Walking The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto

I’m traveling in Japan at the moment, researching my next two Hiro Hattori mystery novels and spending some time with my son, who just completed his degree (in Japanese language) at UC Davis.

After spending two lovely days in the mountain resort of Hakone, we traveled by shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for an overnight stay before heading into Wakayama Prefecture for a night on sacred Mount Koya. With only a single afternoon to spend in Kyoto, I opted for a walk along the famous Philosopher’s Path–a paved walkway that parallels a peaceful canal.

Philosopher's Path and Flowers

The famous path lies in northeast Kyoto, and runs from Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) in the north to Nanzen-ji in the south. The path actually ends near Eikando Zenrin-ji, another Buddhist temple just north of Nanzen-ji, but Nanzen-ji’s importance makes it the generally accepted “end” of the walk.

The path takes only about 30 minutes, if you go directly, though it’s better to plan a few hours so you have time to visit at least a few of the shrines and temples along the way. (My personal favorites are Ginkakuji, Ootoyo Jinja, and Eikan-do, though I visit as many as possible when I go.)

In June, hydrangeas are blooming all over Kyoto, and the philosopher’s path is no exception:

Hydrangeas Philosopher Path

Today, I had only 3 hours on the path, so I had to make some difficult choices. I opted to visit the Sanmon and outer gardens of Nanzen-ji: 

Nanzenji Sanmon

The lovely gardens at Eikan-do:

Eokan-do 2

And Ginkakuji’s famous Zen dry landscape garden and Kannon-do:

Ginkakuji Pagoda

After finishing my walk at Ginkakuji, I stopped at one of the many vendors that line the approach to the temple and bought a “handmade Ginkakuji temple cream puff” filled with vanilla custard. A tasty way to end a delightful day.

The Philosopher’s Path itself isn’t old enough to appear in one of my Hiro Hattori mysteries–at least with its current form and name–though several of the temples along the route were standing during the 1560s, meaning that Hiro and Father Mateo will probably visit one or two before the series ends!