A leisurely stroll down the Philosopher’s Walk is an absolutely must if you’re visiting Kyoto. This 2 kilometre-long stone path is lined by hundreds of cherry trees, which come into full bloom in early April, and is one of the city’s most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots. The best place to start your walk is from Ginkaku-ji then head south towards the neighbourhood of Nanzenji.
The Philosopher’s Walk gets its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation on his daily commute here to Kyoto University. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon this walk when the trees are in bloom, you’ll certainly feel enlightened and at peace.
There are plenty of cafes and temples along the Philosopher’s Walk, as well a number of temples if you stray slightly from the main path. Always, always, stray from the main path when you’re travelling in Japan because you’ll always find something wonderful down the most inconspicuous of streets and alleys. We took shelter from the pouring rain at the Otoyo Shrine, which is home to several charming animal statues. Legend tells that this shrine, which has since been reconstructed into sub-shrines and a worshipping hall, was built in 887 to pray for the recovery of Emperor Uda. It is now considered a guardian shrine for the locals in the Shishigatani, Honen-in and Nanzen-ji areas. This serene little shrine was obviously well-looked after and locals had decorated the animal shrines with flower petals.
Apparently, there are a lot of cats wandering around the Philosopher’s Walk but the heavy rain seemed to have driven them away that day. We did find one cute little tabby sheltering under a shrine at the end of the path but he ran away as soon as I tried to stroke him. I can’t recommend the Philosopher’s Walk highly enough, whether or not the trees are in bloom. This is a beautiful walk with lots of surprises, and it can easily be incorporated into a day of walking around Kyoto.