Trip Reports

Japan Trip Report – Part 3

If you missed part 1 or 2 of the trip report then click on the corresponding number to catch up!

After an incredible day and a half in Kyoto, I was wondering how it would get any better.  We woke up pretty early the next morning and had quite a full itinerary.  We traveled to Kyoto Station and then caught a bus to the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji).  Our day was filled with sites on the eastern side of Kyoto, along the Higashiyama Mountains.  While not the fastest route, the transportation to the Silver Pavilion was easy to use and convenient.

Silver Pavilion sand working

The Silver Pavilion is less of a relative of Kyoto’s famed Golden Pavilion than the name would suggest.  The layouts of the two pavilions are similar but the buildings are gardens are very different.  If you come to the Silver Pavilion looking for the flash and pizzazz (do people still say pizzazz?) you may end up disappointed.  Having said that, I preferred the Silver Pavilion.

Silver Pavilion side tree

We arrived there close to opening and I would recommend others do the same.  Not only did we encounter less of a crowd than usual but the Silver Pavilion’s contemplative nature lends itself to being an early morning stop.  The temple, founded in the 1400’s, has some of the most beautiful grounds in Kyoto.  On top of that, the main building (which isn’t silver) is beautiful and unassuming.

The Silver Pavilion is somewhat unique due to it being built into the mountain.  There’s a path that runs up the hill a little ways that has great views of both the Silver Pavilion and Kyoto.  That may have been my favorite aspect of the temple.  Over the course of about 3 days, we visited 8 different temples.  The Silver Pavilion is likely my second favorite (I reserve the right to change my mind) with its unassuming beauty and detailed grounds.  If you are looking for a contemplative or spiritual experience, like I discussed in part 2, the Silver Pavilion certainly fits that description.  I do think the experience would be somewhat dampened by crowds though so I recommend visiting in the morning or right before close.  Here’s a few more photos of this UNESECO World Heritage Site.

Silver Pavilion purple and blur

Sand garden Silver Pavilion

White pink flower Silver Pavilion

Silver Pavilion stairs

Silver Pavilion pond reflection wider

From one beautiful, thoughtful experience to another, we walked down the road from Ginkaku-ji to the Philosopher’s Path.  We stopped for a grilled rice ball along the way and it was delicious.

The Philosopher’s Path is a walking path along a canal.  There are stones that travelers (or locals) walk on.  The path got its name because a famous Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, walked along the path daily on his way to Kyoto University.  The path runs about 2 kilometers long and is lined by beautiful flowers and cherry trees.  There are many temples that are a short and easy diversion away from the path, making it even more worth your while.  Unlike some of Kyoto’s grand sites, the Philosopher’s Path is relatively unmarked.  While walking along a canal hardly sounds like a top destination, Philosopher’s Path is just that.

Philosopher's Path cherry blossoms clear

Much like the Silver Pavilion, this path is quiet and contemplative.  That morning was full of beautiful and peaceful moments for me.  Kyoto is a spiritual city and the Silver Pavilion and Philosopher’s Path certainly offer serene places to think and admire beauty.

Philosopher's Path pink branch

Another similarity to the Silver Pavilion is that this place gets crowded later in the day.  Walking it in the morning was certainly peaceful and I feel as if you’d miss out on something going later in the day.  Walking the path around sunset or at dusk would be wonderful, as well.

Honen-in sand drawings

Along the way, we stopped at a free temple named Honen-In.  While much smaller than other temples we visited, Honen-In was worth a stop and had some interesting elements.  It’s also a great escape from crowds.  I loved the sand drawings, seen above.

two flowers water leaf

Honen-In Temple won’t make any best of lists, nor should it.  But the temple is worth a 20 minute diversion from Philosopher’s Path and is free.  The grounds are interesting and fairly unique.

Philosopher's Path white blossoms

Back to Philosopher’s Path.  There are only so many words I can use to describe this place.  Beautiful, Gorgeous, etc.  I guess that just means it’s time for a photo dump.

Philosopher's Path pink flowers cool bridge

Pink flower Philosopher's Path

Philosopher's Path pink flower

There are also some cafes, shops, and crepe stands along the path.  We stopped for a crepe towards the end of the path and really enjoyed it.  There was a bride and groom getting photos toward the end of the path, as well.  You can see them at the bottom of this photo.

Philosopher's Path branch cherry blossom background

In some areas, when the wind blew, the blossoms would come off the tree like snow.  Standing inside one of these ‘mini-storms’ was another memorable moment from that morning.  Philosopher’s Path was easily one of my favorite parts of our trip.

After we made our way through the path, we ended up at Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple.  This temple was similar to Daikaku-ji Temple on our previous day.  We walked around the temple, with complimentary tea(!), on the wooden platforms that showcased the temples intricate gardens and detailed paintings.  Perhaps my favorite part of Eikan-do Zenrin-ji was a stairwell that led to a little lookout.  The artwork throughout the temple was gorgeous.

