Follow the footsteps of the famed Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, as I walk down the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto.


The narrow canal flows by the path, while the red and yellow hues of autumn color the trees overhead. I’m walking down a path by the canal, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere, having left the streets of Kyoto far behind. This is the famed Philosopher’s path, a walking trail said to be used by one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, Nishida Kitaro.

Nishida was not just any philosopher, but in many ways was a shining light in his time. He helped found what became to be known as the Kyoto School of Philosophy. Nishida’s original and creative philosophy, incorporating ideas of Zen and Western philosophy, was aimed at bringing the East and West closer. Throughout his lifetime, Nishida published a number of books and essays including An Inquiry into the Good and “The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview.” 1

Nishida is said to have “discovered” that taking a daily walk helped him contemplate and absorb ideas from Western philosophy. He was fond of taking a scenic route from Ginkaku-ji to Nanzen-ji. The route came to be known as tetsugaku no michi and over time as “Philosopher’s Walk” or “The Path of Philosophy”.

I decide to walk the pathway, hoping to cover quite a few of the sights along the way. With some difficulty I find a way on to the pathway and begin the walk. The pathway moves along a canal, with cherry and maple trees overhead. A little while later, on the path and I come across some cats. They seem to have a philosophy of their own – just sit and laze about all day.

A "philosopher" cat lazing about in the sun
A “philosopher” cat lazing about in the sun
Cats rest on an antique hand cart
Cats rest on an antique hand cart

After seeing the cats on a rather cute little hand cart, I continue walking on the path. The path moves along little houses and stalls selling roasted chestnuts. And sometimes one also glimpses the odd traveling musician or artist plying his trade on the canal.

An artist sketches the canal
An artist sketches the canal
A musician plays a guitar like Biwa on the path
A musician plays a guitar like Biwa on the path

Having listened to the sweet tune of the musician, I am beginning to enjoy the peaceful walk. The calm and serene environment is quite far away from the wide streets of Kyoto. Resting on a bench for a little while, I can almost imagine how Nishida must have felt all those years ago, silently contemplating on philosophy.

Autumn leaves lend the look of a red carpet to the philosopher's walk
Autumn leaves lend the look of a red carpet to the philosopher’s walk

The path continues to become more and more scenic as I near Honen-in temple. There I find a rather unusual sight by the path – an unmanned stall !!!. The stall has fresh produce and snacks for sale, but no person to man it. Customers are expected to leave money in box for the goods that they take. I am impressed by the sheer faith in honesty and decency displayed here.

An unattended stall on the walk, that relies on the honesty of people passing by.
An unattended stall on the walk, that relies on the honesty of people passing by.
The Philosopher's walk in spring is a riot of cherry blossom blooms. I hope to visit again someday to experience this. (Pablo Padierna/flickr)
The Philosopher’s walk in spring is a riot of cherry blossom blooms. I hope to visit again to experience this. (Pablo Padierna/flickr)

After a visit to the Honen-in temple, I continue along the path. I can almost imagine how the path might look in spring, with the cherry trees blooming with their myriad pink blossoms. The path is full of little surprises, with artwork lurking in expected corners. I see unusual sights like a few teddy bears fishing in the canal right by an art store.

One of the many randomly placed artistic objects on the walk
One of the many randomly placed artistic objects on the walk
The fishing bear family that I spotted on the walk
The fishing bear family that I spotted on the walk
Nishida's famous poem finds a place on the walk
Nishida’s famous poem finds a place on the walk

The path is finally coming to an end and as my journey ends I come across a poem written on a stone. This poem was composed by Nishida in 1934, and is a fitting end to this journey. It reads:

hito wa hito
ware wa ware nari
tonikaku
waga yuku michi o
waga wa yukunari

People are people,
and I will be myself.
Regardless,
the path I follow
I will follow on…

With these words, I leave the philosopher’s path going onwards to complete the rest of my trip in Kyoto.


More Information

Getting There

The Philosopher’s Path runs between Ginkakuji and the neighborhood of Nanzenji, a 5-10 minute walk north of Nanzenji’s main temple buildings. Nazenji can be reached from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus #5 or #100 or you can take the Tozai line and exit at Keage station.

Best Time to Visit

The spring season is probably the most scenic time to visit, as the cherry trees that line the path are in full bloom. The path is nevertheless pleasant to walk on all through the year.

What to do

Besides walking the path, you can also visit a few temples and shrines that are adjacent to the path. Do pay Honen-in (entrance free) and Eikando Temple (entrance ¥600) a visit. Besides this you can also visit Ginkakuji Temple (entrance ¥600) and Nanzenji Temple (entrance ¥500) which are at both ends of the path

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References

  1. Wikipedia contributors. “Kitaro Nishida.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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