Category Archives: Temples

A Trip to Uji on Inside Kyoto

A window onto Uji... Kosho-ji Temple's Chinese style gate looking out onto Koto-zaka or "harp hill".

A window onto Uji… Kosho-ji Temple’s Chinese style gate looking out onto Koto-zaka or “harp hill”.

My article, A Trip to Uji, is now up on Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto site. In it I describe a complete circuit of all of Uji’s major sites. Uji is a remarkably well preserved town with several shrines and temples of historical interest, including two World Heritage Sites, and all set within  a beautiful natural landscape. Many locations there are associated with the Tale of Genji and so there is a Tale of Genji of Museum there too.  In my article I visit all of these locations and manage to fit in a special river-side lunchtime recommendation, and matcha ice cream at Japan’s oldest tea shop! Check out the article at the link: A Trip to Uji.

A Trip to Uji

Click to read the full article.

Here are some pictures from Kosho-ji Temple which didn’t make it into the final article.

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The garden at Kosho-ji

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A colorful image of Daitokuten. One of the Seven Lucky Gods, Daitokuten is a god of wealth and a plentiful family kitchen. He is easily recognized by his magic money making mallet, and the fact that he stands on bales of rice.

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Timbers from a dismantled Fushimi Castle were used in the temple’s construction. It is said that there are blood stains from the castle siege on the ceiling of the main sanctuary, but it was too dark for me to make them out.

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This is a pleasant temple to visit in all seasons, but especially in the fall for its maples, and in spring for its azaleas.

Exploring Fushimi on Inside Kyoto

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My latest article for Inside Kyoto is an exploration of the backstreets and waterways of Fushimi – Kyoto’s famed sake making district. Included in the article are places to taste sake, a boating cruise, a visit to the Teradaya Inn (where Sakamoto Ryoma narrowly escaped assassination), and a Buddhist temple dedicated to a Hindu river deity that happens to have a Hidden Christian lantern!

Here’s a taste,

Fushimi. Say it aloud and the very sound of those soft syllables seems refreshing. This is not inappropriate. The name originally meant “underground water”, and Fushimi is famous for its springs. The water from these underground sources is soft, mellow and is held to be particularly delicious – perfect for sake production. Many sake breweries thrive in this area and Fushimi sake is renowned as the perfect complement for Kyoto cuisine. Historically the waters of Fushimi also made this area an important hub of transport and trade. Here the confluence of three rivers, the Uji, Katsura and Kamo, and an intricate network of canals were put to good use, sending rice, sake and other goods between the cities of Kyoto and Osaka…

Read more here: Exploring Fushimi – Kyoto’s Sake District

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See also:
Kabuki At Kyoto’s Minamiza Theater
Walking In Gion
Kyoto Samurai
Toka Ebisu

Azaleas at Myoman-ji Temple

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Azaleas, (called very prettily tsutsuji in Japanese), are blooming all over Kyoto right now, but we won’t be able to enjoy them for much longer.  If you get a chance I recommend going to see the display of azaleas at the entrance to Myomanji in northern Kyoto. Here are some pictures I took there last year.
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The grounds here are quiet and pleasant but the most striking thing about them is the Busshari Daito – a great concrete tower modeled after the  Bodh Gaya in India.

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Here are some more pictures from around the grounds.

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This temple belongs to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, and was originally built in 1383. Formerly it stood at Teramachi Nijo but was moved to its present location in 1968

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The grounds are free to enter, but there is a fee (300 yen) to visit the main buildings and the inner garden. The garden is called Yuki-no-niwa, or snow garden, so I imagine it must look spectacular in winter. However, it looked very fine when dressed in spring green too. The viewing room is a good spot to rest and be at peace.

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There is also a small museum room in the temple which houses a bell of legendary ill-repute, known as Anchin Kiyohime no Kane. The story goes that sometime in the 9th century, a monk named Anchin was travelling through Wakayama on a pilgrimage. One night he stayed at an inn on the way, and had a liaison with the inn-keeper’s daughter, Kiyohime. Anchin promised the girl he would return, but his promises were false and the scorned maid, consumed by anger, was transformed into a giant snake. She pursued Anchin to a temple where he hid himself under a bell – but to no avail! The giant serpent wound itself about the bell and then created a scorching heat that burned Anchin alive. The serpent then threw herself in a river and died also… From then on the bell was associated with disaster and misfortune whenever it was rung… In 1585 it was brought to Kyoto, and since then the monks of Myoman-ji hold a ceremony each year to bring peace to the souls of Anchin and Kiyohime… This is apparently quite a well-known tale, and has been the inspiration of both Noh dramas and Kyogen comedies. Terrible behaviour for a monk though, eh?

