Philosopher's Path Area Walk (Self Guided), Kyoto

Tetsugaku no Michi, or Philosopher's Walk, is a well-known route in Kyoto which starts at the famous Ginkaku-ji Temple and heads south to the Nanzen-ji Temple. It follows a stone path by a cherry-tree-lined canal that was once walked daily by Nishida Kitaro, a famous philosopher and professor at Kyoto University. The Philosopher's Walk passes by some major shrines and other places of interest of Kyoto making up this self-guided tour.
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Philosopher's Path Area Walk Map

Guide Name: Philosopher's Path Area Walk
Guide Location: Japan » Kyoto (See other walking tours in Kyoto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple
  • Philosopher's Walk
  • Honen-in Temple
  • Anraku-ji Temple
  • Otoyo Shrine
  • Sen-oku Hakuko Kan
  • Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple
  • Nanzen-ji Temple
Ginkaku-ji Temple

1) Ginkaku-ji Temple (must see)

The Ginkaku-ji Temple or the Silver Pavilion Temple is managed by the Shokoku School of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1994.

The Ginkaku-ji Temple was once the retirement home of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Ashigaka Shogun. Construction began in 1460 but was stopped during the Onin war in Kyoto. The complex was completed in 1483 and Yoshimasa used it as his residence. He evolved the tea ceremony that became a Japanese tradition here. After his death in 1490 and by his will the building became a Zen Buddhist temple.

The Ginkaku-ji Temple is a simple temple surrounded by unique gardens. The Silver Pavilion is the most important building in the complex. Although Yoshimasa intended to cover the roof with silver, he never realized his dream. The hall on the first floor is called the Empty Heart Hall. The idol of Jizo, the Buddhist protector of children is placed here and surrounded by a thousand small Jizo idols. The second floor has a hall called the Hall of the Roaring Waves with a golden statue of the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion. The temple is surrounded by a Japanese Moss Garden and a famous sand garden that has a two-foot platform of sand covering an area of 1.75 acres. On a full moon night, the sand reflects the moonlight and looks like a sea of silver sand.

Why You Should Visit:
This temple has it all: beautiful gardens, bamboo section, little waterfalls, and a walkway up to view the whole complex.
Both of the gardens have a small traditional Japanese market leading up to them so plenty of souvenirs, crafts and snacks to be found here.
The craft gifts are very reasonably priced, especially the unique rabbit-themed and fan shops not found in the rest of Kyoto.

Best visited early in the day or at sunset for the views and quiet.
If you go early in the morning, you might see the meticulous sand raking by the temple monks.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-5pm (Mar-Nov); 9am-4:30pm (Dec-Feb)
Philosopher's Walk

2) Philosopher's Walk (must see)

The Philosopher’s Walk is a pedestrian path along the Kyoto canal. It is lined with cherry trees and is a popular place among locals and visitors during the cherry blossom season.

The Philosopher’s Walk gets its name because it was the path where two well-known professors of philosophy, Ikutaro Nishida and Hajime Kawakami took their daily stroll. The path covers a distance of 2 kilometers and can be completed in half an hour. It is flanked by souvenir shops, tea shops, important shrines and temples. It is a meandering paved path that is family and disability friendly.

The Philosopher’s Walk begins across the canal from the Ginkaku-ji temple. The first temple on the path is the Eikan-Do temple. One can get spectacular views of Kyoto from the temple. The next temple on the path is the tranquil Honen-in Temple. The Philosopher’s Walk ends at the Nanzen-ji Temple, a busy temple with several tall pagodas. During the cherry blossom viewing season or Hanami, the path is covered by a canopy of cherry blossoms. Visitors also come to the northern part of the park during the Daimonji Festival in August when five large bonfires are lit on the mountains surrounding the city. One can get a good view of all the bonfires from this part of the Philosopher’s Walk.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the best places to come and ponder: river, beautiful trees and a long walk with cafés, restaurants and interesting shops (closed on Mondays), including a pottery-making place.

