Day trip in Kyoto

Joy Bose
12 min readJun 17, 2023

Last week I visited Japan and spent a day in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan and the land of over 2000 temples. In this article I give a brief itinerary and describe some of the temples.

Researching Kyoto

For researching about Kyoto I read the wikitravel article on Kyoto, other articles I found on the internet, asked friends who had previously been there, etc. I also bought two books about Kyoto that I found on

  1. Cities of the Imagination: Kyoto by John Dougill. This was more about the history of Kyoto and gave a bit of context to understand the city
  2. Lonely planet Pocket Guide Kyoto and Osaka. This had maps, short descriptions of famous temples etc.

At the end of my researching, I had made a short itinerary about which temples to watch and in which order, based on the time I had (about 6 am till 3 pm, when I had to catch the train to Toyama).

My priority was to cover different types of temples (Shingon Buddhist, Zen Buddhist, Pure land Buddhist, Shinto) and if possible some of the temples that are UNESCO world heritage sites.

This was the original itinerary:

Kyoto travel plan 6 am to 3 pm

5 am Wake up from Osaka hotel, quick shower and checkout
5:30 am Osaka train station
6:20 am Kyoto central station
6:35 am Walk to Nishi Honganji temple from train station (UNESCO World Heritage)
7:05 am Finish Nishi Honganji
7:30 Walk to Higashi Honganji
8 am Finish Higashi Honganji
8:30 am Walk to To ji temple (UNESCO World Heritage)
9:30 am Finish To ji temple
10:30 am Walk or bus to Tofuku ji temple
11 Finish Tofuku ji temple
11:30 Walk to Fushimi Inari shrine
12:00 Finish Fushimi Inari
12:30 pm Take bus or taxi(8 km) to philosophers path
12:30 pm Reach Ginkakuji Silver pavilion (UNESCO World Heritage)
1 pm Finish Ginkaku ji silver pavilion on philosophers path
1:45 pm Walk to Nanzenji temple near end of philosophers path
2:30 pm Finish Nanzenji
3 pm Take bus back to Kyoto station
3:10 pm JR bullet train to Toyama (4 hours)

I also entered the above itinerary into the Japan travel navitime app, which told about the approximate times to travel between each place as well as the cost of taking the bus and train.

Books about Kyoto
Screenshot from the Japan travel Navitime app

Getting into Kyoto

I was staying in a hotel in Osaka. I took the train to get to Kyoto station from Osaka station. I had previously bought a Japan Rail 7-day pass online via klook, which covers all JR trains including the bullet trains or Shinkansen and which I used to get to Kyoto and back.

Kyoto train station

On reaching Kyoto by train, my first stop, naturally, was the modern train station, built in steel and glass. It had all amenities such as toilets, coin operated lockers to keep your stuff, vending machines, shops etc.

Kyoto train station

Walk to Nishi Honganji temple from train station

The first temple I planned to visit was Nishi Honganji temple, a pure land temple and headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect, one of the biggest Buddhist sects in Japan, and also a UNESCO world heritage site. A Jodo Shinshu friend of mine had recommended it. It was supposed to be only a little distance away, around 2 km, from the train station. I put it in my google maps and started to walk.

Walk from Kyoto to Nishi Honganji

Visit to Koshoji temple

After walking for a while as per the google maps route, I saw a huge temple across the road. I wrongly assumed it to be Nishi Honganji, when it was actually Koshoji temple, another pure land temple of Kosho sect of Jodo Shinshu, a sub branch of the sect that Nishi Honganji belonged to. But no worries, Koshoji was quite beautiful, ancient and huge as well. It was also free to enter (some other temples have entry charges).

Koshoji was the first traditional Buddhist temple I saw in Japan. It had a moat surrounding the temple walls, a huge entrance and a smaller entrance, and two main buildings: Amida hall and founders hall, aside from other buildings. We had to take our shoes off first before entering, socks were ok. It felt very peaceful in the main shrine hall.

Koshoji temple entrance gate
Koshoji shrine hall
Exterior of one of the main shrine buildings

Visit to Nishi Honganji (West Honganji) temple of Jodo Shinshu Pureland sect

The entrance to Nishi Honganji was just next to Koshoji after exiting it and walking left. It had a few impressive gates, I got in via one of them. This too was free to enter. The temple was constructed in 1600s originally. Like Koshoji, there is a moat around the temple walls with water in it.

There were more worshippers than in Koshoji, but still relatively few because it was early in the morning (around 7:30 am). It seems I missed the morning chanting service at 6 am, to which visitors are welcome to attend.

