Family Time at the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Temple

My family... blocking the Golden Pavilion (can I get a clone to take family portraits?)

Family time for us means just that. We are a family. Mike and I work hard. Mike especially. He does not get to see Dek and I that much during the week when he is working late nights at the end of a project. Just being near each other is exciting enough. Being together in another country with none of the distractions of home is even better.

Traveling around Kyoto, we savored the moments we could just walk around and explore. I tried to limit the activities of the day so we would all have time to check out our surroundings. I may not cater my travels to my son’s interests, but I do like to make sure he finds some rocks or fish to look at. Sometimes too many temples or historic sights were clumped together for us to take our time though. This was certainly the case when we went to the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Temple.

The Golden Pavilion sits on a Chinese-inspired mirror pond with rocks and pine tree islands.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, also known as the Kinkaku-ji, was by far the most dazzling sight we saw. And we almost missed it. I had checked in with a friend who had lived in Japan for a while a few days into our trip. She told us Kinkaku-ji could not be missed. We packed up the boy early one morning, jumped on the #12 bus and headed out.

Irises in full bloom lined the shores of the MIrror Pond at the Golden Pavilion

The sun was up, not a cloud to be seen. We stepped onto the grounds, gently elbowed our way around the students snapping pictures of each other and got an amazing view of the pavilion. It was certainly wrapped in gold. Thankfully we had worn sunglasses.

Set on the Kyoko-chi (mirror pond), the pavilion was reflected back at us in the still murky waters. The original pavilion, which was built in the late 1300s/early 1400s as part of former Shogun Yoshimitsu’s estate, was burned down in the 1950s. It was quickly rebuilt. In the late 1980s it was gilded again. No wonder it was so shiny. I can’t imagine the gold would hold up after 600+ years.

15 stones of various shapes and sizes placed in a sea of sand (left). Taking a peek down a small corridor on the Zen garden grounds

Just a 15-20 minute walk down the road from the Golden Pavilion was the dry garden of the Ryoan-ji Temple. One of Japan’s most famous Zen gardens, the actual garden was very small compared to the grounds it was built on. It is said that there are 15 rocks of different sizes in the garden. No matter which way you look at the garden, at least one rock is always hidden in the off-white sand.

You are not allowed to walk in the garden for obvious reasons, but there are steps that you can sit on to appreciate the view. The general path visitors take is a counter-clockwise stroll around the veranda, with small peeks into the building the Zen garden is part of.

A bridge to a small island shrine in the lake

Although the dry garden was impressive, Dek enjoyed the small bridge on the pond on the temple grounds much more. There were koi fish almost as big as he was waiting to be fed. The water was not too deep. I did have visions of jumping in after Dek if he fell in though. I told Dek I must really love him if I was willing to jump into muddy waters with fish that could eat my arm off. He just smiled back at me.

Man eating koi (as I like to call them) placed in a serene lake

With these two major cultural sights checked off our list in one morning, we headed back to the bus stop, grabbed a quick lunch of okinomiyaki and headed towards Kyoto Station. We were bound for Fushimi next.

Tips: Bring bug spray and a hand fan if you go to Ryoan-ji Temple. Baby eyes and nats don’t mix.

Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) Details:

  • Open daily from 9am-5pm
  • 400 yen entrance fee for adults
  • Not stroller friendly- some hiking up steps and paths in the gardens

Ryoan-ji Temple Details:

  • Open daily 8am-5pm, shorter hours in winter.
  • 500 yen entrance fee for adults

Souvenir Alert: The tickets to enter many of the sights in Kyoto were beautiful. I stuck them in our guidebook so they would stay flat and I could later display them with photos from our trip.

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2 comments

  1. That is a great picture of the family. Who needs to see the Golden Pavilion?

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