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Ginkakuji (t, Silver Pavilion) is a Zen temple along Kyoto's eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple, modeled after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather's retirement villa at the base of Kyoto's northern mountains (Kitayama). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa's death in 1490.

As the retirement villa of an art obsessed shogun, Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture, known as the Higashiyama Culture in contrast to the Kitayama Culture of his grandfather's times. Unlike the Kitayama Culture, which remained limited to the aristocratic circles of Kyoto, the Higashiyama Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. The arts developed and refined during the time include the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, noh theater, poetry, garden design and architecture.

Today, Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden. It is enjoyed by walking along a circular route around its grounds, from which the gardens and buildings can be viewed.

A first sight of the Silver Pavilion can be enjoyed shorty after entering the grounds. Formally named Kannonden (Kannon Hall), the pavilion's two stories are constructed in two different architecture styles and contain a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. However, the interior of the building is not open to the public.

Despite its name, the Silver Pavilion was never covered in silver. Instead, it is believed that the name arose as a nickname more than a century after the building's construction to contrast it with the Golden Pavilion. Alternatively, it is explained that moon light reflecting on the building's dark exterior (which used to be covered in black lacquer) gave it a silvery appearance.

The pavilion is one of only two buildings on the grounds of Ginkakuji which have survived intact the many fires and earthquakes of the past centuries, although it has been undergoing periodical renovation works to keep it well preserved.

Next along the route is an expansive, meticulously maintained dry sand garden, known as the "Sea of Silver Sand", with a massive sand cone named "Moon Viewing Platform". Besides the garden stands the Hondo (main hall), which displays paintings on its sliding doors (fusuma) but cannot be entered.

Right next to the Hondo stands the Togudo, Ginkakuji's only other temple building besides the Silver Pavilion which dates back to the temple's foundation. The Togudo is celebrated for containing a study room of 4.5 tatami mats, which is considered to be the oldest extant example of Shoin architecture, the architecture style in which most contemporary tatami rooms are still designed today. The building is not usually open to the public.

After passing by the Togudo, the walking path then takes visitors through Ginkakuji's moss garden, which features ponds with islands and bridges, little streams and various plants. The path climbs a hill behind the buildings from where there are nice views of the entire temple grounds and the city beyond. At last, visitors can enjoy once more some closer views of the Silver Pavilion before exiting the grounds.

Getting there and around

Ginkakuji can be accessed by direct bus number 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station in about 35-40 minutes and for 230 yen one way. Alternatively, you can reach Ginkakuji by foot along the Philosopher's Path from Nanzenji in about 30-45 minutes.

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Hotels around Kyoto

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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in the centre of Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a garden, free WiFi and a shared lounge. This 2-star guest house offers a shared kitchen and room service. The property is non-smoking and is located 1.2 km from Nijo Castle. All units include a shared bathroom, free toiletries and bed linen. A continental breakfast is available daily at the guest house. Guest House Oumi offers a terrace. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 2.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 46 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Hotel Muso
      Mid-range
      Located in the centre of Kyoto, less than 1 km from Gion Shijo Station, Hotel Muso provides air-conditioned rooms and free WiFi. This 3-star hotel offers a concierge service and luggage storage space. The property is non-smoking and is situated less than 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Guest rooms at the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV and a safety deposit box. Each room has a coffee machine and a private bathroom with a bidet and free toiletries, while selected rooms come with a kitchen equipped with a stovetop. At Hotel Muso rooms come with bed linen and towels. The accommodation offers 3-star accommodation with a hot tub. Popular points of interest near Hotel Muso include Sanjusangen-do Temple, Samurai Kembu Kyoto and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the hotel.
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    • GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station
      Luxury
      Featuring 4-star accommodation, GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station is situated in Kyoto, 1.1 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto and 2.1 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple. With a shared lounge, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The property is 2.7 km from the city centre and 1.1 km from Kyoto Station. All rooms are fitted with a fridge, microwave, a kettle, a bidet, free toiletries and a desk. At the hotel the rooms include bed linen and towels. GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Languages spoken at the 24-hour front desk include English, Japanese, Korean and Filipino. Tofuku-ji Temple is 3 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 3.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 42 km from GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station.
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    • Kyono Mori Yurinsha
      Mid-range
      Featuring 3-star accommodation, Kyono Mori Yurinsha is set in Kyoto, 1.7 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple and 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, room service and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi. The property is 1.1 km from Gion Shijo Station, and within 1.7 km of the city centre. All guest rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a fridge, a kettle, a shower, free toiletries and a desk. Featuring a private bathroom with a bath and a hairdryer, rooms at the inn also have a city view. At Kyono Mori Yurinsha all rooms have bed linen and towels. A ? la carte, continental or vegetarian breakfast can be enjoyed at the property. The accommodation provides an ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Popular points of interest near Kyono Mori Yurinsha include Kiyomizu-dera Temple, TKP Garden City Kyoto and Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the inn.
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    • BenTen Residences
      Luxury
      BenTen Residences offer a Japanese machiya accommodation in the heart of Higashiyama, Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine is 7 minutes on foot, while Kiyomizu Temple is a 14-minute stroll. BenTen Residences was featured as 1 of the Top 10 vacation homes in 2017 by Dwell. Free WiFi access is provided throughout the entire property. Coming with heated flooring, the accommodation features a Western bedroom and two Japanese-style rooms with tatami (woven-straw) flooring and futon bedding. There are also a living area and kitchenette. Guests will also find a bath with a view of little garden and 2 toilets. For an additional fee, the concierge service is available to create bespoke itineraries and assist guests with arranging cultural experiences, restaurant reservations and airport shuttle. Car and bicycle rental can also be arranged. Gion District is a 7-minute walk from BenTen Residences, while Heian Shrine is an 8-minute drive away. JR Kyoto Station is 20 minutes by car. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 38.6 km from BenTen Residences and Kansai International Airport is 80 km.
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    • Nagi Kyoto Shijo
      Luxury
      Offering air-conditioned rooms in the Nakagyo Ward district of Kyoto, Nagi Kyoto Shijo is 1.4 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The rooms include a balcony. At the hotel, the rooms have a wardrobe. At Nagi Kyoto Shijo all rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Nijo Castle is 1.8 km from Nagi Kyoto Shijo, while TKP Garden City Kyoto is 2.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 47 km from the hotel.
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    • Ryokan Shimizu
      Budget-friendly
      About a 7-minute walk from JR Kyoto Train Station and a 3-minute walk to Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple, Ryokan Shimizu is a non-smoking property that provides air-conditioned Japanese rooms with free Wi-Fi and a private bathroom. Rental bicycles are available at an additional charge. Guests at Shimizu Ryokan can experience traditional Japanese-style sleeping arrangements, with futon bedding on a tatami (woven-straw) floor. Rooms include a TV, a fridge and a tea maker. The en suite bath has toiletries. Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple is a 5-minute walk away, while Gojo Subway Station is a 10-minute walk. Sanjusangen-do Temple is 2 km away. On-site parking is possible, for a fee. Housed in a traditional gmachiya-zukurih building, the hotel includes a small garden and a hot bath that can be reserved for private use.
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    • Hostel Sui Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      In a prime location in Kyoto, Hostel Sui Kyoto provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a terrace. The property is located 1.2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, 1.8 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 2.4 km from Kyoto Imperial Palace. Private parking is available on site. The capsule hotel features certain units that include a safety deposit box, and every room is fitted with a shared bathroom with a bidet and a hairdryer. At Hostel Sui Kyoto the rooms are fitted with bed linen and towels. Nijo Castle is 2.7 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 3.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from Hostel Sui Kyoto.
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