Myoman-ji (妙満寺) is a five minute walk from Kino station on the Eiden line. This is the tenth stop and takes about 15 minutes when going north from Demachiyanagi. Here is a MAP. Check Jorudan for train times.

The grounds are open from 6.00 am until 5.00 pm and the main building and garden are open from 9.00 am till 4.00 pm.

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Omuro Sakura at Ninna-ji Temple

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This year’s cherry blossom season was basically a washout, with many hanami parties cancelled because of the incessant rain. Ninna-ji Temple in western Kyoto, has a special variety of cherry blossom that blooms later than most, but when it was at its best last week, the rain was still coming down. Mewby and I resolved to defy the weather and visit the temple anyway. At least, I thought, the rain will keep the bulk of tourists away. We’ll probably have the place to ourselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even in the rain, Ninna-ji Temple is very popular.

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Perhaps it is because Ninna-ji is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”? It is certainly ancient. Ninna-ji Temple was first built in 888.

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Like many Kyoto temples though, the original buildings of Ninna-ji were long ago destroyed by fire. In Ninna-ji’s case the temple was destroyed during the conflict of the Ōnin War in 1467. The majority of the current buildings date from a 17th century restoration.

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Most striking of all must be the five storied pagoda…

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But the grounds are extensive and there is much to see here.

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The Kyōzō (経蔵) or sutra repository had a sign outside describing many treasured wall paintings and Buddhist statuary, yet the building itself was completely locked up. There was however a tiny hole in the wooden walls through which we took a little peak and saw…

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The main attraction though was Ninna-ji’s famous orchard of 200 dwarf cherry trees. These date from the early Edo period, so people have been enjoying cherry blossoms here for about 400 years!

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This orchard was designated as a national scenic beauty spot in 1924.

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Even in the rain, cherry blossoms can gladden the heart!

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We enjoyed our trip to Ninna-ji and will certainly go again – but hopefully in better weather!

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You can find out more about Ninna-ji Temple at their multi-lingual website here: http://www.ninnaji.or.jp/multilingual_info.html It is also possible to stay at Ninna-ji overnight. You can find out about that here: https://ninnaji.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/staying-overnight-at-ninna-ji/

Directions:

Getting to Ninna-ji is little complicated but much of the route is quite scenic and pleasant.

To get to Ninna-ji from Kyoto station, take the JR subway to Karasuma-Oike Station and change to the Tozai line. Go as far as Uzumasa-Tenjingawa/Randen-Tenjingawa (it has two names), and then change to the Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama line. Take that line as far as Katabiranotsuji and then take the Keifuku Dentetsu-Kitano Line as far as Omuro-Ninna-ji. That’s three changes over 46 minutes for 610 yen.

To get to Ninna-ji from the town center take the Hankyu line from Kawaramachi to Sai, then change to the Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama line. Take that line as far as Katabiranotsuji and then take the Keifuku Dentetsu-Kitano Line as far as Omuro-Ninna-ji. That’s two changes over 45 minutes for 360 yen.

Check for details of train times at: http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/

Gion Walking on Inside Kyoto

Walking in Gion, my latest article for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto, is now available online. For this piece I took a daytime tour of Gion’s main sites and historical landmarks, taking in some craft and antique shops and sweet shops on the way. I spent a long time on Hanami-koji, trying to get a decent shot of the Ichiriki Chaya unobscured by face-masked pedestrians and tourists with selfie sticks. This was the final result of my persistence.

The Ichiriki Chaya

The Ichiriki Chaya

My favorite spot though is away from the busy streets and in Kennin-ji, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple. This temple complex is pretty big, but doesn’t get so crowded, and you get a real sense of peace from the raked stone gardens. Here are a couple of pictures from Kennin-ji that I didn’t have space for in my article.

Kennin-ji... As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

Kennin-ji… As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now  is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

You can read the article here: Walking in Gion

See also:
Kyoto Samurai
Toka Ebisu

Fire Ceremony & Kyōgen Performance at Seiryō-ji on March 15th

Seiryō-ji temple grounds with festival stalls & giant torches ready to be lit!

Seiryō-ji temple grounds with festival stalls & giant torches ready to be lit!

