Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto ・京都の哲学の道.

Philosopher’s Path —  (Tetsugaku no Michi ・哲学の道), Kyoto.

It’s a walking path, a pedestrian trail, that runs about along a small canal (part of the Lake Biwa Aqueduct system) at the base of Kyoto’s East Mountain (Higashiyama ・東山).

Looking south along Philosopher’s Path. Autumn 2003.

Professor Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945) taught philosophy at Kyoto University from 1910 until 1928.  He famously strolled this Higashiyama canal path during his daily commute to the university and as he meditated reconciling Japanese and Western religious and philosophical tenants.  His most famous, and original, work was An Inquiry into the Good.*

Philosopher’s Path. Autumn 2003.

I enjoy all seasons, but autumn’s my favorite.  That said, with so many cherry trees lining Philosopher’s Path springtime and cherry blossom-viewing is perhaps most other people’s favorite time to walk the Path.  On some summer nights you can find yourself in virtual clouds of fireflies (hotaru・ホタル).  I haven’t walked Philosopher’s Path in the snow, yet, but can imagine the sublime beauty (and having it mostly to myself).

Philosopher’s Path on a warm May day, 2010.

Also along the path (especially as you get closer to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion), you’ll find more than a few tea houses, coffee shops, souvenir shops, small boutiques and galleries.  On the southern end (right-hand side as you’re facing the eastern mountain) there’s Eikan-do temple, a beautiful place.  Philosopher’s Path also runs through some of Kyoto’s most expensive properties.  The photo below shows a garden entrance to one of the Houses of the Wealthy.  The view, though, is free . . .

Home. Along Philosopher’s Path. May 2010.


Map of Philosopher’s Path (and views of / links to nearby sites)

Just below this map click on “View Larger Map” and you’ll see it all much more clearly.  As you walk, this takes you from the east end of Marutamachi Street (丸田町道), across Shirakawa Street (白川道), up to Philosopher’s Path.  Note the other nearby sites, and some photos (click on the icon) to help you get your bearings:

.               .               .

Coming next:  Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), a/k/a  “The Silver Pavilion” (that’s not really silver):

The “Silver” Pavilion. May 2010.


* Excerpt from an review of  An Inquiry into the Good:

“Nishida’s approach to metaphysics, however, is unique.  Nishida was personally influenced profoundly by zen.  Zen is often suspicious of abstract, rational conceptions of reality and instead favors a method of “direct seeing” in approaching reality.  This is in direct contrast to the Western method of approach to questions about the nature of reality which rely primarily on logic and rational argument in attempting to determine or uncover the nature of reality. Nishitani Keiji summarizes these different approaches well in his book on Nishida. Nishitani writes, ‘The sense of quest…as it appears in Plato’s dialogues entails a spirit of inquiry aimed at the gradual discovery through dialogue of something new, something not yet known to the participants.  This spirit appears as the standpoint of pure reason that seeks to uncover something new and completely unknown, to discover according to the laws of logic.'”

  1. Truly, a beautiful place, and one that I think I would prefer with fewer people. One of the joys of working on the docks here in winter is that everyone else disappears.

    Your excerpt from the review of Nishida’s book is thought-provoking. Only now, after four years of blogging, have I begun to move from a more formal, academic and expository sort of writing to something more personal and concrete. Some people call it story-telling.

    Ironically, both Platonic dialogue and, for example, the dialogues of Flannery O’Connor or Faulkner provide “something new, something not yet known to the participants”. How they do that differs rather significantly, of course.

    He wasn’t a Zen teacher, but Anton Chekov seemed to be hinting at a “direct seeing” when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

      • letsjapan
      • June 23rd, 2012

      Dear Shoreacres –

      You’re absolutely right about the fewer people the better. Thus one of the reasons I enjoy it more during “off-peak” times. Of course on Saturdays in the fall, when the leaves are peaking, it can be as stiflingly crowded as I imagine it is during cherry blossom time. That’s why I prefer strolling it during, say, the mid-morning or mid-afternoon on any given Tuesday or Thursday.

      I like what you say about the “story-telling.” Cheers. I do that, too, of course (it’s hard to miss when I have a tab atop this site that says, “Stories”).

      I’m a huge Flannery O’Connor fan. I am, after all, a Southerner. It’s like she’s just telling stories from round the neighborhood, you know. And, yet, it was (indeed) new. Do you know Larry Brown, from Oxford, Mississippi? Alas, he was taken way too early, Thanksgiving Week 2004. But he wrote prodigiously up until then. Never went to college. He was a firefighter-turned-writer. He knew how to write.

      Love the Chekov quote. I’ll work to embrace that.


  2. Love the Higashiyama district of Kyoto and this looks like an amazing walk. I can imagine its beauty in both spring and autumn with the beautiful colours.

      • letsjapan
      • June 23rd, 2012

      It’s a sublime stroll, indeed. . .

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