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Kyoto 京都

May 3, 2008

Every time I return to Japan I head to Kyoto. I question some of the things that have been done to the city but it’s still a great place to go if you’re in need of a real dose of history.


I am a huge fan of visiting the Buddhist temples (and there are a lot of them). I’ve been to a large majority of the ‘famous’ ones over the years. I go for the peace, the history and the gardens. Sadly, there are a few of the temples which have become too famous for their own good and the visit becomes the antithesis of what Zen is all about. It basically becomes a game of dodge-ball with the tourists who step off the bus long enough to say they’ve been there before bee-lining it for the next spot.


There are places that I tend to return to because I really love the areas. The Higashiyama area is one such. I’ve walked from Ginkaku-ji to Kiyomizu-dera several times. It usually takes me all day but the first stretch along the Philosopher’s path is fabulous, especially during hanami (cherry blossom) season.


At the same time, I try to visit a few new places as well. This time around I did a walk which took me from Ryouan-ji and its famous rock garden, down to Myoushin-ji and then further down to one of the oldest temples in Japan, Kouryu-ji. I then took a vintage train ride and bus ride up to the complex of Daitoku-ji with its famous tea houses. The reason there are so many teahouses within the sub-temples of Daitoku-ji is that the tea master Sen-no-rikyu was said to have stayed there and the head abbot at the time became a disciple of his.

When I visit temples, I always take my travel journal with me and have the priests stamp and write the temple seal into it, just like a pseudo-pilgrim. Makes for an interesting memory and the calligraphy of some of them is art work



This time around I also visited a new place of the non-Zen variety. A friend and I went to Nishiki market. This is a very old covered market street which has some of the freshest food (especially seafood) you will ever see. Many of the restaurants in particular are converted machiya, the traditional long, narrow buildings common to the old parts of Kyoto. Well worth the trip.


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