Kyoto honestly has so many temples that you just have to pick and choose what you’re going to see and, really, you don’t want to try and see every single one or you’re going to temple yourself out and become somewhat immune to their beauty and the peacefulness of them.
Our first stop of the day (13th December 2017) was to Kinkaku-ji which is a beautiful golden temple that’s set on a calm lake surrounded by trees and a zen garden in north-west Kyoto. This was originally the retirement villa for the shogun (a commander-in-chief in the Japanese Army) called Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After he died in 1408 it was turned into a Zen temple.We got a day bus pass which was a really good idea as it saves us money but also helped us navigate a route through all of the places we had left to see as they were more spaced out around Kyoto.
As we arrived at Kinkaku-ji, a huge school group also arrived. We have noticed that the kids on school trips are just expected to make their own way to any destination they’re visiting so we have got used to seeing school children on the buses with us. We also have no clue what school hours they all have as we often see school children in the shops, cafes or at tourist destinations at very random times during the day! It didn’t actually matter that there was a big school group as there is a giant viewing platform that overlooks the lake and temple so getting a clear view of the temple isn’t a challenge. Having a clear day is probably more important so that the lake would be calm and reflect the temple back off it. We had lovely blue skies and even some sunshine so the temple shone in the sun and looked stunning.
The path running through the gardens that surround the temple has been designed to take you around in one direction and goes alongside the temple so that you can get a closer look at it. They must have to polish the temple a lot to help it keep such a shine! Once you pass the temple you’re pretty much done at the site as their isn’t too much more here to see so we were done in less than an hour at this site.
Our next stop was to Daitoku-jo which is near to the Golden Temple. This is a big temple complex with cobbled streets. There are meant to be nice zen gardens in here but we couldn’t find them anywhere and accidentally walked into one complex that was actually a family’s private graveyard so we ended up giving up and moving onto our next sight of the day.
We got back on the bus and headed to Arashiyama. This was a long bus ride and I think everyone on the bus fell asleep at some point (probably because it was also nice and warm). Our first stop here was to Tōgetsu-kyō Bridge.This is one of the main landmarks in the area and is a nice stop off to look at the river as you’re walking into town.
After crossing the bridge we headed into Tenryū-ji which were a number of Tudor-style buildings (except for the roof which was in typical Japanese style) with dark wooden planks of wood over white wash walls. Tenryū means heavenly dragon. It was built in 1339 on the site of a dead emperor after a priest had a dream that a dragon rose out of a nearby river. This apparently meant that the late emperor’s spirit was uneasy so they built the temple to appease it.
You had to pay to go in here and we weren’t overly bothered as we were happy seeing the outside and so chose to save our money and move on to our final stop of the day and another famous (or at least heavily photographed) site in Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
You can either access the bamboo grove through the gardens of Tenryū-ji or through town. As we hadn’t paid to access the gardens (seeing as it was winter we didn’t really see the point) we headed through town. Once we reached it we thought that maybe it wasn’t going to be anything good as we had been warned not to expect what you see in the pictures online. We just had to be a bit patient though and as we walked further along the path we were suddenly surrounded by thick bamboo on either side of us. Particularly when there were no people on the path (a rare occurrence) the place looked incredibly peaceful. We walked through the path and then back again with the bamboo towering over us.
It was late afternoon when we got the long bus ride back into the city centre and the ride back made us pretty tired. It had been a good day exploring some of Kyoto’s most well known sites so we were happy with how the day had gone even if it did involve quite a bit of time on buses.
Our final day in Kyoto was quite chilled with only a few places that we had planned to visit. This was in an area of Kyoto called Northern Higashiyama all of the sites were quite near each other so they were easy to find.
Our first stop of the day was to Ginkaku-ji. This is often referred to as the Silver Pavilion as it was modelled after Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion). It was built in 1482 to be the retirement home of a shogun called Ashikaga Yoshimasa who was the grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who lived in the Golden Temple. It was converted into a Zen temple after his death in 1490.
The place had really nice gardens to walk around which I bet would be even nicer in cherry blossom season. As with all the temples we had been to, the place was very peaceful to walk around and enjoy. It also had this amazingly prestige sand sculpture which was perfectly smooth and uniform – I don’t know how they did it really as it was quite big.
We then walked along the Path of Philosophy which really is just a path next to the river. I thought it would be more than this so I didn’t really think anything of it but maybe that’s because it started to rain a little bit. The path get its name because of a famous Japanese philosopher that used to walk that route during meditation on his way to Kyoto University.
Aside from just walking around the area we also went to Hōnen-in which is a Buddhist temple in the area and is a very calm place to walk around. It has lovely sand art when you first enter the temple grounds which must be a laborious task to make sure it stays near particularly with the art being exposed to the elements. Whilst we were here we were able to see a local art installation that was created by an artist getting inspiration from the snow, trees and mountains. It was nice to see in such a peaceful setting.
This temple is home to an important cleansing ritual that people travel specifically to do. It’s called Taki Gyou and involves standing under the small funnel of water that comes from a waterfall. To be honest I’m not 100% sure why but it was nice to go up into the forest and see it.
All in all it was a nice day walking about Higashiyama and we had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kyoto. Our next stop was Tokyo and we were looking forward to seeing the contrast between the two places, particularly of the traditional old-style of Kyoto with the modern, technological Tokyo.
Sending Love x