Most enjoyable during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
While you can take the path from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji (south to north), the opposite is more pleasant, as the path is slightly downhill in that direction.
Honen-in Temple

3) Honen-in Temple

The Honen-in Temple was built to honor Honen, the founder of the Jodo Shu sect of Zen Buddhism. It is a quiet tranquil place of worship and an interesting stop along the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto.

The Buddhist priest Honen established the Jodo-Shu sect of Zen Buddhism in 1175. The site where he established the sect became the Chion-in Temple. Honen lived in a small thatched hut which later became the Honen in Temple. In 1207, he was banished by conventional Buddhist priests who did not accept his teachings and the temple was neglected. In 1680, the Hondo hall was built within the temple complex where Buddhist monks were trained in chanting the teachings of the Buddha. In 1953, the temple became an independent Buddhist place of worship without allegiance to the Jodo Shu sect.

Visitors enter the Honen in temple through a gate with a thatched roof. There are unique sand sculptures near the gate. Other notable features are the sliding screens in the head priest’s quarters that were painted by artists from the Kano School. A small pond surrounded by a garden adds to the serene atmosphere that permeates the temple. The graveyard near the temple is the final resting place of many well known Japanese authors including Tanizaki Junichiro.
Anraku-ji Temple

4) Anraku-ji Temple

The Anraku-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple that is also the shrine of the martyrs Anraku and Oren. It has the last remaining octagonal pagoda that was a common feature in medieval Japan.

The Anraku-ji Temple was at first a training center established by the Buddhist priest Honen who established the Jodo shu sect of Zen Buddhism. Two of his disciples, Anraku and Oren persuaded two wives of the then emperor to become nuns. The infuriated emperor ordered the execution of Anraku and Oren and the temple built in 1212 is dedicated to the martyred priests. The tombs of the two priests and the two nuns, Matsumushi and Suzumushi are located on the grounds of the temple.

Notable features of the Anraku-ji Temple are the wooden statues of Anraku, Oren, Matsumushi and Suzumushi. The octagonal pagoda from the Kamakura period is the last example of Chinese Song Dynasty architecture in Japan. It has three false roofs and eight bowed sections and appears as if it has four floors. The temple is surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens that are particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom season and late April when Azaleas are in bloom. The temple conducts an Edo period ritual and serves plates of pumpkin to worshippers called Kabocha-kuyo on the 25th of July. It is performed to relieve recipients of palsy.
Otoyo Shrine

5) Otoyo Shrine

The Otoyo Shrine is one of the historic buildings located along the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto. It is dedicated to the gods that guard the Shishigatani and Nanzen-ji Temple.

The Otoyo Shrine was built in 887 to pray to the gods for a cure for a strange illness suffered by the then Emperor Uda. Local people come here to pray for good health, cures for specific illnesses, good fortune, long life and for assistance with matchmaking. In 1954, the City of Kyoto listed the shrine as a Place of Scenic Beauty among the temples and shrines in the city.

The unique feature of the Otoyo Shrine is that it is guarded by mice unlike most other temples in the city that are guarded by Korean dogs. They guard the small wooden hall called the Yoshiro at the shrine. The image of the God is within the Yoshiro. One guardian mouse has a water ball that is said to have the power of bringing luck, prosperity and long life to worshippers. The legend behind the statues of mice that guard the shrine is that that the main Deity at the temple was once in danger of being burned down when mice saved the temple.
Sen-oku Hakuko Kan

6) Sen-oku Hakuko Kan

The Sen-oku Hakuko Kan is a museum in Kyoto displaying objects collected by the Sumitomo family. The collection consists of objects from the Edo period to the present.

The Sen-oku Hakuko Kan Museum’s main building is in Kyoto. It was built in 1960 in a quiet residential area of the city called Shishigatani. The location commands spectacular views of the Higashiyama mountain range. At first, the rare and extensive bronze collection was displayed in the main building. In 1986, an annex was built to display other objects from the collection of the Sumitomo family. Today the museum has over 3,000 exhibits.

