The Tetsugaku-no-michi, Path of Philosophy
One of the most romantic places in Kyoto, the Tetsugaku-no-michi is sure to inspire awe and wonder to any visitor at any time of the year. This is a popular pedestrian pathway which is line by an ancient canal and hundreds of cherry trees. It is located in the northern Higashiyama district of Eastern Kyoto, Japan. Although it may look like a simple pedestrian lane, this particular pathway is evidence of how beautiful Kyoto is even if the capital city was transferred to Tokyo.
History of the Place
According to some historians, the name of the walkway is derived from the life of Japan’s most famous philosopher named Nishida Kitaro. It is said that he took this path on a daily basis on his travel to work in Kyoto Universty. Based on some journals and memoirs, Nishida used this place for his daily meditation. He would appreciate the beauty of the trees and the canal while pondering about many things. It is believed that this is where he got his inspirations for his many valuable works.
The canal which is followed by the path is known to be part of the Lake Biwa canal, a 20-kilometer long canal traveling through the mountains towards the Shiga prefecture. What is interesting is that it was built during the Meiji Restoration period as a means of powering up Japan’s first hydroelectric power plant. It may seem that the pathway is just a simple, normal place but it actually has a lot of historical value.
About the Tetsugaku-no-michi in Kyoto
The total length covered by the Philosopher’s path is roughly two kilometers. It extends from the Ginkaku-ji in the north to the Nanjenji in the south. It is located in the easternmost part of the city, particularly in northern Higashiyama. It is bordered by a number of popular tourist destinations. To the east of the pathway is a large forest leading to Rokuijizo.
Usually, people who would walk leisurely through the pathway would take a minimum of 30 minutes end to end. However, for those who are visiting the place for sightseeing, the trip may take longer due to the other landmarks located along the pathway. Between the Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji would be the Honen-in, the Anraku-ji, the Otoyo-jinja, and the Kumamonyakou-jinja.
Opening Hours and Entrance Fee
Since it is more like a pedestrian walkway, or a part of a local road, there is no opening and closing hours for the Path of Philosophy. It could be accessed at any time of day and it is well-lighted at night. This is to accommodate pedestrians traveling from Northern Kyoto going to Central Kyoto. On top of that, there is no entrance fee required to pass by the path. It is the responsibility of local residents and the local government officials to take care and maintain all aspects of the pedestrian walkway. The care and preservation for this historical path is a shared responsibility for all those who would use it, even foreign travelers.
Access to the Philosopher’s path
There are different ways to access the Philosopher’s path from different parts of Kyoto. Since it is located at the borderlines of eastern Kyoto, there are no train lines passing through it and the Philosopher’s path can be accessed mostly via bus or taxi.
One route is through the Demachi-Yanagi from the northern Kyoto area. There are buses that go around the loop taking passengers from Northern Kyoto going to the east. Another way would be the road going to Rokujizo. People can get off the bus stop nearest the Nanzenji temple which is about a 10-minute walk from the entry point of the pathway. The place is also walking distance from popular landmarks like Maruyama park, Heian Shrine, and Shinnyodo Temple. It is sure that there are buses bound for eastern Kyoto from the Kyoto station located at the city center.
Accommodations around the Philosopher’s path
There are a number of available hotels and accommodations near the Path of Philosophy, booking a hotel would be a breeze. One of these would be the four-star Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa. This hotel may be a bit costly but it provides easy access to public transportation, shopping destinations, and restaurants.
Another hotel would be the Tozankaku which is a casual hotel combining modern and traditional Japan. They have Oriental rooms (tatami mats and futons) as well as Western Rooms (typical bed and other amenities) available. For those looking for affordable accommodation can go to the Amenity Hotel in Kyoto. It provides simple, basic, and comfortable rooms with free wifi.
Best time to visit the Tetsugaku-no-michi
Tetsugaku-no-michi in Winter
Kyoto still experiences a good amount of snow every year. This is why the Philosopher's path becomes a romantic getaway during the wintertime. The beautiful white snow in contrast to the dark wood of cherry trees is an interesting site during the winter. Also, this is the time when many people see migrations of fish (like salmon) through the canals.
The Philosopher’s path is considered as one of the autumn leaf spots in Kyoto. This means that it is one of the most romantic places to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage every year. Based on reports from recent years, the autumn foliage usually happens between the second half of November to the first week of December. This is the best time to see the changing colors of tree leaves in the city. The place turns from dark green to yellow and orange.
Spring in the Path of Philosophy
Being lined with hundreds of cherry trees, the Philosopher's walk becomes the most beautiful Hanami festival destinations in Kyoto. The entire two-kilometer stretch would be filled with soft whitish pink flowers and a fragrance only spring will ever know. The blooms of Sakura during the springtime is the major point of attraction in many places in Japan, even in Kyoto. It is important to mind, however, the springtime crowd when planning out an itinerary. It might be a good idea to create a DIY instead of hiring guides for tours around the city since peak seasons usually entail additional expense.
