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The Philosopher’s Path, or If Oprah Gave Away Shrines (Part 2)

The Philosopher’s Path is the best way to see a number of Kyoto’s temple in a single day (or so) of walking and exploring. Our plan was to start our day at Gingakuji and then  meander along the path until we achieved temple saturation. The path also had a lot of food and shop options, so we figured we would have plenty of opportunities to feed ourselves along the way.

It was today that we discovered that temples are common school trip sites. Shortly after Patrick and I arrived, waves upon waves of Japanese school children dressed in uniforms came parading up the street towards the temple. They were followed by tourists, with the promise that there would likely not be a quite moment in this temple once we got inside.

After paying our entry fee, we entered the temple grounds. While packed with school children, the scene was extraordinary and immediately tranquil. The grounds were lush and rich, and there was a kogetsudai (moon viewing platform) and various other sand gardens. It was exactly what I expected it would be like, and it was simply breathtaking.

We followed the route around the grounds, stopping to take a number of pictures. Throughout our walk, we would come upon these areas where hidden frogs would be talking back and forth, or birds would be singing in the trees. There was an outer and secret world that increased the sense of wonder and beauty.

From Gingakuji we began to wonder down the path, stopping at temples and shrines along the way. These temples and shrines are not in short supply — hence the Oprah comment. Each one had a similar serenity to Gingakuji, but were of different sizes and magnitudes. At one there was a substantial cemetery that I walked through, enjoying the quiet and the knowledge of how families continuously connect to their ancestors. I took a moment to right a vase that fallen, and offered my hopes for a long life for the family represented by that grave.

Eventually we peeled off from the path to find some food. First was okonomiyaki, a kind of pancake made from various ingredients. We also had some fried noodles. Since this was only supposed to be “Lunch #1,” we only had two things. The next stop was a noodle shop with a line — always a good sign. When we finally made it inside, I had my much anticipated curry udon. It was amazing, simply amazing. The flavor was incredible and the portion substantial. I was doing a happy dance inside.

We then proceeded to hit more temples, ending at Nanzenji. Nanzenji dwarfed all of the other temples in sheer scale. The temple are was tremendous, and included an aqueduct. We took at a ton of phenomenal pictures, and wandered almost the entire complex. We ended skipping the abbot’s residence, but saw the garden. While small relatively to the scale of the complex, it was an absolutely gorgeous example of zen garden. It was a very satisfying end to the day.

That evening we started with a light dessert at a place outside of Nanzenji. We found our way to a small beer pub serving delicious beer and great food, after getting caught in an unexpected downpour. We then tried to find a place for gyoza — and went on a 40 minute adventure that ended in failure. So we found a restaurant and practiced our ordering from a computer screen skills. Satisfied but very tired, we made our way back to our hotel. The famous torii gates of Fushimi Inari shrine were on the agenda tomorrow, so we turned in knowing that we’d have more temples the next day.

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