk portrait of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA (July 1408, written an inscription on a painting by Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA) and color on silk portrait of Yoshimitu ASHIKAGA (including three of his Waka poems)
Color on silk image of Bodhidharma.
Daishoin partitions paintings by Jakuchu ITO dated 1759
Ink on paper images of grapes (grape room) (room 1) - 15 sheets
Ink on paper images of pine trees and cranes (pine and crane room) (room 2) - 8 sheets
Ink on paper images of Japanese bananas (Japanese banana room) (room 3) - 12 sheets
Ink on paper images of hens and hardy begonia (room 4) - 11 sheets
Ink on paper images of bamboo (narrow room) - 4 sheets
Wooden image of Fudo-Myoo (enshrined in the Fudodo hall) (the former principal image of Saion-ji Gomado)
Text of a dialogue between Shigen Sogen and Koho Kennichi
Dying instructions from Junei-in Temple and Jisho-in Temple

Most of the designated cultural properties, including the partition paintings by Jakuchu ITO, are in the possession of the main Shokoku-ji Temple and kept in the Jotenkaku Museum.

Rokuon-ji Temple has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the "{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}" and the garden has been designated both a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.


Location: Kinkakuji-cho, Kita Ward, Kyoto City
Transport: Take the Kyoto City Bus and alight at either Kinkaku-ji Mae or Kinkaku-ji Michi.

[Original Japanese]