It is the silver sea of sand at Ginkakuji Temple (the silver pavilion)!
Ginkakuji or the silver pavilion is a Zen temple of the Shokoku School of the Rinzai Sect of Buddhism. Formerly known as Tozan Jishoji this picturesque temple is located at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama or the “eastern mountains”. This immensely popular tourist attraction was designated as a World Heritage site in 1994 by UNESCO.
The silver pavilion was not originally intended to be a temple. It was intended as a retirement home for Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Ashikaga shogun and grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (the man who founded the Kinkaku-ji or the golden pavilion). The construction of the villa started in 1460 but was stalled due to the Onin Wars.
Construction of the Higashiyamadono or the palace of the Eastern Mountains was started anew in 1480. Yoshimasa moved to Higashiyamadono in 1483 and resided there, conducting Noh plays, tea ceremonies, and reveling in the finer things of life until his death in 1490. The villa continued to expand as gardens and buildings were added and by 1490 the tally stood at 12 buildings and an expansive garden. Like his grandfather, the man behind the Kinkaku-ji, Yoshimasa willed his residence to a Zen Buddhist temple. The temple was named Jisho-in after his Buddhist name and later as Jisho-ji.
What to see
Inside the temple complex near the Hondo or the spirit hall is the famous Ginshaden or the Sea of Silver Sand. This is a karaesanisui garden (dry garden) and consists of a 2 foot platform of sand that covers 0.71 hectares (1.75 acres). The platform walls are reshaped and the “garden” is re-raked everyday. It is said that on a full moon night, Ginshaden reflects the light of the moon making the garden truly resemble a sea of silver sand.
Next to the sea of sand is a cone shaped structure rising 2 meters into the air. This is called the Kogetsudai, or the Moon-viewing Platform. Though the reason behind the construction of the platform are said to be manifold it is true that the Kogetsudai lights up the Silver Pavilion on moonlight nights, and the resplendent pavilion on a full moon night is a magnificent sight indeed.
The most important part of the complex is the Ginkaku or the Silver Pavilion. The silver pavilion is a far cry from the ornate décor of the Golden Pavilion. Though the Yoshimasa had intended to adorn the pavilion with silver leaf embellishments his plans did not see the light of day. The architectural style of the silver pavilion is very similar to that of the Golden pavilion.
The first floor is called Shinkudan or Empty Heart Hall is designed in the shinden style, with a single large room divided into several rooms by fusama sliding panels. This floor holds the idol of Jizo, the Buddhist protector of children, who is encircled by 1000 small Jizo idols.
The second floor, named Chouonkaku (Hall of Roaring Waves) derives its name from the Golden Pavilion. This floor contains a golden idol of Kannon (Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion) and is thus often referred to as the Kannon-dono (Kannon Hall). On the roof of the building is golden bronze phoenix which is believed to keep a watchful eye allover the complex.