Rocks, Silver and Gold: Kyoto's Magnificent Temples

wanderlass @wanderlassMay 2018 · 4 min read

Kyoto has been on my bucket list even before I even had the means to travel. I watched Rurouni Kenshin, a Japanese anime about a swordsman named Himura Kenshin during the Meiji era. I learned a small part of Japanese history on this show even before I was formally taught Asian history at school. The setting of this animation is in Kyoto, and despite these being digital drawings, this former imperial capital has always fascinated me.

And when I finally got to Kyoto, I was not disappointed. It felt like being taken back to Japan's history by learning about the stories of the temples and structures that contributes a piece of their past.

We stayed here for 4 days and in those days we saw temples and shrines all day long. I'll be sharing some of the temples on this post.

Kinkaku-ji/ The Golden Pavilion

This Zen Buddhist temple's golden structure surrounded by a pond and trees makes such a scenic view. This houses relics of Buddha and visitors are only allowed to explore the surroundings. Nonetheless, the beautiful garden and the view of this golden temple is enough to be captivated by this place.

This is the closest that I can get to the temple and it's enough for me to see its beauty and silky gold covering.

This was formerly owned by a a shogun (a ruler appointed by the emperor) and was turned into a Zen temple after his death as this was his will.

Kodai-ji Temple

What I found common among these temples are the big gardens that envelope the structures as if to protect and add to the serene atmosphere. Kodai-ji temple sits within a beautiful landscape with stones, bamboos and bonsai plants. In addition, most of these were former nobility or statesmen houses before these were converted to a temple. This was established by a noblewoman in memory of her late husband and she became a Buddhist nun after her husband's death.

It is a huge complex with a garden lined with gravel and a Sakura (cherry blossom) tree that is about to bloom.

There are tea houses within the complex designed by the famous tea masters during that time. These structures represents the tea ceremony architecture of the place.

Upon leaving the place, you will be led to an array of bamboos as if walking through a mini forest.

Ryoanji Temple

The main attraction of this temple are the pebbles so neatly layed out on its garden. We were allowed to enter this temple and you have to take off your shoes. This was formerly a country house by a big clan.

The rock garden is a Zen garden. Unlike other temple gardens, there are no trees. What's prominent are the big rocks scattered over the rock lawn. Good thing visitors are not allowed to step to preserve this art and we can view it up close.

It is simple yet so unique that visitors line up like the paparazzi to take a photo of these stones with celebrity-like status.

Here's a minature model of the garden to see its full view. I found it difficult to capture the entire garden with my camera due to its distance from the viewing area.

Another unique structure in this temple is this stone water basin for the The inscription here translates:

I learn only to be contented.

This is an important concept in the Zen teachings where they focus to be contented and be spiritually rich. One who does not feel contented is considered spiritually poor no matter the amount of material wealth one has.

Ginkakuji/ Silver Pavilion

I did no misspelling and this sounds like Kinkaku-ji but with a G. It's also a Zen Buddhist temple and known as the Silver Pavilion. It is not covered in silver unlike the gold foil that covers the Golden Pavilion. It has a bronze phoenix on top though.

My favorite section of this temple is the Zen garden with an array of white and gray pebbles, and a volcano-shaped sand structure. I can feel so much peace and harmony looking at all these pieces together.

We also saw this fluffy family cozily lounging under the sun, just outside the temple. ;)

There are so many temples in Kyoto and a week isn't enough if you want to see all. But I think I got a fair glimpse of the historical Kyoto. We also went to some shrines, museums and also a food trip around the city which I will write about soon.

Wander Tip

If you're coming from Tokyo via the Shinkansen (bullet train), prepare your camera for a snap of Mt. Fuji. You will pass by Shin Fuji station before you arrive in Kyoto and you will get an amazing view of this volcano.


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Very nice! This reminds me of my trip to Kyoto when I visited Kinkaku-ji as well. I did not end up going to as many temples as you did but all of them look like they are worthy of a visit.


Thanks! If you only had limited time then I think the Golden Pavilion is the best one from those I've seen. :)


Oh man I remember seeing the Golden Pavilion and imagining myself as a Samurai!!! I would look bad ass and get chopped down immediately lol,

Awesome travel post it is as if I am there with you :)


Haha thanks. I also imagined myself in a Kimono. There were tourists dressed up in a Kimono walking around Kyoto, but I just thought it would be a hassle to change clothes :D


You should have hahaha part of the experience. The next thing I want to do is go to Korea and wear their traditional clothes.

I might get discovered hahahaha since people always day I look Korean.


If you suddenly stop posting, I would suspect you're filming your Koreanovela or Kpop music video lol

I recommend Jeju island. The rates there are even cheaper than Seoul and there are Koreanovela sites.


I still remember the first moment I saw The Golden Pavilion when I was walking down the path and once I took a turn, there it was in front of me, absolutely stunning!!!


It's like a painting. I think it's the most beautiful temple I've seen there :)


It is a pity you could not see all the temples in Kyoto because of lack of time. They definitely deserve a visit. My favourite is the golden one. Mount Fuji from the train is a spectacle


I have a reason to go back. That gold temple is my favorite too :)


Oh man ... this makes me miss Japan! Want to go back there so badly!


I miss Japan too and would like to explore the north next time. I wish for another For 91 Days (rural) Japan in the near future :)


We actually aim for it, right before the Olympics!!!! Smart marketing move!

nenio @nenioMay 2018

What an outstanding place, it is like a time travel to traditional Japan. Very good photos.


Thank you! It did feel like going back in time. And there are even people walking on streets wearing a kimono (although I think some are just tourists) and they add to a traditional vibe. :)


When I read in your text "add to the serene atmosphere", i just had to agree. The whole place just feels so peaceful, even through photographs.

I loved when you wrote about the zen culture, there's so much to learn from that. To be content. We tend to forget that sometimes.

HAHA and the funny little teddy bear family enjoying some sun.


Yeah a lot of the Zen principles are so helpful in our daily lives. Some of the things we stress about could be relieved by simplicity and contentment.

There's a lot of cute things there. Even old people seem to like cute stuff so you see those fluffy teddies around or cat figurines :)


It's incredible how we stress the whole day about something, that may is so small... I'm slowly readjusting my mind set. I'm using the 'ok' technich hahahahah if someone complains about something I simply say 'ok' and move on with my life.


That's true, we waste a part of our life on those small things. I'm guilty of that so I have to be mindful to not to care too much. I guess the ok technique will work :D


The temples look amazing! And the Mt. Fuji is like icing on the cake before you get into the dessert! A truly beautiful history! I hope I could feel the zen myself one day!


I wish to stop by the Fuji area to enjoy the view longer.

I think a lot of zen principles can be applied in our life like how they showed that in their gardens or temple furnishings. We need that simplicity and contentment in our life, or at least in some aspects of our life :)


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Hey, I'm missing Kiyomizu Dera in the list. It was my favorite temple in Kyoto. But I heard it's under construction recently... Did you check it out?


We didn't go there. It's possible that there was renivation when I was there or we just didn't had the time. I have a Japanese friend who took me around Kyoto so I just followed her. I googled the temple and it looks beautiful! Another reason for me to go back :)