Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavilion, is nestled in Kyoto’s eastern mountains and is a popular stop for many visitors to Japan’s ancient capital. While the site has done the best with what it has, a part of the temple grounds are not wheelchair accessible. The moss garden, sand gardens, and the areas around the buildings are accessible though.
Ginkakuji is otherwise known as the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. This area is the official Zen Temple of the Sakyo ward that is located in the city of Kyoto Japan. This temple dates back to 1490 and started the initial planning phase in 1460. The original purpose of the temple was for a retirement villa but after Ashikaga Yoshimasa, it’s planner/original owner died, it was turned into a Zen temple.
The Temple is located along the eastern mountains of Kyoto – known as the Higashiyama area. The overall facility contains the Silver Pavilion (which is not actually silver!), around six temple buildings, a massive moss garden as well as a garden constructed out of a unique dry sand. By starting at the entrance of the temple and walking around through a circular route all of the gardens and buildings can be viewed through the tour.
The Silver Pavilion and one other building have been the only two on the compound to survive multiple fires and earthquakes throughout the past. The Pavilion itself is not actually Silver but was given this name for the black coating which reflects moonlight silver.
The site was recently redone in the spring of 2010 and now has an increased resistance for natural disasters and earthquakes.
Unfortunately, Ginkakuji is a bit for from the center of Kyoto and not serviced by a train. You can get to this area from bus number 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto station. The city of Kyoto has put in a great effort to make the city accessible to persons with disabilities and over 80 percent of the buses are wheelchair accessible. The nearest station is Ginkakuji-mae.
After arriving at the Ginkakuji-mae bus stop, or after coming from the opposite end of the Philosopher’s Walk, you will arrive at a small street leading up to Ginkakuji. It has many small stores offering food and souvenirs. The food stores are generally selling from the front door and are approachable by wheelchair. Unfortunately, some of the stores are inside and can be difficult for wheelchair users. The road itself is on an incline, which may be a challenge for those in manual wheelchairs or walking difficulties.
At the top of the street, the entrance to Ginkakuji starts with a rather steep incline which will be harder to get up than the street before it.
Once on the grounds, the paths are made of gravel, but the stones are very small and not deep – so, while not ideal for those in wheelchairs, it is not as bad as other sites. After entering the gardens, there is a small step that is a bit uneven.
The gardens have a number of small paths and a few little bridges. When crowded, it can be a bit difficult to get around and you may find yourself pushed along with the flow of people. Unfortunately, a large part of the course is a path on a hill and is completely inaccessible. This area can be skipped, but it does cut off a lot of the site for those with mobility difficulties.
At the end of the route there is a gift shop that can be crowded and has fairly narrow aisles, but not impossible in a wheelchair.
There is one accessible toilet which is located be the gift shop. While it can adequately fit a wheelchair-user and caregiver, it is a bit small and a 90° pivot from a wheelchair to the toilet may be difficult.
The out-of-the way location, and the fact that an area of the temple is not accessible may turn some visitors off. However, a large part of the temple – including the gardens and temple buildings – are accessible. The street leading up to the temple, and the steeper slope heading into the temple grounds may be a challenge for those in manual wheelchairs. However, the close proximity to the Philosopher’s Walk allows visitors to see two tourist spots in one go and can make it a worthwhile place to visit.
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