Usually when we hear about Kyoto, we think of a city mostly undisturbed, placid and preserved in the richest and most authentic setting of traditional Japan - and rightfully so! Kyoto has so much to offer and should definitely be on every travelers’ list of places to visit in Japan. This especially rings true if you enjoy going to temples and shrines. Amongst the most noteworthy of all these temples and shrines is the Kinkaku-ji Temple (the Golden Pavillion). As the name suggests, it is bathed in gold. Many travelers usually go straight to Kinkaku-ji. We cannot blame them, however, on the other side of the town are a handful of other amazing temples. These are also worth the visit if you have a long day and want to explore as much as you possibly can. The Nanzen-ji Temple is one such temple.
Nanzen-ji, actually is a collection of sub-temples and gardens. It is known for its abundantly peaceful atmosphere, which explains why it is one of the top Buddhist Zen temples in Japan. The closest station to Nanzenji is Keage station. If you are traveling with large items you can use a locker at the station, then take the ten minute trek to Nanzen-ji. Entering the compound is free, however, the on-site attractions have their own fees. Upon entering the temple grounds you’ll see the Sanmon gate. From the view at the top of the Sanmon gate you can overlook the city of Kyoto, with its lush vegetation. All is quiet and exceptionally calm, save for the sound of the birds, water running over stones and nature humming in your ear. Depending on your travel dates only some of the sub temples will be accessible, but if you truly want to be at one with mother nature, this temple will be a satisfying place for you to visit.
Japanese couple dressed in Komonos at Nanzenji.
The lush green view.
Rather close to Nanzen-ji is an equally (if not more) rewarding temple to visit. It is called Zenrin-ji or Eikan-do Temple. Personally, this place is just absolutely breath-taking. There are many things to see here, including a small pond and garden surrounded by intricately designed tatami rooms.
Tatami room with animal prints around.
It is easy to sit here and spend time simply watching the Koi fish swimming around. There is an even bigger garden with a pond that has a variety of different colored Koi fish. You must simply not forget to see the Tahoto Pagoda! It is nestled on a hill on the compounds of Zenrin-ji. There you can be transfixed yet again by the view of Kyoto rushing to fill your eyes.
Zenrinji Garden and Koi Fish.
The Pagoda viewing is especially beautiful in the spring time when the cherry blossoms are out, or in autumn when the leaves change colors. If you go in summer, however, I am sure you will have no difficulties falling in love with the place just the same.
After visiting the Zenrin-ji and Nanzen-ji temples, it is almost a given that you will end up on the Philosopher’s Path/Walk. The Philosopher’s walk got its name because a famous Japanese philosopher would walk along the path everyday (surely, just philosophising as he did). So many people take the Philosopher’s Path, not just for the view, but because of where it leads to. It takes you directly to the Ginkaku-ji temple (the Silver Pavillon), which is definitely another temple you need to see when you get to Japan! The Philosopher’s walk is dusted with trees, flowers, and a plethora of shops.
Another souvenir shop.
Entrance to a souvenir's shop.
You can buy souvenirs for your family and friends back home, food, traditional Japanese wears (such as the kimono) and did I mention food? Feel free to stop for ramen, matcha or udon, at one of the many coffee shops or restaurants. If you don’t want to stop for too long, there are plenty of street-food stalls. They sell all kinds of traditional Japanese food such as Onigiri (rice balls), Matcha flavored pastries, Matcha ice-cream (there is also regular flavored ice-cream for those, who like myself, depending on your paceaving options). Travellers flock to the many juice stands, especially when the heat kicks in, in summer. If you need WiFi, some of the restaurants will have free WiFi hotspots you can join. When I walked along this path, I found a honey shop. It sells food, bath soaps and the likes, all made with honey. The store owner greeted me with a cool honey flavored drink and though I did not buy anything (I know, shame, shame, shame) they allowed me to use the WiFi while I looked around.
Kimono Shop on the Philosopher's Walk
The path has signs that points you in the right direction, so even if you are traveling alone you will be just fine. The walk is a very easy one, mostly flat, and runs along a quiet river. From Zenrin-ji or Nanzen-ji it takes about 20-30 minutes depending on your pace, to walk to Ginkaku-ji following the Philosopher’s path, though Google map shows 10 minutes on foot. Other temples and shrines are on the path that you may wish to visit before going to Ginkakuji. So why not start early and make a day of visiting temples and shrines ? If you finish by early afternoon, you could still have enough time to visit Kinkakuji, Gion Temple or Fushimi Inari Shrine. It may be good to note that Fushimi Inari and Gion usually close later in the evenings than Kinkakuji does.
Whichever part of Kyoto you find yourself in, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience! There certainly is no shortage of temples and shrines there, but I do hope you get to see Nanzen-Ji , Zenrin-ji and take the Philosopher’s Path. When you do, feel free to share the word with other travellers so they too can share in this truly authentic Japanese experience!