“Built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a mountain villa in 1482, Jisho-ji Temple was later converted into a temple. Officially named Jisho-ji Temple, this temple is a great example of Higashiyama culture.

“The Ginkaku, or “Silver Pavilion,” with its simple, noble design, is a National Treasure. It is also known as Kannon-dono (Kannon Palace). Togudo (Buddha Hall), also a National Treasure, is a relic of early shoin-zukuri, or library style. In the garden (designated as a special place of scenic beauty) are the so-called “Sea of Silver Sand” and the “Moon Platform,” from which the light of the moon is said to reflect and shine on the Silver Pavilion.”

Information source: Prefecture of Kyoto: Visit Kyoto

“The front room of Togu-do (“East Seeking Hall,” a National Treasure) is where Shogun Ashikaga is thought to have lived, and the statue of the priest is probably of Yoshimasa himself. The back room, called Dojin-sai (“Comradely Abstinence”), became the prototype for traditional tea-ceremony rooms.

“Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) is a simple two-story building with a serene wooden exterior. Similar to its main inspiration, Kinkakuji, its design combines Chinese elements with the developing Japanese Muromachi (1338-1573) architecture.

“The upper floor shelters a golden statue of Kannon said to have been carved by Unkei, a famous Kamakura-period sculptor. Unfortunately it’s not normally open to public view. Also enshrined in the temple is Jizo, the guardian god of children.

“Another notable building is Togudo (East Seeking Hall), where Yoshimasa is believed to have lived in the front room. A statue of a priest is probably a portrait of the shogun himself. The back room, Dojinsai (Comradely Abstinence) was used for tea ceremonies and became the prototype for traditional tea pavilions that emerged across Japan in the following century.

“The temple complex includes lovely Japanese gardens. Attributed to the artist and architect Soami (1465-1523), they consist of two contrasting sections that combine harmoniously. The first, a green pond garden overlooked by the pavilion, is a composition of rocks and plants designed to afford different perspectives from each viewpoint. The second garden features two sculpted mounds of sand, the higher one of which may symbolize the sacred Mt. Fuji. It sparkles in the moonlight, giving it the nickname Sea of Silver Sand.”

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

“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

“Ginkaku-ji, like Kinkaku-ji, is regarded as a branch temple of Shôkoku-ji. Its official name is Tôzan (Eastern Mountains) Jishô-ji. The gentle hills that range along the eastern edge of Kyoto are called Higashiyama (“eastern mountains”) and from ancient times have been regarded as possessing a feminine gentleness. The frequent subject of poetry, these mountains are a much appreciated part of the landscape of Kyoto.

“The peak called Nyoigatake (also known as Daimonjiyama) is well known as the site of the bonfire in the shape of the character dai (“great”) visible from the city on August 16, during the Bon festival. Ginkaku-ji is located in the foothills of Daimonjiyama. The “Philosopher’s Path,” named after a favorite stroll of the philosopher Nishida Kitarô (1870-1945) and a famous route for viewing cherry blossoms in spring and fireflies in summer, runs past its front gate.

“This area has a long history. The environs of the Shirakawa River running through it have housed settlements since ancient times. Evidence of Jômon-period (ca. 10,000 BC to ca. 300 BC) sites and temples from the Nara period (710-94) have been discovered here. It has also been a favored site for temples, with the Hônen-in and Reikan-ji in the east and Kurodani Konkaikômyô-ji and Shinnyodô in the south. During the Heian period (794-1185) it was, like Kitayama, a site of imperial tombs, crematories, and temples dedicated to the peaceful repose of the dead. In the mid-Heian period the temple Jôdo-ji was built here. Later the Higashiyama palace, which eventually became Jishô-ji, was built on the temple site.”

Information source: History of Ginkaju-ji

The Philosopher's Path

“Ashikaga Yoshimasa initiated plans for creating a retirement villa and gardens as early as 1460; and after his death, Yoshimasa would arrange for this property to become a Zen temple. The official name is Jishō-ji (慈照寺 Jishō-ji) or the “Temple of Shining Mercy.” The temple is today associated with the Shokoku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen.

“The two-storied Kannon-den (観音殿, Kannon hall), is the main temple structure. Its construction began February 21, 1482 (Bummei 14 , 4th day of the 2nd month). The structure’s design sought to emulate the golden Kinkaku-ji which had been commissioned by his grandfather Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It is popularly known as Ginkaku, the “Silver Pavilion” because of the initial plans to cover its exterior in silver foil; but this familiar nickname dates back only as far as the Edo period (1600–1868).”

Information source: Wikipedia: Ginkaku-ji

“During the Ōnin War, construction was halted. Despite Yoshimasa’s intention to cover the structure with a distinctive silver-foil overlay, this work was delayed for so long that the plans were never realized before Yoshimasa’s death. The present appearance of the structure is understood to be the same as when Yoshimasa himself last saw it. This “unfinished” appearance illustrates one of the aspects of “wabi-sabi” quality.

“Like Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji was originally built to serve as a place of rest and solitude for the Shogun. During his reign as Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa inspired a new outpouring of traditional culture, which came to be known as Higashiyama Bunka (the Culture of the Eastern Mountain). Having retired to the villa, it is said Yoshimasa sat in the pavilion, contemplating the calm and beauty of the gardens as the Ōnin War worsened and Kyoto was burned to the ground.”

Information source: Wikipedia: Ginkaku-ji

“In 1485, Yoshimasa became a Zen Buddhist monk. After his death on January 27, 1490 (Entoku 2, 7th day of the 1st month), the villa and gardens became a Buddhist temple complex, renamed Jishō-ji after Yoshimasa’s Buddhist name.

“In addition to the temple’s famous building, the property features wooded grounds covered with a variety of mosses. The Japanese garden, supposedly designed by the great landscape artist Sōami. The sand garden of Ginkaku-ji has become particularly well known; and the carefully formed pile of sand which said to symbolize Mount Fuji is an essential element in the garden.

“After extensive restoration, started February 2008, Ginkaku-ji is again [now open] to visit. The garden and temple complex are open to the public. There is still no silver foil used. After much discussion, it was decided to not refinish the lacquer to the original state. The lacquer finish was the source of the original silver appearance of the temple, with the reflection of silver water of the pond on the lacquer finish. So contrary to Kinkaku- ji [Golden pavilion] the Ginkaku- ji [is] not silver shining …”

Information source: Wikipedia: Ginkaku-ji

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