Advanced Kyoto: Ryoanji and Kinkakuji

The area north of the central city is lush and green, full of stands of bamboo and open views of the mountains that surround Kyoto.

Tucked away up there are two of Kyoto's best known temples, which require about an hour by bus to reach from Kyoto Station. Neither are particularly child-friendly, but I include them here because they are both beautiful, and worth the effort with older children.


Kinkakuji is the famed “Golden Pavilion” and about a ten minute walk from where the bus lets you off; look behind you when you exit the bus, back towards where you just came from, for a large traffic sign or ask. Most times most of the other people getting off the bus with you are headed the same place.

In addition to the famed temple, keep strolling up the hill to take a look at the smaller tea house and pond there, both nice example of the way people used settings to inspire their meditation. The huge crowds that flock to this temple often bypass these less-visible spots, offering you a break from the waves of tourists.

Admission is charged, toilets are available inside the temple grounds. Most of the temple is unpaved pathways, troublesome if wet and hostile to strollers. Some of the walking is uphill, and the crowds can intimidate small kiddies close to the ground.

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Ryoanji is a vigorous 15 minutes walk from Kinkakuji, mostly uphill and on a narrow sidewalk. You can also take a city bus, though they do not run but every 30 minutes.

Ryoanji is perhaps my favorite temple in Kyoto, a highpoint of Zen architecture, and famous for its rock garden. The fifteen stones invite contemplation, while the patterns in the walls and gravel seek to confuse your mind until it clears of otherwise worthless desires and interests. At least that's the theory if all these darn people would stop pushing and shoving you as they jostle for places to fire off useless camera flashes. You gotta visit this place on a cold, rainy day, early in the morning or right before closing, in hopes of having a few moments sort of alone to appreciate what the designers intended to do with the place.

If you do come with younger kids, the pathways throughout the temple grounds are very walkable and mostly paved. There is a large pond full of turtles to watch out for, and the occasional white swan. The wildlife keeps to itself and is not particularly interested in being fed, but does create a diversion for the kids.

Admission is charged, toilets are available inside the temple grounds. The walking is pretty flat, with some mild hills.

See this site for some history, more photos and a short but excellent scholarly bibliography on Japanese gardens.

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