Off The Beaten Path: Kyoto’s Turn

Kyoto in scarlet. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Autumn is upon us, and the milder climate is slowly transforming the lush green summer landscape into a patchwork of yellow, gold, orange and red. If you missed the changes in remote places such as Kankunodate, or Yamadera in the northern regions of Japan, don’t worry because the best is yet to come.

Kyoto is the place to be when autumn kicks in. The mountains have already begun to transform, and the changes are trickling downward like a slow moving shadow. This ancient city is the place to be if you want to encounter some of the most striking architectural edifices, and gardens Japan has to offer.

My personal favorite places in Kyoto are Fushimi Inari in the summer, and Otagi Nebutsuji, which is located in the high mountains of Arashiyama. But for fall, there is nothing quite like experiencing the dramatic changes that take place in Tofukuji.

Tofukuji Temple in autumn. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Tofukuji was originally built in 1236 during the Kamakura era. The structures were subsequently burned down, but were again rebuilt in the 15th century. The temple’s gate is the oldest to survive in Japan, and has become a national treasure.

Kinkakuji is another tremendous Kyoto landmark. Known as the Golden Pavilion, and Rokuon-ji, the Muromachi gardens are considered some of the most picturesque in Japan. The site dates as far back as 1397. Unfortunately, during the Onin war all of the structures were set ablaze. Personally, I like this temple covered in a deep snow, in mid-winter, but it’s just as magnificent in autumn.

Kinkakuji Temple. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Another favorite of mine is Koutouin. This place gets very crowded on the weekends, and is also very difficult to take photos of. But, if you’re patient, the wait can be well worth it. Fortunately, I was able to get a shot from the interior looking outward when one of the staff members noticed me. He stopped the sea of patrons in both directions, which allowed me enough time to get the photo that appears in this article. The garden is very beautiful, and extremely peaceful. Oh, how lovely it would be to call this place home.

 Koutouin. Photo credit Stack Jones.

The weekend crowds in Kyoto can be daunting. I once visited Tofukuji, Kinkakuji, and Koutouin in autumn, and on a Sunday. I didn’t get a good feel for how tranquil these places could be with the masses moving about. I returned the following Tuesday, and it turned out to be a different experience all together. All of the sites mentioned in this article were nearly deserted. So, for what it’s worth, try to plan your visit on a weekday, if you do, you’ll be rewarded with open spaces, and surreal environments!

A maikohan waiting for a customer to arrive in the Gion District of Kyoto. Photo credit Stack Jones.

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