tetsu gaku no michi — 哲学の道

kitaro nishida, who was a philosopher and professor at kyoto university, is often credited for inspiring the name for this walk in the north east of central kyoto. nishida may not have been solely responsible for the name. there is a possible much earlier provenance in that novice monks would follow the path between ginkaku-ji in the north east, a temple built by the shogun yoshimasa on the lower slopes of higashiyama, and the nanzen-in temple complex, engaging in walking meditation much like the later nishida. although much admired in japan of the 1920s, his ideas were also known to small groups in europe, particularly in germany, and he was admired by husserl and heidegger. his work is not widely known or well understood in the west. little of his difficult language was translated, the translations were unreliable, and of course his reputation was tainted by association with the military government of japan during the late ‘thirties and the second world war.

the philosopher’s path or tetsugakunomichi follows the course of the canal feeding into kyoto’s water course system for fresh water and irrigation from lake biwa over the mountains from kyoto to the north west. the changing mood over the seasons very much reflects the importance of seasonal changes in japanese culture; the observation of and acceptance that all of beauty, all of sadness is fleeting. the images on this and the following page were made on separate visits over several years; just before the blooming of the spring cherry blossom, on a late summer afternoon, and in an icy december.

my first visit here was back in 1992 when the path was drenched in white and pink sakura, cherry blossom. there were very few people about, despite it being the height of the tourist season. clearly the walk has become much more well-known and popular since then, and in addition to the many japanese voices along the path, i heard australian, chinese, english and american voices, somehow the tranquil and relaxed feeling of the walk seemed to absorb all of these.