The wooded hills of Kitayama are home to Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The pavilion originally formed part of a larger retirement villa built by the former Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358–1408) on the site of an earlier aristocratic residence; it was converted into a Zen temple on his death. A noted scholar of Chinese culture, Yoshimitsu incorporated various Chinese motifs into the pavilion and its surrounding garden, the focus of which is a lake studded with rocks and pine-covered islets.
Even the crowds can’t diminish the impact of seeing the temple for the first time – a hint of gold glimpsed though the trees, and then the whole, gleaming apparition floating above the aptly named Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond). If you’re lucky enough to see it against the autumn leaves, or on a sunny winter’s day after a dusting of snow, the effect is doubly striking. Note the different architectural styles of the pavilion’s three floors and the phoenix standing on the shingle roof. It’s an appropriate symbol: having survived all these years, Kinkaku-ji was torched in 1950 by an unhappy monk. The replica was finished in just five years, and in 1987 the building was gilded again, at vast expense. Kinkaku-ji lies on several bus routes, of which the most convenient are #12 and #59.