The Ginkakuji Mystery: A NOT-SO-SILVER “Silver Temple”

General Information About Ginkakuji

Along with Kin’kaku, at the “Golden Temple,” and Hiun’kaku, Gin’kaku, or the “Silver Building,” is renown as the Three Kaku’s (Temple Buildings) of Kyoto.

But unlike the other two kaku’s, Gin’kaku poses this interesting question that has continued to be an enigma to those who visit:


Hold on to your thought there!

Before we speculate as to why at the end of the blog post, let’s take a look at what Gin’kakuji has to offer.



Gin’kaku’ji was initially built during the Muromachi Period, an interesting time in Japanese history when the capitol was in Kamakura (Eastern Japan), and built by one of the Ashikaga Shogunates as a palace.

Eventually, after the death of the Shogunate who lived there, the palace converted into a Buddhist temple, and changed its name to Jisho’ji, which is the current name of the temple that houses Gin’kaku.

According to historians, Jisho’ji started being called commonly as Gin’kaku’ji around the Edo Period.




Like so many other attractions in Kyoto, Gin’kaku’ji offers a beautiful array of colors for its fall foliage, a great time to visit Kyoto, by the way.

The carefully sculpted gardens showcase Gin’kaku’ji in a way that is difficult for even the greatest painters, Eastern or Western, to capture its elegance and serenity.

Each angle of Gin’kaku’ji offers to new discovery to the visitor; combine that with how Gin’kaku’ji looks through the maple tree openings or in combination with other natural aspects, and you will undoubtedly have more than 100 viewpoint of this temple.



The carefully crafted garden of Gin’kaku’ji is also worth admiring.

In western gardening, greenery and flowers are common. But a distinct feature of Buddhist gardens is also the stone work.

Pebbles are placed to create a certain image or symbol.

At Gin’kaku’ji, the stone pebbles represent the ocean and its tides, probably to symbolize a Buddhist principle.

The stones that create the tides is called Gin’sha’dan, and the stones that create a huge mountainous structure is called the Ko’getsu’dai.

Each creation is unique and it is said that the Ko’getsu’dai was used for monks to climb on top of it and to view the moon, starting from around the Edo Period.





So, WHY The Name “Gin’kaku” (Silver Temple)?


So, one question remains:

Why is this temple called “Gin’kaku’ji”?

Some say it was named that because the Bakufu (government) at the time it was built was going to put actual silver on the exterior, but later ran out of funds.

Others say it was named that because the original builder of the temple, the Ashikaga Shogunate, was going to put silver on it and that HE ran out of funds.

There is other speculation, such as that the black paint used to paint the exterior LOOKED like silver when sun shone on it, thus getting the name “Silver Temple.”


But… Who knows?

Only Gin’kaku’ji, the building that remains today, knows the real truth.

Us humans can only speculate as to what happened in history, based on writings and records from the time.

So come check out the Gin’kaku’ji yourself, and take a close look at each element and viewpoint this magnificent temple has to offer.

By taking a closer look, you might arrive to a snug conclusion as to what exactly spurred the people to call this temple the “Silver Temple.”

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