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Kyoto – Context Travel Temple Tour

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Japanese Maple Leaves Kyoto

Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

After spending an introductory morning at Nishiki Market with Daniel (a few hours well spent as we went back to the market nearly every day during our visit in Kyoto) Mr. Misadventures and I met up with Context Travel docent Gavin for an afternoon of temples and philosophy. There are hundreds of temples in Kyoto and like any public building we could have (and did) visit any one of them, but there is something to be said for visiting a museum, a bakery, or a temple with someone who is not only local but offers a unique perspective.

I learned that in Paris when after visiting the Orsay many times I spent a magical afternoon in the presence of Katherine, another Context Travel docent, who had just finished her doctorate in a 15th-century Italian impressionist painting. It was like seeing the museum for the first time.

The benefit of doing this particular tour (along with the Nishiki one) on the first day is that we are able to pick these locals’ brains for all kinds of tips and tricks. Gavin helped us narrow down our temple choices by offering alternatives locations or insider tips for temples throughout the city as well as outside.

We left downtown, walking from the Geisha district, and headed to Kennin-ji Temple. It was raining and getting wetter by the moment, but we escaped the downpour in the shelter of this 13th-century temple.

Kennin-ji Temple Kyoto Japan

Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

All the temple gardens we visited in Kyoto (and outside) were beautiful. You can not help but feel relaxed and reflective while visiting. Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen Buddhist temple anywhere in the world.

Kennin-ji Temple Garden Kyoto Japan

Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

Gardens in Zen Buddhist temples are raked which is quite hypnotic when you sit down and just look at it.

Kennin-ji Temple Kyoto Japan

There was also something so serene about sitting on a tatami mat, next to a zen garden while learning about some of the histories of Buddhism as well as the cultural and architectural aspects of Zen Buddhist temples. I now understand Mr. Misadventures’ desire to spend a week in a temple to completely unplug!

Inside Kennin-ji Tatami Kyoto Japan

Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography (Click for a LARGER image)

As with all Context Travel docents, Gavin is an expert in his field. So to visit the temple with a professor of faith traditions was a real treat. I learned so much more than from a guidebook!

We spent some time wandering around and then headed for the exit while discussing which temple we wanted to go to next. Gavin spotted a sign for a tiny temple (Seira-In) located on the grounds next to Kennin-ji and discovered that it was open. It is an extremely rare occurrence, this temple is only open about 10 days a year (and we were smack in the middle of them) for the fall leaf changing.

We quickly decided that we would not pass the opportunity up (plus it is pouring buckets) and we ducked inside for a special visit. We sat on the edge of the wooden platform, watching the raindrops hitting the gorgeous red Japanese maple leaves, took in an art installation of silk screens depicting the story of several significant historical events and laid out a map of Kyoto on the tatami to pick Gavin’s brain.

Seira-In Temple Kyoto Japan

Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

At the end of the afternoon, we walked back to downtown, with Gavin pointing interesting places to check out including the food court at the bottom of the Takashimaya department store.

Takashimaya Department Store in Kyoto

Takashimaya Department Store in Kyoto

Jetlag was beginning to hit and we headed there, picked out a delicious gourmet Japanese picnic, and headed back to our hotel for the evening. We had one more tour, the following day, more temples, before exploring Kyoto entirely on our own.

How about you? Have you been to any temples? Have a favorite?

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Context Travel Temple Tour Kyoto Japan

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Michelle Salais

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Those photos make it look so serene, and peaceful.

Chiara

Saturday 7th of June 2014

This photos are amazing!!! Thank you for sharing.

Terri S

Friday 6th of June 2014

Those temples seem very tranquil. Thank you for sharing with us. I hope to travel one day.

Jennifer

Tuesday 3rd of June 2014

Gorgeous photos!!! I'd love to go.

Shannon

Tuesday 3rd of June 2014

OMG how beautiful. I hope to someday visit.