Kyoto – Learning about Japanese Gardening and Landscaping with Context Travel

After a rainy first day where we spent the morning at the Nishiki Market and the afternoon learning a bit about Zen spirituality at Kennin-ji Temple, we woke to clear skies ready to head out for a final Context Travel tour.  We woke up early as Mr. Misadventures wanted to take sunrise photos of the city from the rooftop terrace of our hotel, the Westin Miyako.

Kyoto formthe Westin Miyako Roof

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

All that hard work watching the hubby take his photos deserved a reward…a hearty breakfast!  One of the best things about staying at the hotel was breakfast.  I love breakfast, but one thing I love more than breakfast is an Asian breakfast.  You guys know about my dimsum habit, and there is nothing better than eating breakfast at a hotel in China, Japan, South Korea. I was one happy girl.

Westin Miyako Breakfast

So after filling the belly, we headed out to Kinkaku-ji Temple to meet our Context Travel docent, Casper for our last tour of the week.

Our goal was to learn more about Japanese gardening and landscaping techniques and visiting temples was a perfect way to see examples of several different styles.  We met up with another San Francisco couple (complete coincidence) and headed into Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.

Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

And Golden it was.

Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Given the crisp sky (all cleaned up from the rain) and the reflection of the temple and the clouds on the water that the pavilion rests on, it is extremely difficult to take a bad picture!

Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

There are three different architectural styles and absolutely everything from top-to-bottom symbolizes something, it’s fascinating that every facet of the villa means something and Casper (and his family) have studied this type of architecture for a very long time (I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Context Travel docent!)

Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Kinkaku-ji is surrounded by park with beautiful gardens, each corner you turn, something more breathe-taking to see.  For someone whose favorite color is red, it is spectacular!

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Much like my visits to temples in Tokyo, I love reading the ema, small wooden plaques that people write prayers or wishes on.  I find them very beautiful and fun to read.

Kytoto Ema

From Kinkaku-ji we walked to Ryoan-ji (you can take a bus) but it was such a beautiful morning and by walking we could see “typical” Kyoto neighborhoods so we voted to take a longer path and walk.

If we hadn’t walked we would have missed seeing things like this, a group of very young children out with their teachers, I love how organized (and safe) the kids are!

Kyoto Children

When we arrived at Ryoan-ji Temple, it was really interesting to see the stark contract of this temple to Kinkaku-ji. The Golden Pavilion is surrounded by water and is lush and full of plant life. Ryoan-ji is more of a typical Zen garden with gravel and rocks that represent water. Still beautiful, but in a completely different way.

Ryoan-ji Temple

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

The fallen red maple leaves still kind feel like they are sitting on top of the water.

Ryoan-ji Temple

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

In the main garden there are 15 rocks to sit and ponder. You have to sit as the only way to see the 15th rock is from a sitting position. I didn’t mind, having experienced it the day before, there is something really serene about sitting down and just observing the garden. [I totally want to have a garden like this in the future, one that I am not supposed to do anything to except sit there and ponder life!]

Ryoan-ji Temple Garden

We tore ourselves away and made a short walk to Ninna-ji temple, which is my mind was a combination of the two styles we had seen earlier in the day that had both “wet” and “dry” gardens. The most impressive part of Ninna-ji are the doors.

Ninna-ji Temple

Part of the doors at the Ninna-ji Temple. Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Similar to some of the other temples we had seen in the day before and would continue to see throughout the week, the doors usually were protected by statues on either side representing the whole world (above is one of the two), from the first letter (um) to the last letter (ah) and by walking through the door you are automatically purified for worshiping.

I find this type of story that goes along with a place, a building, a piece of land so fascinating!  Every where you turn at any of the hundreds of temples in Kyoto you find beauty.

Temple beauty

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Throughout the morning, which turned into early afternoon, Casper was so darn knowledgeable about all the symbolism and history and cultural aspects of the places we were visiting and Kyoto in general, I could not write my notes fast enough!

Temple beauty

Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures, click for a LARGER view.

