To lose yourself purely in the beauty of a destination is one of travel’s greatest pleasures.
I didn’t feel too bad when I broke off from the tour group. Scurrying after a guide holding a microphone and speaker wasn’t exactly the Kyoto experience I was looking for. I just wanted to get lost; lost in my own thoughts and lost within the labyrinth of lanes and garden paths winding their way across the city.
The peaceful city of Kyoto is a welcome respite from the buzz of nearby Osaka. Sure, it still has its modern pockets and commercial hum, but the old world is apparent here in a heavy sprinkling of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
It’s also not uncommon to pass tea houses hidden behind billowing curtains, or geishas (known as maiko and geiko in these parts) hurriedly darting between engagements. Japanese culture is deeply entrenched in the appreciation of aesthetics – especially nature.
In order to wholly channel this ethos, I head off on foot to be swept up in the magic of one of Kyoto’s most beautiful locations: the Philosopher’s Walk.
Navigating the public transport was easy enough and it wasn’t long before I found myself at the start of the path in the Higashiyama district. The leafy canal-side route is so named after the commute of Japanese 20th-century philosopher, Nishida Kitaro.
While the Philosopher’s Walk and surrounds roars to life with visitors during cherry blossom season, its beauty certainly doesn’t wane during the cooler months. Bare branches hanging over the glass-like waterway lend the area an ethereal ambience. I can only imagine how stunning it would look cloaked in a blanket of blush-hued blooms. If only I wasn’t two weeks too early.
The walk itself only takes about 30 minutes to stroll, but I wasn’t in any hurry. Peering into charming coffee shops, restaurants and souvenir shops along the way served me for a good hour or so. I hadn’t even reached the temples yet.
The surrounding forest and residential neighbourhood conceal a number of Kyoto’s most dreamy sites. Jisho-ji and Honen-in are two of the most famous, and beautiful, that fishbone off the Walk.
The former is a Zen temple also known as the Silver Pavilion, while the latter was established in 1680 to honour the founder of the Jodo sect. Both had me completely spellbound, not so much by the architecture but the tranquil grounds. Think moss-covered perches, carp ponds, trickling streams and immaculately raked sand gardens.
What was even more mesmerising was the sheer number of young women dressed in full kimonos, as well as couples donning traditional garb, using the tranquil grounds as the backdrop to their photos.
Admiring the stunning printed garments contrasting with the lush surrounds had me a in a dream-like state as I strolled back down the path towards the bus station.
My visit to Kyoto may have been only superficial, but I don’t feel I missed out on anything. Sometimes it’s okay to simply focus on the now and the beauty, without the need for a guide.