Summer in the Path of Philosophy
Although there are much fewer visitors at this time of year, the beauty of the pathway is unchanged. The cherry trees enter a new stage of color and the freshness of the air is enjoyable. There are new fishes like koi swimming in the clean canal waters. People can ride bikes through the pathway while others enjoy a quiet afternoon in the park-like atmosphere of the pathway.
Popular Travel Destinations Nearby
Also known as the Heian Jingu, the shrine was a symbol of Kyoto’s vitality and power. It was built and established to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the foundation of Kyoto. It commemorates the lives and greatness of the first and last Emperors of Japan that reigned from the city. It has its own garden and the halls have been designed to replicate the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period of Japan.
Then, the capital city of Japan, Kyoto is home to many of the country’s most ancient structures. Although the shrine is fairly new, it is a great place to learn about the history and culture of ancient Kyoto. It is well-known that an incarnated god named Emperor Kammu surveyed the land of Kyoto and built Japan’s first kingdom in it. He was responsible for establishing power and governance to the country which is why he was recognized as its first emperor. This is where one would wonder about the former glory of the city and the greatness of the men that ruled over the country during the ancient Japanese times.
The Heian Shrine is a few minutes away from the Path of Philosophy. It is located to the west of the landmark and can be accessed via a short walk, or a short bus ride. The shrine is open between 6:00 AM and 5:30 PM and the admission to the shrine is free.
Located in the Higashiyama district, this is the most popular destination for celebrating Hanami festival in Kyoto. During the first weeks of April, the cherry trees around the park are in full bloom. The local government of Higashiyama set up tables and chairs underneath the trees to accommodate visitors with their families trying to enjoy the warm spring sun.
In the middle of the park is a gigantic weeping cherry tree which serves as the centerpiece of the park. During the nights of the hanami festival, this particular tree is surrounded by beautiful lighting like providing a spotlight for a work of art. There is no definite record that shows the exact date for which the cherry trees were planted. But the trees in the park are definitely much older than people would think.
The Maruyama park is located southwest of the Path of Philosophy. It can also be accessed via a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride since both are located in Higashiyama. The park does not observe any opening and closing times and entry to the park is definitely free.
Also known as the Yasaka Jinja or Gion Shrine, this is the most important shrine in all of Kyoto. More than a thousand years old, the Yasaka shrine is a symbol of Kyoto’s former glory. Its age only goes to show that Kyoto had been a working civilization for thousands of years with the well-established government system, education system, tax system, and religion. This is why the Gion Matsuri, the most famous celebration in the entire country, is held in this place every year.
The Gion Matsuri is a parade that tells the story of the grandness of Kyoto during its golden years. It could be seen in the elaborate floats, costumes, and events held in this three-day event. The Gion Matsuri has been celebrated for thousands of years, some even say that it dates back as far as the time of Emperor Kammu (the first Emperor of Japan).
The Yasaka shrine is located right next to the Maruyama park. This means that it is southwest of the Path of Philosophy. Just like the Maruyama Park, the shrine does not have any opening or closing time. It also does not close even during National holidays. The best part about it is that entry to the shrine is free.
Also known as the Silver Pavilion, this is a Zen temple at the ending point of the Philosopher’s walk-in eastern Kyoto. Why not extend the meditation through the temple grounds? The Ginkakuji is one of the most important places for contemporary culture in Kyoto. This is a place where people enjoy learning to about tea ceremonies, flower arrangement, poetry, gardening, and more. It is said that it is the birthing place of the Higashiyama culture which has a strong influence on the modern and contemporary art of Japan.
Shrines and Temples
Along the pathway are various shrines and temples which can be enjoyed and visited by both local and foreign tourists. Here are short descriptions of these shrines and temples:
- Eikan-do Zenrin-ji – This is the best place to enjoy the autumn foliage because it is home to hundreds of maple trees. It is a Zen Buddhism temple as well where quiet meditation and reflection can be enjoyed during the spring and summer seasons.
- Honen-in Temple – It was established in the 16th century to honor the founder of the Jodo sect. It is most famous for its camellia garden which could be enjoyed during the springtime. It has paintings and artworks from many famous Japanese artists and it is also a home for young novice artists as well. There are small exhibitions by local artists and musicians all throughout the year.
- Nanzen-ji Temple – The southern end of the Philosopher’s walk, this is one of the most important and popular Zen temples in Japna. It is the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism and it is home to a multitude of subtemplates. It is one of the largest complexes of temple buildings in Japan.