After tearing myself away from my gorgeous surroundings on Zamami Island, I headed for Kyoto to soak up some of the great traditions and history that Japan is known for. The city is pretty much chock full of gorgeous shrines and temples interspersed with immaculate gardens and quaint streets lined with small shops and restaurants. Given only two days to take in this wealth of culture, I think I did a pretty good job of seeing the highlights while enjoying my surroundings. I’ve heard it’s easy to get burnt out on temples in Kyoto and I believe it, but I think my visit was pretty well balanced, especially since it’s the setting most of the temples were placed in that I enjoyed most.
The city of Kyoto has a unique position in that it is at a pretty low elevation but it surrounded on all sides by mountains, and it is at the edges of the city where the most well-known and beautiful temples lie. This doesn’t surprise me considering if I were a Buddhist monk looking for a place to chill out and meditate, the edges of the city where the land slopes upward and the greenness of the forest envelopes you would seem the perfect place to do so. A couple of the Zen temples were actually converted from palaces, so I guess royalty picked a few of these locations first, but really, who wouldn’t want to live in a place like this?
Whether it was the natural wildness of the hillside that surrounded the temple, perfectly manicured gardens, zen rock gardens, or a bamboo forest that made up the various surroundings for each of the temples I visited, I found them all quite calming. I especially liked Tenryu-ji, which has an immaculate zen garden with precisely arranged plant, water, and stone components, in true zen style. Enclosing the temple and the garden is an enchanting mature bamboo forest that makes you feel like you’ve walked into another world.