Kyoto: Philosopher’s Path

It’s easy to get templed-out in Kyoto, for this is a city with almost as many temples as Tokyo has skyscrapers. You come across one on almost every street corner. Many temples are hidden within residential districts, serene and graceful, and they infuse this large Japanese city with a sense of calm, culture and peace.

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So it comes as a sort of relief to finally find something to do in Kyoto that doesn’t involve temples – the Philosopher’s Path (like its name suggests, named after a famous philosopher who used to walk this route in the past), a scenic walking trail that runs alongside a canal and past upscale residential districts and shops.

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It starts somewhere near the mass of omiyage shops leading up towards Ginkaku-ji, one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.

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This is by no means an off-the-beaten-path: many tourists have discovered the Philosopher’s Path as well, resulting in many buildings lining the path having been converted into expensive galleries, crafts shops and cafes selling their cheapest cup of coffee for Y400 (S$6). 

Some of these shops are quite unique and fun to browse. Check out this entire store dedicated to wind mills and wind chimes, in all sorts of shapes and sizes:

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Unique storefronts along the path. You can break up the walk with a visit to some of these shops, checking out local crafts and souveniours (be warned though, the prices here are likely among the highest you’ll run into in the whole of Japan)

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I had just scaled Daimonji-yama in the morning and my legs were tired, but the walk was so enjoyable that the ache was soon forgotten.

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The sound of the water in the tree-lined canal flowing slowly was just so soothing and provided the perfect backdrop to the whole scene. The fact that it was already evening time, when there were even fewer tourists remaining in what was decidedly an off-peak season day for tourism, also helped.

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This is probably one of the most romantic spots in the whole of Kyoto, and you can see temples and shrines, authentic residential districts (though upscale and gentrified) and pretty scenery along the way. Highly recommended – one of my favourite parts of Kyoto.

You'll see temples along the way, and you can even go in and visit them if you so desire (some charge an admission fee):

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Or just stroll along the path:

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Streets leading up to the path offer you a glimpse of typical Japanese residential districts:

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See how the rich live in Japan too:

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In winter the trees are mostly barren except for the odd one in full bloom.

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It was that kind of scene that makes you mouth ‘wow’ softly, and take a very deep breath of the cool, crisp winter air.

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The 2km-long route winds from the very touristy and typical omiyage shop-lined road leading up to Ginkakuji and ends somewhere near a private high school, where I saw local male teenagers dressed in their very stylish school uniforms with blazer and tie, and carrying hip school sling bags walking towards nearby Keage subway station.

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Budget about 2 hours for the walk, so that you have enough time to detour into temples, residential districts, shops, or whatever catches your interest along the way.