“The history of Ginkakuji begins with Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-90), who commissioned the building as a retirement villa. Construction began in the 1460s, and picked up speed in 1470s. This was one of the most destructive eras of Kyoto’s history, with the Onin War (1467-77) leaving most of the city in ashes. Yoshimasa helped cause the war by first appointing his brother as shogun, then trying to install his young son instead.

“A very poor administrator despite his intellectual gifts, Yoshimasa abandoned politics in 1474 and lavished his full attention on the building of his villa and the pursuit of the good life, which included romance, moon gazing, and the tea ceremony (which he helped develop into a high art).

“The shogun was never able to coat the pavilion with silver – which he had intended to do in imitation of his grandfather’s intentions at Kinkakuji – but he oversaw the construction of about a dozen buildings on the grounds. Yoshimasa counted many Zen monks among his teachers and friends and he designed his retirement villa around Zen sensibilities. He lived there from 1484 until his death in 1490.

“Upon Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the villa was converted into a Buddhist temple in accordance with his will, a common practice of the time. But with the decline of the Ashikaga family in the following century, Ginkakuji was neglected and many buildings were destroyed.

“Most of the buildings in the present temple complex date from the mid-17th century, but closely reflect the design and outlook of the builder. The Silver Pavilion is faithful to the original and the sand gardens, while a new creation of the 1600s, are consistent with the shogun’s interests and inspirations (such as Kinkakuji).”

Information source: Sacred Destinations: The Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto