Along the Philosopher’s Path

During my research trip to Japan last summer, I spent a lovely morning walking the Philosopher’s Path, which runs along a tree-lined canal:

15L05 Philosopher's path canal


from Ginkaku-ji (in the north):

15J04 Ginkakuji pavilion 2


to Nanzen-ji, at the southern end of the canal, a distance of just under two miles.

My son and I walked the path together, and though a determined traveler can cover the distance in under an hour, the wise visitor takes much longer, and stops to see the various shrines and temples along the way. Our afternoon on the Philosopher’s path took almost four hours, start to finish, and though the larger shrines temples deserve full blogs of their own, today I wanted to share some photos from the smaller ones, and the ones that were closed to the public the day we visited.

South of Ginkaku-ji, we stopped at Honen-in. The sloping approach makes Honen-in feel a little like a mountain temple,

15L05 Honen-in entrance


though the temple grounds themselves are mostly flat. The main shrine building lies between a pair of sand mounds. Passing between them purifies the visitors who approach the shrine.

15L05 Honen-in


Honen-in was founded by a Buddhist priest named Honen (1133-1212) who established the Jodo-shu Sect of Buddhism in 1175. Honen-in became an independent temple (meaning no longer part of a specific sect) in 1953.

Although the temple is only open for two short periods every year (April 1-17 and the first week of November), the grounds are open to visitors year round, and there is no entry fee unless you go when the shrine is open and want to see the Amida Buddha inside the primary temple grounds (which lie beyond the closed gates visible in the photo).


Farther along the Philosopher’s path, we passed the gates of Reikan-ji, a Zen nunnery established in 1654:

15L05 Reikan-ji


Reikan-ji opens its gates to visitors only four weeks out of every year (in April and November)  so we viewed its outer gates and moved on.


A number of the shrines and temples along the Philosopher’s path have limited public access–some, like Honen-in and Reikan-ji, allow visitors only at certain times of the year, and others on certain days. Many others are open year-round, however, and it’s worth the extra adventure to walk the streets adjoining the canal.

The way to each of the temples and shrines is well-marked by wooden signs:

15L05 Philosopher's path sign

Had we not ventured off the path in search of hidden treasures, we would have missed what has become one of my favorite shrines in Kyoto: Ootoyo Jinja.

Established in 887, and dedicated to the goddess Sukunahikona-no-mikoto, patroness of medicine and wine, Ootoyo Jinja is perhaps most famous for its guardian mice.

The approach is guarded by the familiar stone dogs that watch over many Japanese shrines and temples, so we had no idea, on the approach, what a unique experience awaited beyond the torii.

But for that part of the story, you’re going to have to wait until next week…

Have you ever visited Kyoto, or the Philosopher’s Path?

What hidden treasures have you discovered in your life, by leaving the beaten path in search of adventure?