Article cover image

A Sacred Journey: Exploring the Tranquil Temple Trails of Kyoto


| 6 mins read

The former capital of Japan, Kyoto, has often been recognised as the top travel destination among Asian countries. The city is known for its rich temples, traditional tea houses, Geisha district, and the ability to provide a glimpse of the "true" Japan. Amongst its many attractions, the popular contributors are the breathtaking temples of the city, so and so that Kyoto is popularly known as the "City of Thousand Shrines."

Through this blog, embark on a virtual spiritual journey through Kyoto's five popular temple trails. Interestingly, these temple trails not only serve people with spirituality and architecture but also with a mosaic scenery of seasons – cherry blossoms in spring, verdant greenery in summer, vibrant autumn foliage, and a pristine snowscape in winter. 

The Philosopher's Path 

Known as Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Japanese, the Philosopher's Path is the most popular trail amongst the locals and visitors alike. It is especially so during the spring and autumn, when the canal walkway is in full bloom with cherry blossoms, making the path both a spiritual and visual delight. The name of the trail is credited to one of Japan's most renowned philosophers, Nishida Kitaro. As per legend, Nishida san used this trail for daily meditations and reflections during his tenure at Kyoto University. The walks inspired many of his profound philosophical ideas, which added a spiritual aspect to the trail. 

Along the trail, one can find small temples, cafes, boutiques, etc. A few notable attractions are the Ginkaku-ji Temple or the Silver Pavilion (a stunning example of Muromachi period architecture) and the Nanzen-ji Temple (a Zen Buddhist temple), which also boasts a beautiful aqueduct. On taking a quick guided detour from the path, you can reach Hōnen-in Temple, known for its stunning entrance gate. 

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple Trail

Located in the district of Arashiyama, the Tenryu-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. According to the known history, the temple was built in 1339 by Takauji, who wanted to appease the spirit of Emperor Go-Daigo, both of whom were allies until the fight for supremacy began. Unfortunately, the temple had to witness frequent fires and wars over the centuries. However, the spiritual glory and the well-preserved Sogenchi garden continue to attract thousands of visitors. 

What makes this trail remarkable is the walk through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (also one of the most Instagrammable sights of Kyoto!). Listed under the "100 Soundscapes of Japan" by the administration, walking through the tall bamboo stretches underneath a clear blue sky with peeping sunlight and gentle air- the Tenryu-ji Temple offers a soothing journey of nature and contemplation. 

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Kiyomizu-dera Pilgrimage Trail

The word "Kiyomizu" translates to "Pure Water", and the naming of the temple is attributed to the Otowa Waterfall that flows within the temple grounds. Locals hold the stream of water sacred and believe that drinking from it can grant one- wishes, longevity, success and a fruitful love life. 

Nestled on the hillsides of Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera temple has often been regarded as a testament to Japan's profound connection between spirituality and nature. It is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which has witnessed the footsteps of countless pilgrims over the centuries. Interestingly, the temple complex also houses what is popularly known as the "Cupid of Japan." The Jishu Shrine is dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking. Central to the shrine are two love stones, placed roughly 18 meters apart, and it is believed that if one can easily walk from one to the other, they will have an easy and excellent love life. Whereas, if one stumbles on the way, then their love life would encounter difficulties. Many visitors attempt this ritual, often aided by friends who watch, cheer, and sometimes offer a guiding shout to keep them on track.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Gate

The Mount Atago Loop Temple Trail

Once upon a time, a young man named Nozuchi was asked to fetch water for a ritual from the mountain's summit. Despite being warned of the mountain's spirits, Nozuchi kept singing songs to keep himself company and overcome his fear. Impressed by his courage, the mountain spirits granted him a safe passage. As the story goes, even today, the mountain spirits protect those who approach it with genuine intent.

Mount Atago is the highest peak in the Kyoto basin. So, for those who plan to walk on an enlightening journey with a thrill of adventure, the Mount Atago Loop Temple Trail is a great choice. Air whispering holy chants, a walkway enveloped by cedar and cypress trees and picturesque scenery are what define the trail. Moreover, since the Atago Shrine is dedicated to the deity of fire prevention, a popular local attraction is the annual fire-walking ceremony, where the monks and devotees walk barefoot over burning embers. It is believed to be a purification and blessing ceremony, which also serves as a powerful spectacle of devotion and endurance.

The Mount Atago Loop Temple Trail

Fushimi Inari Taisha Trail

Famous for its numerous torii gates, the Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most iconic shrines in Kyoto. Apart from the natural splendour and spiritual effect that the trail offers- each gate, inscribed with the names of donors, tells a personal tale of devotion on your way to Mount Inari. These attractive rows of torii gates are referred to as Senbon torii, and it was during the Edo period (from the early 17th century) that the practice of donating a tori began to express gratitude. 

A captivating sight along the trail is the presence of fox statues throughout the shrine. As per local folklore, foxes, or 'kitsune' in Japanese, are believed to be messengers and servants of Inari. Therefore, these can be found throughout the trail. Moreover, halfway up the mountain is the Yotsutsuji Intersection, a spot that offers panoramic views of Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Kyoto, with its stunning temple trails, provides a refreshing and enlightening trip. Merely a guided walk can unravel the exciting stories and natural splendours of the land. From the blooming beauty of the Philosopher's Path to the thrilling hiking trail of Mount Atago and the vibrant torii gates, each visit will narrate a tale of devotion, legacy, and the ceaseless human quest for enlightenment.