Many temples hold special ceremonies on March 15th to commemorate the Buddha’s death, or passing into Nirvana (Nehan 涅槃 in Japanese). One of the more spectacular and eventful commemorations is at Seiryō-ji temple in Saga. There are a number of reasons why you might want to attend this particular event.

  • On this day only, entry to the temple interior is free.
  • It has a real local festival feel with food stalls set up all about the temple grounds.
  • Traditional Kyōgen comedy performances are held throughout the day.
  • There is a huge fire festival in the evening.

Mewby and I visited Seiryō-ji for last year’s Nehan-e (涅槃会), so here are some pictures from our visit.

Seiryō-ji Temple

Naturally we took advantage of the free entry to the temple interior and gardens. Normally this would cost us 400 yen each, but on this day alone there is no charge!

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Many Buddhist artworks of incredible detail are on display inside the temple. In contrast the gardens provide space for peaceful reverie.

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Take a look around yourself!

Click on this image for a 360 degree rotational view.

Click on this image for a 360 degree rotational view.

Kyōgen Comedies

Two monks carry in a "living" statue of the Buddha.

Actors portray two monks carrying in a “living” statue of the Buddha.

Saga Kyōgen is a form of medieval mummer’s play, performed completely without words and so very easy to understand, even for non-Japanese. Accompanied by drum and gong, the masked performers, use exaggerated miming to convey very simple plots. The play we saw, concerned a visit to Seiryō-ji temple by a beautiful mother and her less than beautiful daughter.

The "homely" daughter is on the left and the mother on the right.

The “homely” daughter is on the left and the mother on the right.

So beautiful is the mother that monks become overly excited in her presence and welcome her warmly. Naturally, the plainer daughter gets a colder reception. Not very subtle I know, but the play does contain some religious satire. Seiryō-ji is famous for its rarely displayed sandalwood statue of the Buddha. This statue is held to be so sacred it is termed a “living Buddha”. In the Kyōgen comedy, the Buddha literally comes to life, turning away from the plain-faced daughter, and actually running off with her mother instead!

The Buddha statue running off with a beautiful lady as a temple monk tries to stop him.

The Buddha statue running off with a beautiful lady as a temple monk tries to stop him.

Naturally, both the daughter and the monks are very upset by this, but not to worry. There is a Japanese expression, 蓼食う虫も好き好き, or “some prefer nettles”, which means that beauty is very much in the eye of each beholder – and so the homely daughter also finds true love in the end!

All's well that ends well for the homely daughter...

All’s well that ends well for the homely daughter…

The Fire Ceremony

Saga no hashira taimatsu, (嵯峨の柱松明) is part of a religious ceremony commemorating Buddha’s passing from this world into Nirvana. The ceremony begins around 8pm and the two giant torches are set alight at 8.30. You need to get there early though, if you want a decent view.

The pine torches quickly catch fire...

The pine torches quickly catch fire…

I’ve read that the condition of the fire can be used to divine the fortunes of the coming year.

Fire fighters are on hand to prevent the fire from getting out of hand...

Fire fighters are on hand to prevent the fire from getting out of hand…

As the fires blaze, monks from the temple parade around bearing lanterns and chanting sutras.

A blazing inferno!

The fires really do reach quite high and send their sparks up to the heavens.

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A blazing inferno!

My pictures don’t really do the experience justice, so take a look for yourself!

Click on this image for 360 degree rotational view.

Click on this image for 360 degree rotational view.

Details and directions:

Kyōgen performances are held in the afternoon at 15.30, 17.00 and 18.30. The temple interior and gardens are open from 9:00 until 16:00. The fires are lit between 20.00 and 20.30. To get there, take Kyoto Bus #71, or #72, and get off at Saga Shakado-mae. The temple can also be reached by taking a 15 minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyam Station. Here is a MAP.

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Greeting the New Year in Kyoto

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

For the last post of 2014, let us return to a piece first written by our good friend, John Dougill in 2010.  That year I followed John’s advice by paying a visit to both Kurodani and Shimogamo Shrine on New Year’s Eve, and so I am reposting some photos from that night too. It had been snowing quite heavily on the 31st, so Kurodani in particular was really beautiful; all dressed up in white like a fairytale.

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

John Dougill writes…

The true soul of Japan is neither Shinto nor Buddhist. It’s Shinto-Buddhist. Until the artificial split of early Meiji times, the country had more than 1000 years of happy syncretism. Born Shinto, die Buddhist is the Japanese way.

