Kyoto is a city of incredible refinement and authentic elegance. The atmospheric temples, elegant gardens, old houses, traditional craft shops and narrow streets still evoke the time when Kyoto was the capital of the country some 150 years ago. Besides the legendary Kinkaku-ji with its Golden Pavilion, the iconic Fushimi Inari and its thousand red gates, the monumental Kiyomizu-dera that rises from the mountainside on its countless wooden beams, we would like to share with you places that have made an impact on us both aesthetically and spiritually.
The philosopher’s path runs alongside a peaceful stream in a residential neighbourhood in north-west Kyoto. Green and shadowy it was given its name because of the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, founder of the Kyoto School of philosophy, who used to take his walks here. The path starts from the Higashiyama Jisho-ji, The Silver pavilion and passes next to the Honen-in and Anraku-ji temples. Honen-in is a small but exceptionally elegant temple. It contains all the aesthetic characters of a traditional Japanese garden with two sand beds at its entrance, a carp pond at its centre and an elaborated stone pavement surrounded by green moss. Note the entrance gate with its traditional thatched roof. Visit the temple close to its opening hour and the low morning light filtered through the old forest surrounding this ancient site will create a peaceful and beautiful moment.
Founded in 1202 Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Located in the famous Gion district this temple is grandiose not only in size but also in beauty. It is composed of a number of small and larger buildings, meditative stone gardens and tatami halls. These are bound together by cedarwood verandas that contrasts beautifully against the shiny black floor of the main hall. Elegant black and white paintings decorate the washi walls and sliding doors together with traditional gofun patterns that shines through the shadows of the rooms. Kennin-ji is a superb example of the Zen Buddhism aesthetic and architecture.
The meaning of this garden is unknown and interpretations vary from picturing a sharp mountain landscape to a geometric constellation. This small dry landscape garden reveals its beauty when contemplated in silence and solitude. Walk along the edge and observe the variations of its different views. Framing the garden is an elegant oil-earthen wall, made out of clay mixed with rapeseed oil the passing time and elements have created a unique patina and beautiful backdrop to the garden. It is estimated that the garden was designed during the Muromachi period (late 14th16thcentury) but by who remains unknown.
The Saihi-ji is also known as Koke-dera or the Moss Temple, due to the 150 spices of moss that compose one of Japan’s most impressive moss garden. Designed in 1339 by Musi Soseki this deep green landscape garden was created by man to mimic an idealised forest. Its many natural elements such as ponds, small streams and stone compositions work in perfect harmony together with the different tea houses and bridges you also find in the garden. Located in western Kyoto the temples long history starts during the Tenpyo period (729-749) as one of the villas of Prince Shotoku, today it belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.
Katsura Rikyu is a pure masterpiece of Japanese architecture and gardening. Immortalised by the photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto, the beauty and refinement of this place is due to the apparent simplicity. Constructed by prince Hachijo Toshihito on the location of an ancient villa mention in the Tail of Genji, the general design of the villa and garden combines principles used in early Shinto shrines and merge is with the aesthetics and philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Located away from the city centre, on the south bank of the Katsura River the villa with its moon viewing platform overlooking the pond, the rustic tea houses, and the centenary cedar trees, is a place for meditation and contemplation, suspended in time.
Just one and a half-hour north of Kyoto along Lake Biwa lays Sagawa Art Museum. This magnificent example of contemporary Japanese architecture is also called the Floating Museum because of the impression given by the shallow water surrounding it. The museum shows temporary exhibitions as well as a permanent collection dedicated to traditional crafts, ancient and contemporary. In a separate wing, you find the collection of Raku Kichizaemon and Raku tea bowls and jars created by himself. The artist has also designed an elegant Tea House that is open for visitors on special hours.
Also to visit in Kyoto & around: