Half day along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Japan Review
I was pretty much templed out by the tail end of my 2 week trip to Japan, so I was glad I’d picked the Philosopher’s walk as the last official sight of the itinerary. No information pamphlets, no rushing, fresh air and low stress; a lazy walk down a beautiful canal was the perfect way to cap off the sightseeing portion of my holiday.
Now if only there were fewer people around…
The Philosopher’s Path was so named because a famous Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, was said to meditate along this picturesque route during his daily commute to Kyoto University. In a way this shows the ultimate potential of shower thoughts; bring it outside and you might just get a bit of walkway named after you.
For those who say I’m not giving philosophers their due, I’ll have you know I took one whole term of Political Philosophy at university; so in some ways I am an expert.
Jokes aside nothing makes you lose faith in any political system faster than taking a Political Philosophy course; highly recommended for those who feel that they just aren’t cynical enough.
We’d arrived in the late afternoon after a visit to the disappointing Kinkakuji temple. The bus journey was straightforward and we had no trouble identifying the path due to the stream of tourists congregating the area.
Today the walk retains a traditional atmosphere with the charming stone canal winding lazily alongside a tunnel of cherry blossoms. The surrounding buildings have a similarly traditional style in keeping with the canal; several of the buildings being shops and restaurants taking advantage of the famed location. During our walk we also passed a few performers and street hawkers, so it would be fair to say that despite its old fashioned charm the philosopher’s walk is commercialising. Anything beautiful truly cannot escape capitalism in this day and age.
I doubt the famous philosopher would be doing much contemplation along this path if he were alive today; it would be a miracle if he didn’t murder someone after pushing through the crowds of tourists descending on the area every day. There was a strong hum of conversation in the air and a real buzz in the atmosphere; similar to that of a small street festival.
To be fair we did visit within the cherry blossom season on a sunny weekday, so perhaps the crowds we experienced were larger than the usual. We were definitely able to move but there was always at least one human being within metres from us in every direction; most of them snapping away for the perfect cherry blossom shot.
Or as perfect a shot as was possible with the sea of humans present. I can’t blame them though as I was jostling for a good spot with the best of them.
The blossoms, sleepy canal and bright weather combined to create some beautiful shots. It was a shame that we had passed the peak cherry blossom blooming period for the area because the path was so pretty already
We walked Northwards all the way towards the natural canal end; the cherry blossom trees and crowds reducing in size as we walked on. It was actually the most peaceful part of the walk and better in keeping with the philosophical theme. Unfortunately I have no idea where the Philosopher’s path officially starts or end so I have a sneaking suspicion that by the time the canal end came into view we’d already left the path long ago.
This is where I say something deep and spiffy about how this was representative of how we all leave the beaten path someday, but I can’t be bothered.
All you need to know is that it’s a very pleasant walk in spring that is easy on your knees, beautiful to look at and crowded with a lively atmosphere in the peak season. If you want to experience the path the same way as in the days of Nishida Kitaro then it’s best to visit during less popular times.
Have you visited the Philosopher’s path? Do you agree with my assessment? Let me know in the comments below.
Address: Shishigatani Honenin Nishimachi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8427, Japan/〒606-8427 京都府京都市左京区鹿ケ谷法然院西町
Opening hours: No closing hours