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The Path of Philosophy (or Philosopher’s Path, Philosopher’s Walk) is a popular stop on a trip to Kyoto, and also popular with locals, especially during hanami. This walk includes the Path of Philosophy route…and a little bit extra. I followed a path described in the Lonely Planet book Pocket Kyoto and Osaka — but I’ve filled in their brief description with additional photos and details as, in places, I became turned around.
However, I would recommend this book — it’s a handy little guide for those of us who tend to skim through heftier guidebooks. As you’ll find many temples on this walk, you can read more about those on our post about Zen temples in Kyoto. I may go into less detail about each one in this post. At the end of the post, you’ll find a link to a page with a route map and waypoints.
What is the Path of Philosophy?
Tetsugaku no Michi; the Path of Philosophy. From its name, you might imagine old Zen philosophers or monks sitting by the banks of the canal or walking its path in thought (no-thought?). But, according to the venerable Wikipedia, the road wasn’t named for a wise one of old, but for the revered 20th-century philosopher Nishida Kitaro.
However, the path does pass many areas you might consider places of philosophy — old shrines and temples. Particularly true if you add to your route the walk from Keage station and keep walking to Ginkaku-ji after you’ve walked the Philosopher’s Path proper.
Best times to walk the Philosopher’s Path
The Philosopher’s Path is a street with a canal at center lined with cherry trees — which tells you what you need to know about when to visit. It’s most vibrant during that small window of time in the Spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Hanami, the Japanese tradition of flower viewing, is popular in this spot. But, I’m sure there’s much beauty to be found here in the Autumn when the leaves change color or any other time of year. The total walk described on this page takes you through the grounds of several temples — those are certain to have spectacular Autumn colors.
Start: Keage Station
My walk started at Keage Station, but it’s entirely possible to do this walk in reverse — beginning at Ginkaku-ji. In truth, more people probably go in that direction as the “official” point for the beginning of the Path of Philosophy on Google Maps is close to the “Silver Pavilion.” But we’re going to be different, and meander from the south to the north.
When you get off at Keage Station, go north just a bit. I recall this as being a left turn out of the station. In just a bit, you’ll come to a brick tunnel that goes under some old funicular tracks.
Admire the cherry blossoms on the path atop the tunnel if it’s Spring, and admire the spiral brick pattern in the tunnel, but then pass through and be on your way.
Keep walking ahead on the path until you come to:
Konchi-in is a sub-temple of Nanzen-ji. Be sure to stop and see the “crane and turtle” garden here and meander around on the paths.
After you’ve walked through, find your way to the gates of:
Nanzenji is a large temple complex. Navigate through the San-Mon gate, view the large Hatto building, and see the tiger screen. But save some time to sit! If you buy a tea ticket at entry, you can sit in a room and sip a bowl of matcha while overlooking a lovely waterfall.
After you’ve explored the grounds thoroughly, if you go just south of the Hatto building a bit, you’ll find…
The Suirokaku Water Bridge
This old brick aqueduct is lovely, and a popular spot for kimono-clad women (it seems that Kyoto has a kimono rental place on every corner).
From there, if you look around a bit, you’ll see that you can head up a hill…
Follow the path up the hill to come to:
Nanzen ji Oku-No-In
At the top of the hill, you’ll find a waterfall, a waterfall shrine, and, if you look, the “saint dojo” — only for those who have participated in the waterfall ritual.
Go back down the hill and exit from Nanzen-ji to the north gate. A short distance later, you’ll come to:
Eikan-do has lovely grounds. If you think you’ll have the energy for the rest of your walk, you can choose to climb the stairs of a pagoda at this temple for views.
Take the north exit out of the grounds of Eikan-do after you’ve given yourself time to explore.
…and come to
The Path of Philosophy Itself
The meandering path follows a canal. If you’re lucky to be there during good weather, take some time to slow down. Stop for a bowl of udon or to sit and people-watch or listen to the street musicians.
Ginkaku-ji or the “Silver Pavilion” or Higashiyama Jisho-ji, is the last stop on the route after walking the Philosopher’s Path. Save some time to walk the grounds here. Be sure to visit their dry garden with its cone-shaped structure that represents Mt. Fuji.