Kyoto Shimbun 2008.1.23 News
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Protecting Ginkaku-ji, the Beauty of Wabi-sabi
Reluctance to Black Lacquering the Outer Wall

The method for protecting the deteriorated upper layer of the exterior walls of Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion (Jisho-ji Temple, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto), a National Treasure, is the focus of an intense debate that has yet to be settled. While Kyoto Prefectural Board of Education made a proposal to lacquer the wall in black for protection, which also is the original appearance of the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji officials are reluctant due to the "significant alteration to the appearance of the Silver Pavilion." The Silver Pavilion is considered a symbol of the beauty of "Wabi-sabi," a concept of humble simplicity, and how the preservation will be done is drawing a lot of attention.

According to the board, the outside wall, which is made of cypress, was lacquered at the time of foundation. Much of the lacquer has peeled off during the 500 years since then, and portions of the wall are now as thin as one centimeter, half of the original thickness.

The board, which is in charge of the renovation project, came to the conclusion that, "plans are necessary to hold back erosion," and they made a proposal to Ginkaku-ji officials to lacquer the outside wooden part of the wall which has been thinned down due to wind and rain. One of the origins for the name Silver Pavilion is said to be the lore that "the reflected lights from the pond shone like silver on the lacquered outside walls," so the renovation following the board's proposal would bring back an appearance similar to the original from 500 years ago.

However, Ginkaku-ji officials are reluctant to change the building from its present form. The Silver Pavilion, as seen now, appears in textbooks, and, furthermore, it is considered symbolic architecture of Higashiyama Culture, which is based upon "Kotanbi," or the simple and refined aesthetic of Wabi-sabi. If the outside walls were to be lacquered and the color turned darker to black, it would differ from the widely-accepted appearance of the Silver Pavilion. Moreover, consultation with the Agency for Cultural Affairs is required to make changes, so the construction schedule would be pushed back.

The board will make proposals, including alternatives, of methods for preserving the Silver Pavilion. Ginkaku-ji officials will make the final decision, using the proposals made by the board as a reference.

Nearly 30 years have passed since the last time the "Kokerabuki," or shingling on the roof, was renewed and signs of degradation can be seen, so structural reinforcement focusing on earthquake resistance is required as well. Scaffolding for the construction will be set up in February and the building will be covered by a temporary shed, except for one section of the main facade. So, the Silver Pavilion as it is now can be seen only until mid-February.

Ginkaku-ji: Higashiyama-dono villa was originally established by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), the eighth shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate. It was later converted into this Zen temple due to his last words. Kannonden is the official name for the Silver Pavilion.

(translated by Galileo, Inc.)

Photo= The Silver Pavilion (Kannonden), a National Treasure. Methods for preserving the deteriorated top layer of the outside wall are drawing attention (Ginkaku-ji, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto)

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