Shinto is this-worldly, concerned with rites of passage and social well-being. Buddhism is other-worldly, concerned with individual salvation. At New Year the two religions come together like yin and yang, either side of midnight. Buddhism sees out the death of the old; Shinto celebrates the birth of the new. Joya-no-kane (tolling of the bell) gives way to Hatsumode (first visit of the year).

To get the full feel of a Kyoto New Year, you need to be syncretic too. In the dying minutes of the year, go hear the bell at a Buddhist temple. By tradition it is rung 108 times once for every attachment that plagues the human condition. Then head for a shrine to pick up arrow and amulets for protection through the coming year.

With over 3000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, you’re spoilt for choice. A popular but crowded combination is Chion-in and Yasaka Jinja. File up the hill to watch the young priests at the temple acrobatically swing on ropes to ring the bell. Then head down to the shrine to get twisted bamboo lit with the sacred Okera fire. It will purify your home.

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

Personally I prefer the open space of Kurodani, where the bell booms soulfully over the nearby hillside. Open fires give off a warm glow, which you can add to with heated sake before lining up to ring the bell. Afterwards a twenty-minute walk leads through dark and dozing streets to the wooded surrounds of Shimogamo Jinja.

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

Suddenly there are laughing voices, bright kimono, and gaudy lights. Aspiring yakuza sell candy floss and goldfish. Here all is jollity and smiles. ‘Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu’ rings out on every side. At the shrine people toss coins over the heads of those in front into the offertory boxes. With the blessing of the kami, this too will be a happy New Year. A happy Kyoto New Year!

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

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Text by John Dougill. Photographs by Michael Lambe

John-Dougill-2-242x300About John Dougill
John Dougill is the author of Kyoto: A Cultural History, Japan’s World Heritage Sites and In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians. He also keeps a blog, Green Shinto (www.greenshinto.com). Born in the UK to a Czech mother and a Yorkshire Viking, he studied Russian and Slavic Studies at university. However, a lust for wandering took him to the Middle East, where he married a Yemeni, before travelling around the world for a year. He set up house in Oxford, but fate intervened to send him to Kanazawa where he was a lone gaijin on the backside of Japan, dreaming of one day teaching in Kyoto. Now he has to pinch himself every morning as he looks up from his bed at Daimonji. When not playing chess, writing haiku or walking along the Kamogawa, he works as professor of Cultural Studies at Ryukoku University.

Kōtō-in – An Excerpt from “Deep Kyoto: Walks” by Joel Stewart

This month’s extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks is taken from a very fine ramble by the artist Joel Stewart, titled “In Praise of Uro Uro”. Uro uro is a Japanese expression for aimless wandering.

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Kōtō-in by Joel Stewart

I really don’t think much needs be said here about Kōtō-in, other than it’s a real escape from the city, right in the city. And beside all the interesting history you can find about this place, I think essentially, its purpose hasn’t changed that simple fact. It is, by design, a perfect example of understatement; a deceptively simple and brilliant combination of layout and materials meant to change your awareness and heighten your senses, starting as you make your way in. Highly calculated without it seeming to be so at all, Kōtō-in is refreshing and cleansing.

One of my favorite tricks for people visiting from abroad is to send them first to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, with all its over-the-top no expense spared attitude broadcasting loudly, its crowds and, yes, all that gold. Once done with that, bring them here to Kōtō-in’s less traveled, quieter, more inward-looking space, to show the other end of the spectrum of the Japanese aesthetic-meets-spirit equation. Kōtō-in still functions as a place of respite and refuge…

The entry way alone is worth the price of admission: several scenes are framed in succession as you go in, each frame helping you shed one more layer of the city behind you, and by the time you make it to the veranda overlooking the garden, you are lost in love and have forgotten why. You’ve been set up. Today, like before, I make my way in my socks to the veranda and sit. And sit some more. Bamboo high above, a vast carpet of moss below, and thread-like layers of maples in between. Silent except for the leaves rustling above and a bit of conversation by the couple beside me. In the center of the garden stands a craggy old stone lantern acting as a lone sentry. This scene is rich with the barest minimum. I feel no hurry, and since it is always so hard to leave, I just wait until my butt tells me it’s time to get up. Some places are just conducive to the simple act of observation… and letting the mind wander.