The Sen-oku Hakuko Kan has an extensive collection of ancient Chinese bronzes and mirrors. Garnered from the end of the 19th century-early 20th century, they are recognized as the most valuable bronze artifact collection outside China. The over 500 objects on display include bronze utensils and Chinese bronze Buddhist statues. The Annex of the Museum has Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and paintings, western paintings, an impressive ceramic collection, Japanese tea utensils, calligraphy and calligraphy tools, as well as a large collection of Noh masks and costumes collected and donated by the Sumitomo family.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun: 10:00 - 17:00
Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

7) Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple (must see)

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji, formally known as Zenrinji, is a Buddhist temple managed by the Seizan branch of the Jodo Shu sect of Zen Buddhism. It is the most famous spot for viewing the changing colors of autumn leaves in Kyoto.

The Eikan-do Zenrin-ji was established by Shinsho a disciple of Kukai, the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism. He purchased a mansion belonging to a nobleman named Fujiwara no Sekio and converted it into a temple dedicated to the Gochi Nyōrai or Five Wisdom Buddhas. Initially, it was dedicated to the Shingon sect but the seventh head priest Eikan after whom the temple is named preferred the Jodo Shu system of worship.

The unique feature of the Eikan-do Zenrin-ji temple is the statue of the Amida Buddha. The statue looks over its shoulder rather than straight ahead which is the conventional posture of Buddha images. The statue, located in the Amida Hall in the temple complex, is a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan. The Main Gate dates back to the Edo period. The Inner Gate looks like a fortress and dates back to the time the temple complex was a mansion belonging to the Fujiwara family. The Founders Hall is a shrine dedicated to Honen, the founder of the Jodo Shu sect.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful grounds no matter the time of year; however, if you are in Kyoto during the autumn foliage season, coming here either at night or day time is a must.
The scenery is fantastic, from the Japanese maple and ginkgo to the koi-filled ponds, the temple and pagoda up the hill.

Take off your shoes and walk around the temple for a while, then check out the grounds outside.
Be sure to find the pagoda around the back and up some stairs for an amazing view of Kyoto.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm (entry until 4pm); special evening hours during autumn illuminations
Nanzen-ji Temple

8) Nanzen-ji Temple (must see)

The Nanzen-ji Temple is the most important temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The original structures were destroyed by fires and wars and the present complex dates back to the 17th century.

The Nanzen-ji temple was constructed initially as the retirement palace of Emperor Kameyama in 1264 AD. When he died, it became a temple in 1291. The grounds of the temple are open to the public for free but a fee is charged for entering the main temple and the many sub-temples within the complex.

Visitors are welcomed by a two-storied entrance gate called the San Mon or Mountain Gate. It was built in 1296 and is one of the biggest gates in Japan. It is dedicated to the soldiers who died fighting the Battle of Osaka castle in 1616. There is also a large brick aqueduct that once carried water from Lake Biwa to the city of Kyoto. The Seryo-Den or Palace Hall has several beautiful Fusuma paintings on the sliding doors. Among the sub-temples, the Nazen-in and the Konch-in are open for visitors. There are a rock garden and a pond garden where visitors come to see the changing colors of autumn in late November.

Why You Should Visit:
Very calming and lots to see – you could definitely spend a couple of hours exploring.
The buildings' architecture is, of course, very traditional and unique, and the aqueduct is very interesting to see since the ancient structures are all very well preserved.

Once you go under the aqueduct, take the road to the far right (next to a small water stream) and climb up to a small, beautiful temple where very few tourists go.
Come in autumn and it's guaranteed that your photos will be stunning!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:40am-5pm (Mar-Nov); 8:40am-4:30pm (Dec-Feb); admission ends 20min before closing time
Closed: December 28-31

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