The site of Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, belonging to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune. Kinkaku-ji history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionji family by Shogun Ashikaga
Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.
Kinkakuji was rebuilt in 1950 when it was destroyed by arson after surviving WWII intact.
It was a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven
years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses in the same year, he died of tuberculosis.
During the fire, the original statue of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was lost to the flames (now restored). A fictionalized version of these events is at the center of Yukio Mishima’s 1956 book ‘The temple of the Golden Pavilion’.
The garden complex is an excellent example of Muromachi period (approximately 1337 to 1573) garden design. The Muromachi period is considered to be a classical age of Japanese garden design. The correlation between
buildings and its settings were greatly emphasized during this period.
It was a way to integrate the structure within the landscape in an artistic way.
The garden designs were characterized by a reduction in scale, a more central purpose, and distinct setting. A minimalistic approach was brought to the garden design, by recreating larger landscapes in a smaller scale around a structure.
It is designated as a National Special Historic Site and National Special Landscape, and it is one of 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. It is also one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting a large number of visitors annually.
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