On the opposite side is the teahouse known as Shoko-ken, designed by one of Sen no Rikyu’s disciples, Tadaoki Hosokawa (who also happened to be the samurai warrior-cum-daimyo apparently responsible for Kōtō-in itself). It’s worth a visit just to scratch your head…..”What is ALL the fuss about these teahouses?…It’s SO DARK, mumble, mumble, etc…”. And yet. If you sit there a bit, let your eyes adjust, details start to emerge. I check out the stained earthen walls, the textures and planes, and note the hushed outside world. Everything but the absolute essential is removed from this space, for the guest who is about to receive tea. Senses are honed by what is there, and equally so, by what is absent. It’s sort of like blindfolding someone and placing an ice cube in their hand.

Time passes and my accustomed eyes see how the tokonoma and shoji window are placed in relation to each other so that the filtered light comes in at a diagonal and softly illuminates the base of the alcove like a subtle spotlight. Imagine what a single flower in season would look like in a rustic, hand-molded vase right next to you as the tea master passes you a warm frothing bowl of tea out of the shadows… Cool stuff to ponder in the darkened silence here.

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Text & photograph by Joel Stewart. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Joel Stewart
joelJoel Stewart is an American artist from Washington State who has resided in Kyoto since 1986. His work is in the permanent collections of several US museums and can be seen online at both “Joel Stewart Art” on Facebook and www.joelstewartart.com.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Not Sure Which Way to Go – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Robert Yellin

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, Robert Yellin encourages us to seek chance and adventure along the Path of Philosophy…

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Photograph by Robert Yellin

Not Sure Which Way to Go
Let’s Get Lost on the Philosopher’s Path!
ROBERT YELLIN

One autumn twilight moment I was standing on a small bridge overlooking the Philosopher’s Path’s canal and saw a young couple staring at a map, eyes flittering over the horizon and at each other, each looking to the other for direction, it obvious that neither knew where they were, except that they were on the Path of Philosophy! The guy trying to act like he knew what to do said, “That’s the direction we should go, no wait, let’s head that way!” The girl, in all her feminine wisdom replied, ‘Let’s get lost!” Yes, I thought, that’s what one should do on Philosopher’s Path, get lost and discover.

The Philosopher’s Path or Tetsugaku no Michi in Japanese, stirs up such grandeur in its lofty name that one might even expect to be enlightened somewhere along the way. Some may hit that satori state along the path, as when Ikkyu in 1420 heard a crow not far off the path and got it! And that’s the beauty of this fabled Kyoto walk. It’s not only what one discovers on the paved canal-lined stretch; it’s what one encounters when they step off the guided way. After all a path is a great metaphor for life itself, getting lost often brings the greatest discoveries within and without. Getting lost—and finding oneself—on the Philosopher’s Path: what a grand way to spend a day in Kyoto.

Michi (also read as ) means not only path or road, but also means ‘The Way’ in Japanese. It is not only an integral part of the essence of the Philosopher’s Path or The Path of Philosophy, but can also be found in many names of Japan’s great martial and cultural arts, such as Budo or Chado. Each person’s ‘michi’ will never be the same as anyone else’s and again is a great metaphor for each step taken along this most quaint stroll.

Where to take the first step? Most start from the ‘Tetsugaku no Michi’ signboard that hugs the corner of Imadegawa and Shirakawa streets diagonally across the way from the signboard with the dancing Octopus. Walking east along this entrance one can see Daimonji in the distance with its trapezoidal deforested area where cut lines can be sensed; those lines form the kanji character for Dai—or Large—and a huge bonfire is set alit each August 16th in that form to guide souls back to the otherworld. A fitting view for the first few steps on the path as Daimonji has seen millions of tourists and pilgrims start from the same spot and the mountain never knows where each unique journey on the path will end.

For me I start the path with maybe one or two spots on my list to visit and then let intuition take over. Of course, walking straight along Imadegawa and heading towards the Silver Pavilion one will pass many shops such as a cheap, delicious Japanese eatery next to a coffee shop with a big Teddy bear that has been sitting at the counter since the 60’s; a Michelin-starred restaurant; an open-air Italian spread; the estate and museum of the famed Nihonga painter Hashimoto Kansetsu (1883–1945); and of course countless vendors selling traditional Kyoto staples. The Silver Pavilion is of course a must visit and best at opening or before closing, if those times are possible. Here, so much of Japanese culture crystallized in the 15th century in what is known as the Higashiyama Bunka or Eastern Mountain Culture. Based on the illusive aesthetic ideals of wabi-sabi, Higashiyama Bunka under the guidance of the Silver Pavilion’s retired Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa directed new developments for such famed Japanese arts such as the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, Noh Drama and Calligraphy. Living itself changed for the elite with the introduction of the ‘Japanese room’ or washitsu.

