PHILOSOPHER’S PATH, KYOTO
Once the seat of the imperial court, Kyoto is today a major tourist destination of Japan and its cultural capital. Many sites of Kyoto are collectively listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites as ‘The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’.
Kyoto has stood witness to wars, fires, earthquakes and a lot of destruction throughout the years. But it has strongly built itself up and become a beautiful town whose gardens, temples, museums, palaces and people take you on a soulful journey of the country. In fact, it is said that the city escaped being a target for bombs during World War II owing to its exceptional historic value.
Delight in Sakura or Cherry Blossoms
When you say ‘Japan’, the first thing that comes to mind is mostly ‘Cherry Blossoms’, and for good reason. The Cherry Blossom or ‘Sakura’ as it is known here holds a special place in Japanese culture and is unofficially considered as the country’s national flower.
The cherry trees in Japan bloom only for a few days in spring and are one of the rare, must-see natural wonders of the world. Locals and tourists can enjoy cherry blossom viewing or ‘Hanami’ parties under the beautiful trees from the end of March to mid-April. The wonderful weather coupled with the perfect pink or white hues of more than 100 cherry tree varieties will make you fall in love with the outdoors.
The most popular spot for Hanami parties in Kyoto is Maruyama-koen Park and the Kyoto Gosho (Imperial Palace Park). There also exists a walkway known as the Philosopher’s Path. The Japanese philosopher and founder of the Kyoto School of Philosophy, Kitaro Nishida used this path as a meditation spot during his commute to Kyoto University.
The popular cherry tree variety cultivated in Japan is the Somei Yoshino and most common varieties have 5 petal blossoms. You will also come across what are called Weeping Cherry Trees or ‘Shidarezakura’, thus named because of their flexible branches which bend and almost touch the ground.
The Sakura symbolize the fleeting nature of life and a visit to the cherry gardens of Japan certainly gets you pondering over the fragility and beauty of life.
Find Peace at Zen Temples
On the south end of the Philosopher’s Path lies the famous Nanzenji temple, one of the most important Zen temples of the country. It is located at the base of the Higashiyama mountains and is the head temple of one school of the Rinzai sect, under Japanese Zen Buddhism. The area where the temple is built spreads across 800 metres in length and 500 metres in width. There are many sub-temples around the main Nanzenji temple.
Before gaining the status of a Zen temple, this building was used as a retirement villa for Emperor Kameyama. The palace was said to be haunted and witnessed spooky happenings. It was a Zen priest, Priest Fumon who was finally able to get rid of the ghostly spirit through meditation. This was how the Emperor himself turned to Zen Buddhism and converted his villa into a temple.
The temple showcases Japan’s great civil engineering in the brick aqueduct or Suirokaku, built in Roman style, which was used to transport water and goods between Kyoto and Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. The iconic grand Sanmon entrance gate and the Hojo Gardens are famous spots within the temple land that offer great photo opportunities.
Get a Taste of Japanese Comics (Manga)
Discovering Japan is incomplete without including the famous comics that are a part and parcel of local culture. Known as ‘Manga’, these are quite a rage in the country as well as abroad. A testament to Manga popularity is the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which houses a collection of 300,000 items that include Japanese manga, foreign or translated manga and works of various Manga artists.
The museum opened its doors in 2006 and regularly holds Manga related events to promote the development of Manga internationally. With multiple sections for children and adults, visitors can peruse as many books as they like.
The museum also holds items of important historic value like Japan’s first Manga or the country’s first Manga for children.
Japan has been blessed with abundant natural beauty. That, coupled with a rich, old culture makes a visit to this Asian country a treat for your eyes and stomach as well as for your soul.
What’s the History Behind the Name ‘Philosopher’s Path’ or ‘Path of Philosophy’?
Visit the Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto – FAQs & All You Need to Know
Philospher’s Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi) is a very famous walking trail in Kyoto, Japan. The path that runs along a canal, was the daily walking route of one of Japan’s most prolific philosophers Nishida Kitaro. He is said to have practiced medication along this beautiful cherry-tree lines path while on his way to Kyoto University. Today, the path offers some of the best cherry blossom viewing spots (hanami) in Japan, especially during the flowering season in April.
How Long is the Philosopher’s Path Kyoto? How Long Does it Take to Walk the Philosopher’s Path?
The Path of Philosophy or Tetsugaku no Michi is a 1.5km walking path that runs between Ginkaku-ji Temple in the north to Eikan-do Temple in the south. Though a brisk walk along the stone pathway should take you no more than 30 minutes, there are a number of hidden treasure that can distract you along the way, making you spend an easy couple of hours here. Medium-paced travellers who prefer guided tours, can take this 6-hour long half-day tour along the Philosopher’s Path.
How to Get to Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto?
The Philosopher’s Path lies on the bus routes for the 204 and 93 numbered buses from Marutamachi Station, which is the closest train station here. If you come by bus, you must disembark at Kinrinshakomae Bus Stop and then walk for about 5 minutes to reach the path. If you are coming in from further away, the Karasuma Line runs from Kyoto Station to Marutamachi Station, making it the easiest and fastest way to get here.
You can start the walk from either of its two starting points, either walking southward from the Ginkakuji temple in the north or walking northward from the Nanzenji temple in the south. Bus lines 5,17 and 100 can get you close to Ginkaguji temple, while the Tozai subway line can get you to Keage Station, which is nearest to temple Nanzenji.
Picture Courtesy:Photo by David Klein on Unsplash
What All Can I See Along the Philosopher’s Path?
