Although, two days might be sufficient to cover Kyoto, staying longer won’t disappoint. We spent our second day covering the Northern Higashiyama area. You can catch a bus at the main depot, outside Kyoto station. Bear in mind, there are at least four Buddhist temples to visit. It’s advisable to wear easily removable footwear and come well-prepared for a long day of walking.
The walk from the Ginkaku-ji-michi bus-stop to the main direction board is almost 15 minutes. However, getting there, might involve asking locals for directions. This temple-hopping route is quite popular among tourists and you’d have plenty of options to buy souvenirs along the way.
Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)
Ginkaku-ji was originally built as a retirement villa by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. After his demise, it was converted into a Zen temple. The most striking quality of the temple would be its serenity. Even with hordes of tourists penetrating its quiet environs, a sense of calm persists. The autumn leaves and bamboo groves add to its scenic beauty. The gardens display conical structures (stacked from white sand) that are believed to represent natural elements. A pathway, leading to the mountainside, offers a panoramic view of the temple and its gardens below.
Admission Fee: 500 JPY ; Timings: 8:30 am -5:00 pm ( Nov-Mar) / 9:00 am- 4:30 pm (Dec-Feb)
Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi)
After exiting Ginkaku-ji Temple and the rows of souvenir shops that followed, we walked along a path which led to Honen-in Temple. Named after famous Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, the ‘Philosopher’s Path‘ is a pathway (roughly 2 km in length) which runs parallel to a narrow stream. To complete the entire walk, you could start from Ginkaku-ji temple and end your walk at Eikan-do Temple. During ‘Sakura’ (cherry blossoms), the trees on either side of canal form a pretty picture. Sadly, during our visit, most of the trees had shed their leaves. And although we missed the true essence (full bloom trees) of the walk, it was still worth the effort.
Somewhere, between our walk along the Philosopher’s Path, we came across Honen-in Temple. Although, it’s a relatively small temple, definitely make a stop here – even if it interrupts your walk. The moss-covered entrance gate gives you a sneak peak of what lies inside. The main hall was closed and yet there was so much to see around. Brightly coloured trees, water fountains, a picturesque garden, and thoughtful quotes. It is believed, that walking in-between the two sand mounds purifies a visitor’s soul.
Admission Fee: Free ; Timings: 6:00 am – 4:00 pm
It was approaching lunch time and we broke our temple hopping to satiate hunger pangs. After which we got a bit lost. Helpful locals and the tourist map brought us back to Eikan-do Temple. The trick is to stay on your track and don’t stray from the main path. Whatever you do, do not miss a visit to Eikan-do temple. It’s truly stunning! Eikan-do’s history is equally interesting. Formerly known as Zenrinji Temple, the temple was named Eikan-do after the head priest, Eikan. Popular for fall viewing, the temple attracts hordes of tourists. The temple complex is reasonably big with a pond, gardens, main halls, scores of trees, and a viewing point at the apex.
Admission Fee: 600 JPY ; Timings: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Nanzen-ji temple isn’t very far from Eikan-do Temple. But we skipped it as it was already 4:00 pm. and we wanted to visit Gion.
We walked around a bit and then took a pit-stop, trying to decide, if we would be able to walk till there. Our tired legs made the decision for us and we took a bus to Gion.
We reached Gion pretty late in the evening. Everyone seemed to be heading back home, while we walked by the shops. The main street in Gion seemed to be a far cry from the quaint Kyoto we had just witnessed. If you’re lucky, you might spot a Geisha. Clearly, we weren’t. Gion deserves another trip, maybe. After a coffee in a packed Starbucks, we searched for buses to take us to Kyoto station. It was peak tourist season and the buses were few and pretty crowded, but we managed to get a crowded bus after a rather longish wait!