It too had two main buildings: Amida hall and founders’ hall, as well as other buildings such as reception hall and shop. The temple was made of wood, and there was a long wooden corridor connecting the two main buildings.

One of the impressive gates of Nishi Honganji temple
One of the temple buildings of Nishi Honganji
The wooden corridor connecting the two buildings of Nishi Honganji

Walk to Higashi Honganji (East Honganji) temple of Jodo Shinshu Pureland sect

Higashi Honganji is also a Jodo Shinshu temple, founded by Shinran Shonin. It originally belonged to the same temple organization as Nishi Honganji but circumstances, partly political, forced them to separate in the 1600s.

Higashi Honganji has the same structure as Nishi Honganji, but is newer, being constructed in late 1800s after being burnt down in a fire. It claims to preserve the remains of Shinran Shonin. Entry to this temple is free.

This too had a moat, temple walls and Amida hall and founders halls with a wooden corridor, similar to the previous Jodo Shinshu temples Koshoji and Nishi Honganji. The founder’s hall has an image of Shinran Shonin and is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. It had a chanting session at 7 am to which visitors are welcome to attend, but I was unfortunately too late to attend it.

Path from Nishi Honganji to Higashi Honganji
Amida hall gate of Higashi Honganji temple
Founders hall of Higashi Honganji, one of the largest wooden structures in the world
Amida hall of Higashi Honganji temple

Walk to To-ji temple of Shingon esoteric sect

I then walked to the To-ji temple, an ancient temple in the Shingon esoteric tradition of Japanese Buddhism. The temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the oldest temples in Kyoto, built in 790s.

The route to To-ji from Higashi Honganji was only 2 km but I took a wrong turn in the middle and was a bit exhausted. I probably should have taken the metro train to To Ji Station, or a bus, instead of walking.

Path from Higashi Honganji to To Ji temple

The entry fee for To-ji was 500 yen for adults, cheaper for students. There were beautiful gardens and ponds on the temple premises, with koi fish swimming in the ponds.

The first highlight was a 5-storeyed pagoda, but it was closed and it was not possible to enter the pagoda.

Temple pond of To-ji temple
Five storeyed pagoda of To-ji temple

Then there were two buildings, all made of wood. These had various Buddha statues in metal. One building had a Nyorai or fully enlightened Buddha surrounded by two Bodhisattvas. Another had statues of a number of Buddhas along with protector kings. Various flower and incense offerings were put in front of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Photos were not allowed to be taken inside the temple rooms, although one could sit and quietly meditate inside.

One of the shrine buildings of To-Ji temple
Second shrine building of To-ji temple

Visit to Ryoanji Zen temple, famous for rock garden

I was a bit tired and exhausted out of too much walking by now, so I decided to skip the original itinerary of walking to Tofokuji temple and then Fushimi Inari shrine and decided to take a taxi to Ryoanji Zen temple.

The taxi ride was very comfortable, although maybe a little pricey at 3400 yen for the 8 km distance. Here too I should have probably investigated bus or train as an option.

Inside a comfortable Japanese taxi in Kyoto

Ryoanji is a zen temple, famous for its rock garden. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Entry ticket is 600 yen.

I walked past some amazing greenery and a beautiful lotus pond to the rock garden. We had to take off our shoes and then entered the viewing platform. Just watching the rock garden was like a meditation. The garden is kept immaculately clean and the pebbles are raked carefully to form patterns. The patterns on the pebbles in the rock garden are like waves of water around islands of actual moss covered rocks.

Moss covered forest in Ryoanji
World famous rock garden in Ryoanji temple

There was a tatami mat hall with beautiful zen paintings opposite the rock garden.

Tatami hall with zen paintings opposite the rock garden in Ryoanji

After spending a bit of time admiring and meditating on the rock garden, I then wore my shoes and walked back on the temple grounds, including a pagoda.

War memorial pagoda in Ryoanji temple

There were also a few shops and restaurants just outside the temple. I had a delicious matcha tea ice cream.

Matcha tea ice cream outside Ryoanji temple

Visit to Kinkaku Ji, Golden Pavilion temple

After Ryoanji, I walked to Kinkaku Ji, the temple with the golden pavilion and one of the most visited and most photographed temples of Kyoto. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. As expected, the crowds were much larger in this temple, partly also because it was getting later in the day.

