Philosopher’s Path

April 17, 2005

by Takashi Murachi; Yusuke Shimizu

Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-michi)
Philosopher’s Path, or walk, has long been known as one of the best scenic paths for people to visit, when seeking a pleasant and relaxing time. Originating close to the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku temple) in the north of Kyoto and meandering south, it hugs the canal that is fed from Lake Biwa, one of the biggest lakes in Japan, in Shiga prefecture. The distance between the bridge at the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku temple) and that of Nyakuouji is about 1.5 kilo meters.

The reason why this path was named Philosopher’s Path, comes from the exploits of a very famous philosopher, * Kitaro Nishida, who used to stroll along this path and muse over material for new poetry. From this, the path was first known as the path of meditation, and thereafter, Philosopher’s Path. Nowadays, this Philosopher’s Path is recognized as one of the best hundred paths in Japan, with many walking devotees making a pilgrimage there.

There are four seasons in Japan which is reflected in the changing scenery of Philosopher’s Path, offering great variety in color all year round.
In spring, pink and white cherry blossoms cover the path on both river banks with dots of exquisite cherry blossoms. You can feel the different moods as you experience the scene both in the day time and night time. During the day, you can see watery colored cherry blossom reflected in the sunshine, while at night, the trees are lit up to bring out the natural color more clearly, giving the impression of a magical landscape as you stroll through an almost luminous pink tunnel in the dark.
Another fun thing to do, is join in a traditional Japanese celebration of spring called “Ohanami”. This is when people who love to appreciate cherry blossoms, especially at night time, gather to sit in groups beneath the trees. They bring food and drink, like beer and Japanese sake, and admire the delicate beauty of the blossoms.
In the summer, you can discover the hundreds of fireflies that give off a shining yellow light. This spectacle is absolutely stunning, and will make you feel you have entered your second childhood. A wonderful time can be had talking with your friends, or parents, while viewing fireflies above the murmur of the stream on a warm summer evening.
In autumn, the leaves change their color and fall into the flow of the river, the floating foliage letting us know that winter is on the way. When the path is covered with the bare trees of winter, the path might show most clearly the sadness that one feels oneself.
Likewise, the path, when covered with its layer of pure white snow, invokes the sensation of a solid silence, as you tread lightly across it.

We took a stroll along Philosopher’s Path and thoroughly enjoyed it, though it took a bit longer than we expected at about 20 minutes from end to end. In order to get a better idea of the appeal of the place, we asked both Japanese and foreign visitors for their opinion of the path and surrounding areas. Almost all the Japanese we spoke to knew why it is called Philosopher’s Walk and some foreign people knew the name of the path, also. We asked the visitors for their impression of walking the path, and most responded that it was very calm and peaceful, and that they could feel wonderfully relaxed, as did we.
However, some people who had not visited for many years felt there were far more people and shops than before, and preferred it when it was a calmer place. Other people told us that it would be better if there were nameplates for the plants, because they were interested in the plants, but didn’t know exactly what they were. This seemed like a real pity. In fact, there’re so many beautiful plants on this path that we have decided to show the pictures below: hydrangea, narcissus, mugwort, bamboo, Japanese maple, cherry blossom and so on. If you like nature, you will definitely love them.

In addition to the plant life, there are also a variety of birds, like pigeon, duck and bush warbler. The bush warbler in particular, has a wonderful song, and you can hear it best on the path near Taiho Shrine. There’re also many fish, especially carp. There was a man feeding bread to the carp, and he told us he had been feeding them once a week for 3 years. He gets the bread from a coffee shop, that is going to throw it out as leftovers. We saw some children feeding them with him, so you can also feed them with him if you ask him, but you will only see this is in the summer, as the fish hide themselves under a bridge and don’t move in winter.
You can also enjoy riding in a rickshaw here. A short turn for two people costs 3,000 yen, and lasts about 10 minutes, with a 30 minute ride costing 8,000 yen. Though it does seem a little expensive, you can certainly relax, especially after walking the Philosopher’s Path, and experience an authentic Asian form of transport into the bargain. Please enjoy!

* Nishida was a representative philosopher in Japan. He graduated from Kyoto University and became a high school teacher, but later retired from this work and embarked on his career as a philosopher. In 1940, he received a medal of distinction as one who had contributed greatly to Japanese literature. He passed away, aged 75, in 1945.

Written by Takashi Murachi and Yusuke Shimizu

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