Japan’s former imperial capital, Kyoto, is located on the island of Honshu in the center of the country. A thriving metropolis and Japan’s seventh largest city, it is home to a plethora of temples, shrines, universities, restaurants, art, and possibly the most famous geisha quarter of all time, Gion. There is a lot to see and do in Kyoto, but what stands out for me is the Tetsugaku no Michi or the Philosopher's Path.
Winding its way around a creek, past the serene Eikando, past the picturesque thatched roof of the Honen-in, ending at the magnificent Nanzenji temple, it is a lovely way to take in some of Kyoto's best sights in the course of a peaceful walk at the base of the Higashiyama mountains. Many a thoughtful step has been taken on this path - Kyoto University professor Kitaro Nishida's frequent wanderings famously drew attention to this beautiful route in the early 1900s.
Start your philosophical journey at the northern end of the pathway, at Ginkakuji, or the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. You might find yourself wondering where the silver is. This Muromachi period building doesn’t actually contain a silver pavilion despite Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s grand plan for his retirement home which was later converted to a temple.
2, Ginkakuji-cho, Sakyo-ku
Built to honour Jodo, founder of the Honen sect, Honen-in is a delightful little temple set in sand, complete with a fish pond. The thatched roof, which makes the entrance unusual, is especially lovely at sunset. Make sure you take your camera along.
0, Shishigatani Goshonodancho, Sakyo-ku
Also in honor of Jodo, Eikando is set against a hill and surrounded by trees. A large temple with a pagoda, it houses a statue of the Amida or Amitabha Buddha, and offers beautiful views from the higher stories. You’ll find yourself wanting to whisper and tread lightly along its hallowed wooden corridors as you explore this serene maze of rooms and halls.
48, Eikando-cho, Sakyo-ku
End your walk down the Philosopher’s Path with Nanzenji, a mid 13th century Zen Buddhist temple. This masterpiece is laid out over a massive sprawl of land. Take a picture in front of the Sanmon Gate and be sure to check out the aqueducts.
There are many more temples than the ones above, but these are my favourites. Beware that this is a popular path and can be crowded, especially around Hanami in the spring, when the cherry blossoms alongside the canal are in full glory.
Hungry after your philosophical meanderings?
Stop at Hinode Udon, a cosy noodle shop right outside the Eikando temple, to make like a local and slurp on some cold soba or hot udon. Everything is in Japanese, so a quick survey of your neighbors’ tables is the best way to point out what you’d like.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Address: 36 Mazenji-Kitanobo-cho
FOR THE EXAMINER’S LA READERS:
All visitors to Japan need a valid passport. U.S. citizens don’t need a visa. Check your local Japanese consulate’s website or with your country’s Japanese embassy to see if your nationality needs a visa prior to landing. All major airlines fly non-stop to Tokyo from LAX.
However, the quickest way to get to Kyoto is to land in Osaka’s Kansai Airport, located about an hour and twenty minutes from the city depending on traffic. There are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Kansai Airport. Kyoto is also accessible by Japan’s famous superfast bullet train, the Shinkansen, which gets you there in two hours and twenty minutes from Tokyo. Make sure you hop aboard the Nozomi or the Hikari, not the Kodoma Shinkansen– this slow moving beast halts at several stations along the route and takes a whopping 8-9 hours!