Walk from Ryoanji to Kinkaku Ji temple

Entry fee for kinkakuji temple was 500 yen for adults. It was amazingly beautiful, just next to a lake. However, it was not possible for visitors to go inside the shrine room of the golden pavilion, we could only watch it from outside. This was probably necessary because of the amount of crowds. There was a defined and well marked path from the entrance to the exit and all visitors had to follow that exact path.

Kinkaku ji temple with the Golden Pavilion
Golden pavilion of kinkaku ji, seen from the back side
Buddha statues in Kinkaku Ji with coin offerings

There were a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants in kinkaku ji, including a nice green tea shop.

Visit to Ginkaku Ji, Silver Pavilion temple

At this point, I was a bit worried about time since it was almost 12 pm and I had to catch the train to Toyama around 3 pm. So I took the taxi from the taxi stand outside the temple, to Ginkaku Ji temple in the east of Kyoto.

Path from Kinkaku Ji to Ginkaku Ji, around 7 km

Ginkaku Ji temple is famous as the Silver Pavilion, and also gets quite a few crowds. The taxi was as usual comfortable and crossed a bridge over the rover before reaching the destination. It dropped me very close to the temple, the last few hundred meters were walking only.

There were lots of shops on the narrow street leading to Ginkaku Ji. The entrance fee was 500 yen. Here too, the path for visitors from entrance to exit was well defined and clearly marked. It went past the rock gardens, up a small hill full of green forest and then back down.

Beautiful zen garden in Ginkaku Ji
Ginkaku Ji silver pagoda
Lake in Ginkaku Ji
View of the temple and Kyoto city from the hill in Ginkaku Ji

Finally, I had some nice strawberry flavoured ice frappe on the way down after exiting the Ginkaku Ji temple.

Shop selling strawberries near Ginkaku Ji

Walk along Philosopher’s path

Philosopher’s path (or Philosopher’s Walk) is the name given to a pleasant stone path next to a canal, where some famous Kyoto university philosophers used to walk in the 1890s and later. It is surrounded by zen temples and Shinto shrines and starts around Ginkaku Ji and all the way till Nanzen ji, around 2 km. I took a walk along this path. I missed many of the Shinto shrines and other temples because it was getting around 2 pm by now, and I had to catch my train at 3 pm.

Walk along philosopher’s path
Shinto offerings near philosopher’s path

Visit to Nanzen Ji temple

Having walked all the way to the end of philosopher’s path, I finally took a right turn and walked to the Nanzen Ji zen temple.

Nanzen Ji zen temple was free to enter. It had huge grounds and a big gate, one of the biggest in the country I think.

Gate of Nanzen Ji zen temple
A shrine building in Nanzen Ji temple, with a stand for incense offerings outside
View inside one of the shrine halls in Nanzen Ji temple

Brief look at Eikando Zenrinji Pure Land temple

I briefly also passed by Eikando Zenrinji temple, which is a pure land temple. It is located just metres away from Nanzen Ji. It is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan’s Jodo shu (Pure Land) Buddhist sect. It has beautiful foilage. Would look even more beautiful in autumn with leaves in different colours. Entrance fee is 500 yen.

Gate of Eikando Zenrinji temple

By now, I was in a bit of a rush, so took a taxi back to the Kyoto train station and took the shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto to Toyama, covered by my Japan Rail Pass.

However, due to lack of time, I had managed to miss the Fushimi Inari shrine, the most famous Shinto shrine in Kyoto. So I resolved to see it,if possible, on the way back. Shinto shrines are all open all day and are usually free to enter.

Visit to Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine

On the way back from Toyama a couple of days later, I got the chance to visit Fushimi Imari shrine during the night. This time I took the slow train from Kyoto station to Inari station and back, which was covered by my Japan Rail pass.

Fushimi inari Shinto shrine is famous for thousands of red gates going up the sacred hill. The donors’ names are etched on each of the gates. It is named after the foxes who are the protector deities. I was so glad I could finally get to see it in this trip despite the short time available.

Entrance gate to the Fushimi Inari shrine

In shinto tradition, one needs to bow before the shrine, then make a wish and clap loudly a few times.

The round gate of good luck in Fushimi Inari shrine, that promises good luck to those who pass through
The path through the hundreds or thousands of red Torii gates in Fushimi Inari shrine

After seeing what I could for half an hour, I took the train back to Kyoto and onward to Osaka.


Kyoto is one of the beautiful cities of Japan and is the city of culture and city of temples. I had long wanted to visit and see the city. This time, I could only get very little time and managed to see a few temples. I would have to return here soon.



Joy Bose

Working as a software developer in machine learning projects. Interested in the intersection between technology, machine learning, society and well being.