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji down staircase

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji wooden walkway was quite large for being temple grounds.  Like the Silver Pavilion, this temple is built into the mountainside and changes elevation.

Nearly all of the temples we went to had a natural feel to them.  Even though they were man-made, they felt like part of Kyoto’s natural beauty.  Maybe that’s because they’re so ancient.  Maybe this has to do with the earthy tones and wonderful gardens within them.  I think those aspects, along with Kyoto’s subtle yet beautiful architecture gave that natural feel.

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji sand

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji is absolutely worth a stop.  The grounds around the temple are quite beautiful, as well.  There’s a path up to a little pagoda that overlooks the city.  There’s also a pond down below the temple that is beautiful.

Eikan-do Kenrin-ji pond front

There were so many temples lining the path we walked that day, it was somewhat staggering.  The weather was not in our favor that day or else we probably would have stopped at more.  By the afternoon, the rain had become pretty steady and we were getting fairly wet.  This, by no means, made the day any less memorable.  We probably just would have done a little more if the weather had been nice.

After Eikan-do Zenrin-ji, we took a short walk to Nanzen-ji Temple.  The grounds were free here and visitors could pay to go inside some of the temple’s grand buildings.  We elected not to go in any of the buildings, though I wish we would have in hindsight.

Nannenji Temple

Even so, Nanzen-ji was quite memorable.  While the day, so far, had been marked by understated beauty, Nanzen-ji showcased massive halls.  The buildings were grand and beautiful.  There was still some of the understated beauty in the side buildings.  Most notably though, Nanzen-ji had an aqueduct!

Nanzen-ji under aqueduct

You can walk under, around, and on this aqueduct.  This was undoubtedly a highlight of Nanzen-ji.  The temple was founded in the 13th century but the aqueduct was built in the late 1800’s.

Nanzen-ji aqueduct down middle

The aqueduct led to a few different paths that we didn’t follow for very far.  I thoroughly enjoyed walking on top of it though.

All in all, I wish we had spent more time in Nanzen-ji.  I think, after spending a day at temples with smaller grounds, Nanzen-ji offered so much to do that I was slightly overwhelmed in deciding what to do.  Going back, I’d like to follow a few more paths and would go inside of a few buildings.  Nanzen-ji Temple if very large and extravagant.  I’d recommend going and having a bit of a game plan before you do.

Cherry blossoms roof Nanzen-ji

From there we headed to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.  The rain had affected our plans a little at this point and we were trying to simplify our route without as many diversions.  In hindsight, this wasn’t the best idea and I regret it a tiny bit.  Knowing full well that we were tired and soaked, I’m not sure how much we would have enjoyed seeing a few more places.  Of course I’m sitting at home now, seeing the sun outside and missing Kyoto something fierce so a few extra sites sounds great!

Initially our plan was to get to Kiyomizu-dera at sunset.  We got there at the right time but it was very rainy so there was no color in the sky.  In fact, the color in the sky throughout the whole day was lacking.  Just another excuse to go back!

Before arriving at Kiyomizu-dera, we once again walked through the streets of the Higashiyama District and they were completely packed.  It was a stark contrast to what we saw just two days earlier and less enjoyable.  My advice would be to wander around this area after 6 because the architecture and shops are beautiful.

Kiyomizu-dera statue

Kiyomizu-dera offered close to the same experience during the day as we had at the nighttime illumination.  One extra section and a pagoda were open during the day but that was the main difference.  Still, this was narrowly my favorite temple in Kyoto and I was happy to be back there a second time.  If you missed part 2 of the trip report, I have more thoughts on the temple there.  Here’s a few more photos!

Kiyomizu-dera skyline rain

Pagoda main hall background Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera gong

The temple was far more crowded during the day, even though it was almost closing time, than at the illumination.  The experience wasn’t quite as enthralling but was well worth our time.

Thoroughly drenched at this point, we headed back to Inari for dinner.  We went to a ramen restaurant and had a warm and comforting meal.  I believe Melissa said this was her favorite ramen restaurant of the trip.  It was probably my favorite, as well.

We had planned to go to Fushimi Inari after dinner.  We bundled up and walked to the entrance of the shrine and stopped for a bathroom.  As we were waiting outside, the rain seemed to grow even stronger and we took that as a sign that it was time to call it a night, coming back for an early morning hike.

Fushimi Inari entrance

We made the right call that night, as we went back to the house and relaxed for a few hours before going to bed.  Our trip was completely packed from morning to night each day and we were all getting a little tired.  I wouldn’t have changed our itineraries hardly at all but the little bit of extra rest was beneficial.

The next morning, we were up early for Fushimi Inari.  It was check out day but we decided to leave our bags and come back to pick them up after our hike up the shrine.  This was the right move.  I’m not usually a morning person but I was feeling very good on this particularly morning, I think because of my excitement for Fushimi Inari.