Even though we planned on being on our own for the rest of the time we were in Kyoto, our first 36 hours in which we did three Context Travel tours really served as a great foundation and set us up for a successful and enjoyable trip.

I absolutely loved my time in Kyoto!


  1. These photos are really something else!

  2. Michelle Salais says:

    Those first photos look like something out of a movie. Japanese gardens are so peaceful looking. I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Kyoto.

  3. Wow this looks beautiful and so peaceful!

  4. Terri S says:

    What pretty pictures! It’s so beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Shannon says:

    OMG so pretty. I would love to go someday!

  6. Dorothy Boucher says:

    oh how nice, great pictures, I hope someday soon I will get to travel there :) but thanks for sharing with us

  7. Allyssa S says:

    Great photos! I would love to travel there. It would be so amazing to wake up to that view everyday.

  8. Jennifer says:

    What gorgeous photos. Kyoto is really one of those places I wish I could visit. I think I’ll put it on my top 10 list of places to visit if I ever win the lotto :)

  9. Claire D says:

    Oh, wow, what gorgeous places. And so wonderfully captured. I’m very envious of your trip. I would love to go on all these adventure/cultural/exploration package trips they have now-a-days. I’ve always loved guided tours.

  10. Michael W Perkins says:

    The wife spent Years in Japan

  11. It always surprises me what people in other countries eat for breakfast. Here I sit in the USA with my bowl of cereal and orange juice but other countries go all out with meat and potatoes!!

  12. Beautiful, peaceful and serene, I would love to visit Japan on day!
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  13. you sure share amazing images! it is such an idyllic place. Glad you went there
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  14. Wow, sounds like you had a really great time. I love that everything in the temple and gardens have a meaning. Very fascinating!
    Heather recently posted…When You Live In Paradise, Where Do You Go To Escape?

  15. I always love viewing your posts as they are so interesting and love seeing your travels through your unique view! Love Japanese gardens!

  16. You have very nice photos and captured your trip beautifully! Also, I read your About page and see that you’re a Bay Area native. I am based in SF too, I love finding local blogs. Cheers!
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  17. Your pictures are beautiful!!! I love how bright and colorful all the scenery is in them!! Looks like a great place to visit.
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  18. This would be a dream come true vacation for my husband. He has been wanting to go to Japan for as long as I have known him. I know Scotland is first on his list, but I am pretty sure he wouldn’t pass up a gorgeous trip like this if he had the chance.
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  19. One of my favorite things in the world is to actually see other cultures and hearing people talk about them.
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  20. I always love reading your posts because the pictures are so amazing. The architecture and landscape in all of these photos is truly stunning. Bravo!

  21. I would love to go on a tour like this. last time i was in kyoto i was there for a photography workshop, so we didn’t really get to see a lot of sites bc we were busy shooting. i definitely need to go back and get a more cultural experience. :)
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  22. Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience! The photos don’t do it justice, I’m sure. But I love the scenery and the little details that you’ve chosen to depict.
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  23. Rebecca Swenor says:

    It looks like you had an awesome time indeed. The breakfast looks so amazingly delicious. I love these gorgeous pictures and all the history involved. I would so love to visit here some day. Thanks for sharing.

  24. The structures in Kyoto is just amazing. They are so picturesque and really worth visiting.
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  25. Those photos are just amazing. I would love to visit Japan and Kyoto one day. I want to eat Sushi and wander in these gardents
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  26. The photos of Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) were very nice to see. I love all of the natural beauty you have captured in your snapshots. I love the trees!
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  27. These photos are so stunning! I can’t wait to visit Kyoto. I love the tea garden in SF so I can only imagine what one over there is like.
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  28. Wow! I am so in love with your photos!
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  29. Wow! I am so in love with your photos! I would love to visit Japan too one day! I remember SamuraiX whenever I hear Kyoto 😀
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  30. Chrissy Mazzocchi says:

    What a wonderful Country! I would love to go there and see the sites and the natural beauty is simply gorgoeus :)

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