The glorious Golden Pavilion near Kyoto is one of the most recognizable Japanese sites. Originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Kinkaku-ji was later converted to a Zen temple on the grounds of Rokuon-ji. The pavilion takes its name from the pure gold leaf finish of the upper two stories. Interestingly, each floor represents a different style of architecture. The first floor is built in the Shinden style used for palace buildings during the Heian Period. The natural wood and plaster walls contrast with the upper floors of the building. The second floor represents the aristocratic style of samurai residences. Finally, the third floor is built in the Chinese Cha'an style, also known as Zen shu butsuden zukuri. The gilded roof is topped by a golden phoenix.
The Golden Pavilion overlooks Mirror Pond (Kyoko-chi), which contains a number of small islands and large boulders. The specific placement of the islands and rock groupings tell the Zen creation story. Surrounding the pond and pavilion is a magnificent strolling garden or kaiyu-shiki. A pathway carries visitors around the pond, offering spectacular views of the pavilion and leading to a series of statues and smaller gardens. At the end of the pathway you will find the Sekkatei Teahouse, added during the Edo Period, which offers a fine place to relax.