Philosophers Path In Kyoto A 30 Minute Walk Thru History

Philosopher’s Path, also known as the Philosopher’s Walk, is a historic stone pathway that lines Shishigatani Canal. It was named after two historic Japanese philosophers who walked this path for spiritual reflection. Visiting Philosophers Path in Kyoto is a spiritual experience, which many people claim allows them to connect with the former philosophers who once walked the now-famous path.

The route, which is about 1.25 miles long, begins at Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and concludes in the Nanzenji area.

Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most prominent philosophers, was reported to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily journey to Kyoto University, giving the route its name.

Philosophers Path In Kyoto

The most common reason people visit this beautiful pathway is to observe the blooming sakura (cherry) trees during springtime. That is not the only reason people visit Philosopher’s Walk.

There are restaurants, stores, shrines, and temples that surround the enchanting pathway. It is a spiritual experience that has high importance to the people of Kyoto.

What is the Philosophers Path In Kyoto?

The Philosopher’s Path is a tranquil stone path in the northern part of Kyoto, which comes to life in the middle of spring due to its large number of cherry blossoms. This pedestrian pathway is known for being a contemplation walk of two famous Japanese philosophers.

Philosophers Path and Shishigatani Canal

It takes around thirty minutes to walk the length of Philosopher’s Path. However, many people take detours to visit some of the many temples and the cafes along the way.  

The beautiful stone pathway surrounds Shishigatani Canal, a shallow waterway that connects to Lake Biwa. This canal is the waterway connection between Lake Biwa and the city of Kyoto. 

Philosopher’s Path is a great place for meditation because of its peaceful and secluded environment. This path can become crowded on days when the weather is nice. Keep this in mind if you intend on using the path or one of the many temples for meditation or exploration.

The history of the Philosophers Path In Kyoto

Japan opened the Philosopher’s Path in 1890. The path was named ‘Philosopher’s Path’ after two wise philosophers and professors Kitaro Nishida and Hajime Tanabe, who walked this path each day when they were alive. 

The wear and tear of their footprints eventually wore permanent tracks into the ground and therefore made a trail of its own. Out of their honor, the twentieth-century philosophers were remembered with a permanent stone pathway.

Food Vendor Along The Philosophers Path

During their daily walks on the Philosopher’s Path, they would gain much of their inspiration. There were many reasons behind these philosophers’ motivations for strolling down Shishigatani Canal each day. Many people believe it was the peaceful scenery that prompted their powerful insights.

In addition to the peaceful and scenic view of the canal, many temples and shrines surrounded Philosopher’s Path. The walkway these philosophers traveled was a direct route along the canal from one temple to another.

The pathway provided an opportunity for daily reflection and visitation to as many shrines and temples as they desired from dusk until dawn.

In 1912, Philosopher’s Path was expanded greatly. The expansion accommodated the new infrastructure and provided access to all surrounding temples, shrines, and surrounding relics. Finally, it covered all ground that the philosophers traveled. 

Philosopher’s Path is in Kyoto’s Northern Higashiyama district. It initially covered only a portion of the path that the two men walked. After the expansion, Philosopher’s Path went from Ginkaku-Ji to Nanzen-Ji. The current path was the whole distance of their daily travels, including visitations to shrines and temples.

Visiting Philosophers Path In Kyoto

There are many things to do while visiting Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto aside from viewing the scenery.

Although it can take only thirty minutes to walk from one side of the one mile plus path to the other, many things will likely draw your attention away from this direct line of travel.

Sakura Blooms Fill The Path And Canal

Cafes, boutiques, and shrines are common examples of things people often explore while visiting Philosopher’s Path. Taking an excursion from the path to enjoying some of the surrounding beauty can make for a truly unforgettable experience that will leave you feeling spiritually fulfilled. 

Scenery Along The Way

Shishigatani Canal is a beautiful waterway lined with beautiful plants, like cherry trees, maple trees, and much more. The scenery is typically enough to draw anyone’s attention to this historical site.

The gorgeous cherry trees blossom each spring, which makes it a popular place for hanami viewing. Philosopher’s Path is not a traditional sit-down and picnic type of hanami viewing area. Philosopher’s Path is a spot to walk and chat with friends while you take in the scenic view.

Spring is generally the most popular time to visit Philosopher’s Path because of the bright pink cherry blossom trees. But the natural foliage surrounding this essential canal is beautiful year-round. Summer is well known for its high firefly activity, which is great for photographs.

Fall is a great time to visit the path as well. The changing colors and cool weather make the treasured pathway more enjoyable.

Generally, no matter the weather, Philosopher’s Path is a great way to spend the afternoon in meditation or exploration of Kyoto.

Restaurants And Cafe’s

Several restaurants line the stone pathway, which is great for people who want to enjoy the view while getting a bite to eat. The restaurants lining the canal include vending machines, confectionary stands, and various small cafes.

Cherry Cafe is a popular spot for meals, with seasonal Japanese confections. The delicious food and unique Traditional Japanese sweets make it one of the best places to stop for a quick snack during your walk.

Small Shop Along The Path

Komichi, another popular cafe, is an unforgettable spot, which serves some of the greatest shaved ice and traditional sweets on Philosopher’s Path. There are many other shaved ice stands and cafes that also thrive during the warmer months.

Shopping

There are many places to shop along the Philosopher’s Path, not including the dozens of restaurants. These include retail stores and boutiques with special goods and souvenirs

Shops And Attractions Along The Path Via Trip Advisor

Shrines

Shrines line Philosopher’s Path, which has deep meaning to the people of Kyoto. For first-time visitors of the path, it is worth taking the excursion to visit at least one of these shrines. Viewing these elegant shrines makes the experience even more interesting.

Otoyo Shrine

A popular shrine along the trail of Philosopher’s Path is Otoyo Shine. This shrine is dedicated to the god of Marriage, Okuninushi, and guarded by brave mice.

According to Japanese legend, Okuninushi fell in love with a beautiful Princess from another world. Seeing true love, the God Susanoo became fueled with jealous rage and tried trapping Okuninushi in a fire.

With the help of a mouse, Okuninushi was freed from the fire. Now, people visit Otoyo Shine to meditate and ask the mice for blessings. The mice are known to offer great luck in relationships, love, fertility, and childbirth.

The Otoyo Shrine is only one of many shrines people visit along the trail. Many others surround the Philosopher’s Path, with several meanings of their own.

Temples

Many temples along Philosopher’s Path is Honen-in Temple, an active Buddhist monastery. Almost a dozen temples line the great Philosopher’s Path, which makes it a spiritual journey in itself.

Two highly popular shrines along Philosopher’s Path include Nanzen-Ji Temple and the Ginkaku-Ji Temple. These temples may become crowded because of their popularity, so if you intend on using one of these temples for meditation, plan on visiting early in the morning or during a less busy time of the year to avoid the crowds.

Nanzen-Ji Temple Official Website

Nanzen-Ji Temple Kyoto

On the south end of Philosopher’s Path, you will find Nanzen-Ji Temple. The 90th Emperor of Japan built Nanzen-Ji Temple as a retirement palace.

This temple became a popular destination after it was abandoned for possession by the former Imperial family. Since then, the palace was reconstructed into a temple. Zen Buddhism has continued to be practiced at Nanzen-Ji Temple to this day.

Philosophers Path Virtual Walk

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.