Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Philosophising along The Philosopher's Path in Kyoto

 Le flaneur is how I can be described in Paris -- a stroller, a leisurely walker - someone who likes to walk long and perhaps aimlessly through the streets.  
But in Japan -- how would I be described?  Unfortunately, those semesters at the Ateneo studying conversational Nihongo did not arm me with an extensive vocabulary -- but can I say that "watashi wa arukou ga jozu desu".  
Translated, I hope it means that I am skilled at walking.
On this trip to Kyoto, we walked many miles to see as much  as we could  but the walk that I enjoyed the most was the relaxed and peaceful promenade down the Philosopher's Path.
This is a 2-kilometre walk in the northern Higashiyama district of Kyoto.  It is so named because a renowned professor of philosophy used to walk this well marked trail as part of his daily meditation.

The Philosopher's Path also links some of Kyoto's most famous temples.  The path starts outside the Silver Pavilion or Ginkakuji.  This is a more simple, rustic yet equally elegant version of Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion.  It is quite unadorned but this is what makes it a typical example of the Japanese principle of wabi sabi or underplayed elegance.
I actually was more smitten with Ginkakuji's quiet charm than Kinkakuji's obvious extravagance.

The path starts a few hundred meters from the temple's gates.  It is a tree lined narrow stone path that follows a clean, meandering canal.  If we had arrived a few weeks before, this path would have been overrun by tourists since the trees that line it are the famous cherry blossom trees.

Our Tours by Local guide, Chieko san points out a lone remnant of sakura season -- some very late cherry blossoms are still attached to this single solitary tree.  I am happy just to have seen these few last blooms.

Signs along the path point out minor and smaller temples and shrines.   The major temples along the Philosopher's Path are Ginkakuji, where it starts and Nanzenji , where it ends.

The Philosopher's Path is not some hidden or secluded walkway, it goes through neighborhoods where you can see typical Japanese residences.

Since it is also a famous tourist spot, there are lots of distractions along the way -- such as this cute sign for a small shop...

... where you can buy all the cat or neko related items you may want.  The Japanese are such cat lovers and have turned this simple pet into an entire industry built on kawaii-ness.

This is a traditional tea shop on the other side of the canal that you can cross to should you wish for refreshment along the way.

I pause by this small jizo shrine which is typically found in many neighborhoods in Kyoto.
Jizo shrines are placed and honored for the protection of the children in that area.

The canal that flows by the Philosopher's Path is running shallow but very clear.  Can you see the fish which seems to be taking a nap on this spring afternoon?

We walk by more shops that are just too quaint and inviting.  It is only the thought that we still have many steps to take that keeps me from stopping (and shopping) at this very interesting store.

Some houses along the walkway have transformed themselves into chic little cafes and restaurants. I am told that the Philosopher's Path is not just for contemplation and meditation but is actually a trendy, hip place at night and the shops are quite high end and expensive.

But at this time -- the Philosopher's Path is my special place to breathe in the unique, serene atmosphere of Kyoto.  There are no busy or negative or worldly thoughts right here and right now -- only peace, tranquility and contentment.  I look down at the clear canal and see this duck, happily splashing in the water.

The 2-kilometer path is about to end and once again, I wish I could walk for a few miles more.  It has been an easy going, slow moving, calming ramble -- and there have been very few people we have met along the way.
It's as if the god of walkers, strollers and le flaneurs cleared the Philosopher's Path of crowds and tourists -- just for me ... to enjoy my silent, serene stroll.

The imposing and magnificent Sanmon Gate of Nanzenji Temple is a majestic sight.
It also marks the end of a wonderful walk along the Philosopher's Path  -- where I have found calmness, quietude and peace of mind.
Such is the singular gift that Kyoto has given me this day.

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