There are a host of little detours along the Philosopher’s Path that take you to exciting new places worthy of your travel blogs and Instagram photos. Here’s a detailed list of places to see along the path. As seen here, there are several other tourist attractions within walking distance of the Philisopher’s Path as well.
Below are some of interesting points of interest along the Philiopher’s Path.
Map Courtesy: Japan-Guide.com
Hakusason-so Villa or Hakusasonso Hashimoto Kansetsu Garden and Museumis a beautiful and peaceful green space very close to the Gingkakuji Temple in the north, where you would be expected to enter the philosopher’s path. This former home and studio of famous Japanese painter Hashimoto Kansetsu is now a museum that displays his Japanese-style paintings (Nihonga).
Timings: 10:00 AM to 5:00PM
Entry Fee: 1000 Yen
As you head out of the relative quiet of Hakusasonso Villa, you will notice the rush of people making their way to Gingkakuji Temple. The stretch of path that leads up to the temple is a bit of an uphill climb, but definitely well worth the time and effort. Gingkakuji Temple or the Silver Pavillion was built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 –1490) as a complement to his grandfather’s Kinkaku-ji Temple or the famous Golden Temple.
Timings: 8:30AM to 5:00PM (March to November and 9AM to 4:30PM (December to February)
Entry Fee: 500 Yen
Follow the signs into the woods to find the hidden gem Honen-in Temple. As you enter the gates and pass between two mounds of white sand (known to purify the mind), you feel as if you’ve entered a magical, secret garden that few know about. The temple, founded in 1680, is named after the priest Honen, who devoted his whole life to seeking salvation.
Timing: 6AM to 4PM
Entry Fee: None
Nishida Kitaro’s Poem Stone
As you leave Honen-In temple and rejoin the Philosopher’s Path, just beside the canal lies Nishida Kitaro’s Poem Stone. Etched on the stone is a short poem by Japan’s famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro. Literally translated, the poem reads, “People are people and I will be myself, regardless, the path I follow, I will continue to follow on.”
Emperor Reizei’s Tomb
You can easily miss this grey stone gate on your left as you walk along the Philosopher’s Path as this tomb is quite a bit further away from the usual route. Though there is not much to see and do if you come here, this is a beautiful, tranquil place to take a few good photos. Emperor Reizei was known to be a mad king who only reigned in name (his uncle being the acting regent) for the short period between 967 and 969.
Next along the path is Otoyo-jinja Shrine, just follow the signposts over a bridge to get there. The shrine is dedicated to the Japanese God Okuninushi and has mice guarding the shrine’s entrance, so you definitely won’t miss it. The shrine gets a lot of footfall during the year of the Rat, due to stories and legends that have been passed down generations, stories that tell of the kindness and intelligence of the rats that saved Okuninushi’s life.
As you get back on the Philosopher’s Path and walk a little further, you will see the tall, silver roofs belonging to Kuon-ji Temple. If you get here in November, you will also get to see a beautiful garden that is only open to the public for a few weeks. This is an active temple where you can do chores, learn Zen philosophies and even partake in meditation practices.
Eikan-do Temple is a beautiful temple complex nestled in thick, green woods. If you are keenly interested in Japanese architecture or are fascinated with the peace and calm of these Japanese woods, you can easily spend an hour or more here. The vast temple complex consists of buildings and gardens and even a temple hospital, along with various Buddha statues and more. There are a lot of steps to climb up and down, but the breathtaking views of Kyoto from here are well worth it.
Timings: 9AM to 4PM
Entry Fee: 600 Yen
Are There Any Cafes & Restaurants Along the Philosopher’s Path?
The Philosopher’s Path is not just a walkway taking you towards peace and philosophy. There are several great hangouts along the path where you can take a break and grab a bite. Just opposite Nishida Kitaro’s Poem Stone is the Pomme Café. The small cafe offers a wide range of drinks and snacks, including cookies and cakes. The cafe is open from 12:00PM to 6:00PM and is closed on Wednesdays in addition to two Tuesdays each month (2nd & 3rd).
Kisaki Tofu Restaurant is a great traditional-food lunch place along the Philosopher’s Path. Famous for its tofu and yuba, Kisaki, with its several vegetarian options, is a delight for vegetarians. Kisaki is open from 11:00AM to 9:00PM and is generally closed on Wednesdays. If you plan on going there for dinner, get there early, as the last orders of the day are taken at 7:30PM.
What Other Experiences Can I Enjoy Along the Philosopher’s Path?
If you are here just for half a day and would like a quick, expert-guided trip along the Philosopher’s Path, you can approach the Ebisuya rickshaw company, right by the Ginkakuji temple. For a cost of 9000 Yen, you get a 30-minute rickshaw ride that takes you to all the important sites along the Philosopher’s Path.
Alternatively, a leisurely stroll along the path not just takes you to the various historical and spiritual landmarks along the way, but also lets you soak in on Kyoto’s culture. Along the path, you’ll find several galleries and shops selling art, antiques, crafts and even kimonos, all manned by super-friendly people. Make friends as you shop, make friends as you go.
Apart from the Philosopher’s Path, there is lots to see and do in Kyoto. Peek into the historic geisha culture, check out the local palaces, and more while you’re here. For some extraordinary experiences, try experiencing an authentic tea ceremony. Kyoto-style, or even take a walking tour with the last samurai. Do not rush your visit to Kyoto. Take your time, spend a few days here and savour the magic of this beautiful Japanese city.
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