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Something for the Weekend: A Visit to the Temple of Golden Pavilion (Kin-kakuji, Kyoto, Japan)

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There’s not much tourism to Japan right now, thanks to Covid-19.

But that means there’s rarely been a better time to visit Kin-kakuji, the Golden Pavilion Zen temple in northern Kyoto, Japan, the top two floors of which are completely covered in gold leaf. Avoid the selfie-snapping hordes and see this temple in peace and quiet.

The temple overlooks a lake and is just completing a renovation, which should mean it is a feast for the eyes. Kin-kakuji became a World Heritage site in 1994. If you are visiting Japan it’s a must-see destination. It rivals the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India or the Shwedagon Pagoda (the ‘Golden Dragon’ Pagoda) in Yangon, Myanmar.

Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1408), became the third Shogun (a hereditary commander-in-chief in feudal Japan and the real ruler of the country) at the age of 10 in and set up his government in 1378 in Kyoto.

As a demonstration of his wealth and power Yoshimitsu rebuilt the temple in 1397 and lavished its exterior with 20 kilos of gold and re-named it Kin-kakuji. The gold leaf comes from the Japanese city of Kanazawa; it’s made by beating a small piece of gold, about the size of a dime, into a leaf that stretches to 1.62 square metres. In Japan, gold is historically associated with good fortune, good health, and keeping evil away. You can even buy a gold-leaf topped ice cream.

Kin-kakuji was burned down by an angry monk in 1950, but restored in 1955; that conflagration became the setting for the Japanese author Yukio Mishima’s novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Nowadays, Kin-kakuji is a tourist fixture for its spectacular appearance and its gorgeous setting, surrounded by the trees and next to the lake. Perfect for a spot of Zen meditation, while you ponder what souvenir to buy with your Glint card.

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