Did Chinese Architect Liang Sicheng Save the Historic Sites of Kyoto?

Rokuon-ji, better known as Kinkakuji or “Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” is one of the most famous sites in Kyoto. The gilded pagoda draws crowds from all over the world. On the day I’m there, it seems that most of the visitors are from mainland China. Buses disgorge large groups of eager Mandarin-speaking tourists who crowd into the temple’s garden for selfies and family photos. The site (if not the building, more on that later) dates back to the 14th century, although one young visitor seems less than impressed by the history, screaming “bu yao!” “bu yao!” “bu yao!” (“don’t want”) as his parents/handlers try to get him to pose standing in a pile of recently fallen red maple leaves.

Walk down a street, any street, in the center of Kyoto and within a few blocks you’ll be standing outside a temple or shrine. Kyoto has some of the best-preserved historic architecture in Japan, and some of the credit for this may be due to one of China’s most famous architects and preservationists: Liang Sicheng (1901-1972).