HomeJapanJapan Travel GuidePhilosopher's Path, Silver Pavilion, and Nanzenji Guide

Philosopher's Path, Silver Pavilion, and Nanzenji Guide

The Philosopher's Path, which extends from the Silver Pavilion and ends near Nanzenji Temple, is one of the best-loved spots in Kyoto, by locals and visitors alike. The beautiful stone road of the Philosopher's Path winds through trees and along a serene canal, passing temples and shrines on the way.

It’s the perfect place to take a peaceful stroll, to visit temples, and to escape the noise of the rest of the city. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the Philosopher's Path, including its history, activities and important stops along the way.

Highlights

  • The Philosopher’s Path is a scenic stone path that runs along the canal between Ginkakuji Temple and the Nanzenji neighborhood in Kyoto.
  • When visiting the Philosopher’s Path, travelers can relax while exploring the temples and shrines along the way, as well as stop at shops, restaurants, and cafes while taking in the beauty of the area.
  • The Philosopher’s Path is one of the most popular places in Kyoto to view the cherry blossoms in spring. It’s also quite beautiful in autumn.
  • Ginkakuji is one of the most visited temples in Kyoto; it is located on the northern end of the Philosopher’s Path.
  • Nanzenji Temple is one of Kyoto’s hidden treasures; it is located on the south end of the Philosopher’s Path.
  • It’s best to explore the Philosopher’s Path with a knowledgeable guide who can give visitors all the important information about the area and its important sites.

The Philosopher's Path

Located in the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district, this 2-kilometer long stone path is an absolutely beautiful walk any time of year. The path takes about 30 minutes to walk without stopping, although most people take more time in order to explore the Silver Pavilion, Nanzenji Temple, as well as the many temples and coffee shops along the way.

The Philosopher's Path was named after the famous Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who used to take strolls along the pathway in order to meditate during his commute to work at Kyoto University. It's easy to see why Kitaro chose this path, as it is lined with flowering plants, bushes, and cherry trees that make the walkway feel secluded and peaceful.

Cherry Blossoms along the Canal

One thing that draws many people to the Philosopher's Path is the number of cherry trees that line the canal. In early April, hundreds of cherry trees bloom in beautiful pale pink blossoms that hang over the narrow pathway, making this a great place to enjoy the Sakura (cherry blossoms).

Because of the beauty of cherry trees along the canal, the Philosopher's Path draws people from all over the Kansai region to enjoy this natural pleasure. In fact, the Philosopher's Path is well known as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in Kyoto

The Philosopher's Path is also great to visit in the autumn, when the cold weather causes the leaves of cherry trees turn bright red and orange.

Craft Shops, Restaurants, and Cafes

Besides its natural beauty, one of the most charming aspects of the Philosopher's Path are the craft shops, restaurants, and cafes that are found along the path. The shops are fun to explore because they sell all types of goods, from kimonos to antiques and crafts, all of which make beautiful souvenirs.

The coffee shops are great places to sit outside and take in the surrounding beauty of the Philosopher's Path while enjoying a steaming cup of coffee or matcha green tea.

Some of our favorite places along the path are the restaurants because they sell Kyoto specialties such as Yudofu. Yudofu is a hot tofu dish which is served with flavorful dipping sauces and is healthy, delicious, and unique to Kyoto. We recommend trying this delicacy when in the area.

Half-Day Philosopher's Path Walking Tour

If you want to visit the Philosopher's Path, we suggest taking a half-day walking tour. The best tours often start at Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) and end with a chance to explore Nanzenji Temple.

Most tours take about four hours and include temple visits, where the guide explains the history behind each important site as well as its cultural significance. Tours often also include refreshments that are found along the way and some of the best tours take guests to a Yudofu restaurant at the end to try the local delicacy.

You can see the name of the donor and date of the donation inscribed in Japanese on the back of each gate. Donating a small gate typically costs around 400,000 yen, and large gates can cost over one million yen.

Walking the Philosopher's Path with a guide is a great way to experience the journey, with all the background information needed to understand important sites located all along the pathway. A guided tour allows for a much more meaningful experience, due to the knowledgeable and personable guide whose goal it is to help visitors get the most out of their visit.

Ginkakuji: The Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji is known as the Silver Pavilion in English and is located on the north side of the Philosopher's Path. Despite its name, the Silver Pavilion is not covered in silver but derived its name from local people in order to differentiate it from another of Kyoto's famous temples, the Golden Pavilion.

Another theory is that it was named the Silver Pavilion because at night it is possible to see the reflection of the moon on the temple's dark exterior.

Ginkakuji was originally built as a retirement home for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482 and was later converted into a Zen temple after his death. Since its creation, Gingakuji was a center of art and culture in Kyoto.

Today, Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, multiple other temple buildings, and beautiful gardens.

Exploring the Gardens and Temples

The gardens in Ginkakuji are beautiful. When first exploring the grounds, you will come across a sand garden known as the "Sea of Silver Sand". This well-maintained sand garden is meant to represent the sea, by its moving water through the carefully raked designs.

Besides the sand garden, Ginkakuji also has a moss garden that features ponds with small islands and bridges as well as various types of plants and flowers. When visiting, make sure to take the path behind the garden, in order to get an excellent view of the entire temple grounds and Kyoto beyond.

Besides the gardens and the Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji also has many smaller temples. Our favorite is the Togudo because it is one of the older temples in the complex and is considered the oldest example of Shoin architecture.

Ginkakuji is an absolutely beautiful and serene location and we recommend walking through the entire complex in order to fully appreciate it.

Access, Opening Hours, and Fees

Ginkakuji is open every day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. From December to February, the opening times change to 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. The entrance fee is 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for students.

Ginkakuji is one of the most popular tourist sites in Japan, so we recommend arriving early and entering as soon as the temple opens in order to have a quieter and less crowded experience.

Nanzenji Temple

Nanzenji Temple is located at the base of Kyoto's Higashiyama mountains and at the end of the Philosopher's Path (southern side). Nanzenji is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan and has been the center of Zen teachings since the mid-13th century. Today, the temple offers Zen meditation classes to the public for free or for a small fee.

Even though Nanzenji is absolutely picturesque and a great temple to explore, it is less well-known and not often visited by foreign tourists. Some people call Nanzenji ‘Kyoto's secret treasure’.

When entering Nanzenji, the first thing that visitors will see is the impressive Sanmon entrance gate which is made of blackened wood and extends above the treetops. After walking through the gate, you will have entered the complex and can explore the temples and gardens it has to offer.

Gardens and Temples

After entering the temple complex, most visitors will see the Hojo which is the former residence of the Zen head priest. Hojo is famous for its expansive rock garden where the rocks are said to resemble tigers crossing through the water.

Another temple that is open to the public in Nanzenji is the Konchi-in Temple which was founded in the year 1400 and is famous for its rock gardens, tea house, and the Toshogu Shrine.

After visiting Konchi-in, we suggest exploring the Tenjuan Temple which is only a few steps away. Tenjuan is known for its two gardens, one of which is a rock garden, and another one surrounds a small pond.

Access, Opening Hours, and Fees

Nanzenji's temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, although there are separate fees for entering some of the temples within the complex. Most temples and areas within the complex have a fee between 300 and 600 yen to enter.

The best time to visit Nanzenji is during the evening when certain temples are illuminated with light displays, although the complex is also incredible during the day. Some of the most striking pictures of the Nanzenji are taken in the autumn, when the trees surrounding the complex turn bright red and orange.

It's good to keep in mind that some temples are closed between December 28th and 31st.

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