Bordering the mountains and in Yoshimasa’s time quite inaccessible from the city, the location was chosen for the quiet contemplation of life, nature and man’s fleeting position between the two; surely Yoshimasa would approve that one major stop on the Philosopher’s Path is his subdued ‘palace’ surrounded by his moon-viewing sand cone (resembling Mt.Fuji) and his exquisite garden. Get lost in time.

A noticeable shift in the air occurs a few minutes’ walk from the Silver Pavilion, passing by rows of ordinary homes (not on the Philosopher’s Path, part of the Getting Lost Path) heading south when the trees of Hōnen-in Temple appear. It strikes the senses immediately, the crispness of the air and the ionic air change in energy, the smell, the tingle. There are magical spots all around Kyoto, many to be found along and nearby the Philosopher’s Path, yet none is as serene as Hōnen-in. It’s one of Kyoto’s hidden gems.

Hōnen (1133-1212) was an extremely important Buddhist figure and the temple bears his name. Once, I stood enraptured for many minutes before a hanging scroll depicting Hōnen; a simple portrait it was, yet never before have I seen a face so full of compassion, light, and sheer contentment. That same energy fills the space of Hōnen-in. Walk up the stone steps from sunlit lightness into a moody shaded grove and in the distance is The Gate. Beaming from its open wooden doors is a radiant light that is heavenly. The stone path leading to the thatched gate is uneven, for a reason. You’ll figure it out.

A gate is always another metaphor in Japan, passing from one world to the next, from the mundane daily existence to a silky world of divinity and beauty. There are always two long rectangular sand mounds upon descending the other side of the Hōnen gate where a theme of water is always seen. These are called Byakusadan. The message from Byakusadan is that you walk between the two mounds in order to ‘use’ the water to cleanse your body, mind and spirit. Next, wander about the very small compound and you might even find a small block that says, ‘Listen, Think, Accept, Practice, Believe’—but not necessarily in that order. I believed once that if I left my new bicycle unlocked at Hōnen-in in the height of the autumn tourist season that it would still be there when I returned. It was.

Picture 5 Honen-in by Robert Yellin (Medium)

Hōnen-in by Robert Yellin

Hōnen-in is not a tourist place to see things per se, but a space to feel, to sense the magic of shadows and light, man entwined with nature, the ‘now’ connected to all time. My brother visited once and was amazed at the ‘quality of the silence’ and noted that silence is not simply the absence of noise. There’s a vibration to silence that one can sense. Maybe it’s the spirit of Hōnen himself.

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Text and photographs by Robert Yellin. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Robert Yellin
Robert YellinRobert Yellin is an American Japanese ceramics specialist who has resided in Japan since 1984. He writes regularly on Japanese ceramics in numerous publications. For ten years he wrote the “Ceramic Scene” column for the Japan Times, the largest English newspaper in Japan. His articles have also appeared in Daruma magazine, WINDS magazine, Ceramics Art & Perception, and Asian Art Newspaper. Robert is the author of Yakimono Sanka published by Kogei Shuppan, a book about sake utensils which was later translated into English under the title Ode to Pottery, Sake Cups and Flasks. He is a member of the Japan Ceramics Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai) and his articles have appeared in its monthly publication Tohsetsu.
Robert owns and runs Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto in addition to an informational website: www.e-yakimono.net, and an online Japanese ceramic art gallery: www.japanesepottery.com. Robert is available to give lectures and lead tours dealing with Japanese ceramics.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto: Walks

14.Corrugated Politicians

Corrugated Politicians

Today I am posting a short excerpt from our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks. In Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours, Bridget Scott meditates on her personal connection to her neighborhood on a well-worn stroll from Shisen-dō to Manshu-in…

In Kyoto, the act of walking itself has taken on a new meaning for me. This awareness began over twenty years ago with my first butoh class: feel your feet moving on the earth, I was told. In my shiatsu training I began connecting my whole body to the earth through my feet. In my traditional Japanese dance training, I step with each breath guided by my departed teacher’s taped voice. In the main hall at Shisendo, in our zazen group, we walk after sitting for forty minutes, as we inhale and exhale. Continue reading