Waking up early on Sunday morning, I wanted to get in as much sightseeing as possible on my only full day of Kyoto. Luckily for me, the day was perfect – with lovely sun shining strongly and washing away the rain. So, after eating a traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, rice and miso soup, I headed off towards Northern Kyoto where some more famous temples are located.
Kinkakuji (金閣寺) is a famous Zen Temple in Kyoto. Nicknamed The Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji was also built as a retirement home, but for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the grandfather of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Therefore, the Golden Pavilion is over half a century older than the Silver Pavilion (early 1400s).
Sunny days are definitely the best time to visit this temple – as I can attest. This is because the top two floors of the main temple building are coated with gold leaf – thus allowing the stunning building to glitter in the sunshine.
And after you’re done dropping your jaw from across the lake, you can make your way around the main building – taking in the stunning garden that surrounds the pavilion building.
Ryoanji (龍安寺), another Zen Temple near Kikakuji, is home to the most famous rock garden in Japan. The garden itself is a rectangular plot of land surrounded by low walls and containing tiny pebbles and 15 carefully placed rocks. But there are a number of mysteries and interesting facts surrounding this calming rock garden…
The first has to do with the date of construction and the identity of the designer – both of which are unknown. And what makes this even more mysterious is that fact that no matter the vantage point, it is impossible to see all 15 rocks at the same time… as one will always remain hidden.
The second mystery has to do with the meaning behind the garden. You see, many zen gardens in Japan have certain explicit representations, but because the designer of the Ryoanji rock garden remains unknown, we cannot know what the intended meaning was. Therefore, it is up to the viewer to decide the meanings behind this very mysterious rock garden.
Going from the north of Kyoto to the west, I decided to visit Tenryuji (天龍寺) – a temple famous for its use of shakkei (借景). This gardening principle uses a style that ‘borrows’ outside scenery in order to enhance the beauty of the garden.
And after walking around the temple grounds in the fading sunlight, it’s easy to see how this principle of shakkei allowed Tenryuji to become the number one ranked Zen Temple in Kyoto.
Now, while the buildings of Tenryuji have been lost to fires and wars over the years (before being rebuilt), the garden itself has retained its original form. And you can explore it comfortably while enjoying the scenery of the Arashiyama area.
Arashiyama (嵐山) is a lovely tourist area with plenty of things to do. And one of these things includes a stroll through the local bamboo grove. With the fading light twinkling through the bamboo stalks and the wind rustling the leaves high above you, the Arashiyama grove will give you a wonderful sense of beauty and melancholy.
Over the centuries, the bamboo from this area has been used to make products such as baskets, cups, boxes, and mats. Yet at the same time, it has attracted many tourists and visitors for generations – a definite must-see after visiting Tenryuji.
After a very busy day full of sightseeing, walking, and taking the bus, I was famished and I needed something to eat. So I headed back to central Kyoto and entered a delightful little cafe which combines traditional Japanese style with a touch of antique Western design (in other words, a hipster’s delight). But with the low light mood setting, it was the perfect place to unwind after a busy day.
If you’re interested in more stories about Kyoto, or you’re just looking for sightseeing ideas, then check out the related blog posts below: