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 to Kyoto) Mr. Misadventures and I met up with Context Travel docent Gavin for an afternoon of temples and philosophy on the Context Travel Temple Tour Kyoto.
There are hundreds of temples in Kyoto and like any public building we could have visited 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.
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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 can pick these locals' brains for all kinds of tips and tricks. Gavin helped us narrow down our temple choices by offering alternative 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.
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.
Gardens in Zen Buddhist temples are raked which is quite hypnotic when you sit down and just look at it.
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!
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 was 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 silkscreens depicting the story of several significant historical events, and laid out a map of Kyoto on the tatami to pick Gavin's brain.
At the end of the afternoon, we walked back downtown, with Gavin pointing out interesting places to check out including the food court at the bottom of the Takashimaya department store.
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.
More Context Travel Tours
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Author Bio: Andi Fisher
Yes, I am a francophile, but after that, I love Japan, especially the food! I have been to Tokyo many times, and spent 2 weeks in Kyoto and a week in Osaka exploring and eating!