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Place Category: Attractions
Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, is one of the top stops for anyone visiting Kyoto, and one of Japan’s most popular buildings. Originally a shogun’s estate, it is now a Buddhist temple and is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. The site near the pavilion is wheelchair accessible, but much of the gardens are not.
Kinkakuji – or as it’s more commonly known, the Golden Pavilion – is located on the edge of the city in an area where the imperial nobility used to build their pleasure villas in the 12th century. In 1397, military leader Shogun Yoshimitsu constructed a magnificent estate complete with garden palaces, banquet halls, strolling paths, theater stages, and a throne room in the imperial style. It’s no wonder an ambassador from China mistakenly referred to Yoshimitsu as the “King of Japan” upon seeing his grand estate (Naturally, Yoshimitsu didn’t bother correcting him).
Nowadays, Kinkakuji is a Buddhist temple, and the only sign of the villa’s former splendor is the Golden Pavilion overlooking a pond where the shogun used to hold boating parties. Originally a multipurpose meeting place for Yoshimitsu and his close friends and advisors to talk politics and enjoy tea, the pavilion is used today as a (symbolic) repository for the ashes of the Buddha. It was rebuilt in 1955 after a deranged priest burned it down after becoming obsessed with its beauty. Thankfully, the reconstruction is exactly to the original plans, so we are able to experience the opulent splendor that so impressed Yoshimitsu’s guests. And yes, that’s all real gold covering the exterior – $5 million worth of it!
The gardens surrounding the pavilion are a fraction of the old estate, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. Be sure to check out the waterfall with a fish-shaped boulder placed under it to symbolize a carp swimming upstream, and the pond above with a stone pagoda situated on a small island dedicated to Benzaiten, the lucky goddess of music and artistic skill. With this kind of scenery, you’ll soon understand why Yoshimitsu chose this quiet foothill location for his majestic villa.
The grounds are open 9:00-17:00, and is open every day of the year. The entrance fee is ¥400.
While it is possible to take the subway to Kitaoji Station and then a bus to Kinkakuji, it may be easier to go directly from Kyoto Station via bus number 101 or 205, since getting on a bus mid-route can be difficult when crowded.
The bus stop is located near Kinkakuji and a slightly inclined road leads to the grounds.
Once inside the grounds, the path to the pavilion is made of gravel but has flat, solid ground underneath, so while there will be some extra effort for those in manual wheelchairs, the tires will likely not become stuck in the stones.
Wheelchair users can view the Golden Pavilion and go to the garden behind it. Unfortunatey, only a small part of the gardens are wheelchair accessible as steps block the path.
One wheelchair accessible toilet is available on the grounds. The accessible toilet itself is located behind the other toilets. It is very basic and has no backrest. These toilets are the only ones on the grounds, so the surrounding area can be crowded with people waiting.
There is a gravel path, the toilet is not great, and a large part of the gardens are inaccessible to wheelchair users. However, the main focus – the area surrounding Golden Pavilion itself – is wheelchair accessible. Those with disabilities will have no problem taking a memorable picture of this famous building.
Special thanks: Accessible Japan would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to:
- KyoTours Japan for the excellent background information on Kinkakuji. http://www.kyotoursjapan.com/
- Shireen & Ruud for the fantastic map of the accessible route as well as the picture of the gravel pathway.
Volunteer contribution help many interested visitors. Thank you!