This shrine is made up of a few grand buildings at the bottom of Mount Inari followed by thousands of torii gates straddling pathways up the mountain.  This website explains the meaning behind Fushimi Inari concisely and better than I can.  If you don’t feel like clicking, Inari is the Shinto god of rice.  This shrine is the ‘most important’ of all the shrines dedicated to him.  There are many fox sculptures throughout the mountainside, thought to be Inari’s messengers.

Fushimi Inari dog fence

Guests start at the bottom of the mountain and make their way to the top, and are free to turn around at any time.  The torii gates lead all the way up to the summit and back down.  There are thought to be roughly 10,000 torii gates across the mountain and most were donated from the years 1600-1800 A.D.  There are many other paths throughout the mountain, I could spend a full day there exploring the whole mountain.

Fushimi Inari curve

Fushimi Inari was mind-blowing.  From the quiet nature of the hike to the mystery that the torii gates add, the hike was a breathtaking and beautiful experience.  Just the thought of all of these torii gates being placed up and down the mountain is mesmerizing.

Fushimi Inari hill

There are mini-shrines and stopping points throughout the hike up to the summit.  People buy mini torii gates and place them at some of these locations in hopes of good fortune.

Fushimi Inari green shrine stop

A little over halfway up the mountain there is a great lookout over Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari view

The large torii gate near the center of the above photo is where our journey began.  The hike up the mountain takes a while but isn’t very aggressive.  There are a couple of steep parts, notably right before the summit, but the hike is mostly moderate.

Fushimi Inari mini gates and rocks

At the summit, there is a larger shrine with more of the mini torii gates and fox statues.

Fushimi Inari statue mini gates

I’ve written quite a bit about spiritual and contemplative experiences in Kyoto.  Fushimi Inari was absolutely one of those experiences.  Between the mystery, awe and physicality, Fushimi Inari is unforgettable.  This was likely my favorite place in Kyoto, and that’s saying a lot!

Fushimi Inari two lanterns wheelbarrow

Fushimi Inari gate and stop

The hike took around 3 hours to complete but the experience is up to you.  There is a small loop that only takes about 20 minutes to complete at the bottom of the mountain and there are many more paths to walk if you want to spend the whole day there.  I’d recommend at least going to the summit.  Fushimi Inari has no entrance fee.

Fushimi Inari dog

We made it back down the mountain and went to check out of our Airbnb.  The location of the Airbnb was nice, especially on this day.  After I showered and we packed, it was time to leave.  I’d stay at this particular house again and would be happy to share details if anyone is interested in more information.

We went back to Kyoto Station, dropped off our bags and hopped on a bus going to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji).  Like the bus to the Silver Pavilion, the ride took a while but was easy to figure out.  Before long we arrived at the Golden Pavilion.

Gold Pavilion water zoom in

The Golden Pavilion is one of Kyoto’s major tourist attractions and, frankly, it felt that way.  While many of the temples we visited were contemplative with narrow paths and beautiful gardens, the Golden Pavilion had wider paths that were packed with people.

Gold Pavilion wide with water

That’s not to say Kinkaku-ji isn’t beautiful, it surely is.  This is more of the jaw-dropping beauty like Toji’s pagoda and Nanzenji’s grand halls.  The pavilion is covered in gold leaf and is framed beautifully by the water and mountains.

Gold Pavilion side water

The pond and gardens are wonderfully maintained and articulate.  The whole area is beautiful and is centered around that pavilion, rightfully so.  This temple was not one of my favorites but I completely understand why it’s one of Kyoto’s main tourist attractions.  Unfortunately, this means that there are hordes of people visiting.

Leaves red blossom Gold Pavilion

Even with my slightly negative review of the Golden Pavilion, you should absolutely go if you visit Kyoto.  The gold is stunning and the architecture of the building is very interesting.  There’s just a flash at the Golden Pavilion that the others don’t have, I think this makes the temple less subtle which is unfortunate.

We ate lunch down the street from the Golden Pavilion and then headed back to Kyoto Station.  Just like almost all of our train experiences, we caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) without any problem.  We’ll pick up on that experience in the next trip report!

Gold Pavilion blocked by blossoms

Kyoto quickly became my favorite city in the world on this trip and there isn’t a close second.  There are the top tourist attractions – to me the Silver & Golden Pavilions, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari and the Monkey Park.  We didn’t hit all of the highlights either.  Beyond the highlights there is an incredible depth of things to see and do.  All of the temples and shrines are gorgeous and have character that most tourist destinations don’t.  If that’s not enough, the city’s layout is gorgeous with the Kamo River running through and the mountains surrounding it.  We spent three full days in Kyoto but barely scratched the surface of things to do.  If anyone is interested in Kyoto, I would absolutely recommend going.  I know that we’ll be going back before long.  If you have any questions about the city then let me know in the comments!

To continue on to part 4, click here.

Thank you for reading and let us know if you have any questions or thoughts!  You can do that below in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages, all of which you can find on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew

4 replies »

Leave a Reply