Temples of Kyoto: Discovering Your Inner Peace

Explore the breathtaking and majestic temples of Kyoto, Japan.

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You know how sometimes find yourself thinking, “I could stay here forever”? Well, for me, I had that thought pretty much everywhere I went in Kyoto

I had the pleasure of traveling with some fellow architecture students and professor (who went to school in Japan). We were really lucky to have someone who not only spoke the language, but also knew his way around, to all the best spots, sometimes unknown to tourists. 

Having just graduated with an architecture degree, Kyoto was the perfect place to visit. A city rich with history, Kyoto is a beautiful mix of traditional and modern architecture, of nature and the city, of rural and urban. I saw so many amazing things, but the places that inspired me the most had to be the temples we visited.


Visiting Shoren-in was the third time in my life that I had that “I could stay here forever” feeling. Little did I know that it would be a reoccurring theme, throughout my time in Japan. The most interesting thing about all these temples is how simple yet interesting they are. Every wall is movable, so you can create a different kind of space depending on how they are arranged. The architect in me geeked out over the impeccable craftsmanship—every little detail is so thought-out; it makes you wonder how they managed to build these thousands of years ago.

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Kiyomizu-dera is located at the top of a huge hill, giving you some amazing views of the city. The whole street up to the top is lined with shops, and there are people EVERYWHERE. At the base of the temple, you will make your way along a winding path with a series of shrines. The ornate detail on these is incredible. My favorite moment was turning the corner and seeing a corbel that was half painted and half faded, so you could still see the original wood coming through. There’s something so profound about seeing the old and new literally right next to each other.

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Kyomizu 3
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Kyomizu 5


As you make your way to this temple, you pass through a gate and you're suddenly surrounded by moss-covered ground and a wall of bamboo. Everything you see is green. The structure of the temple itself was very simple, and so is the garden. One is meant to sit and admire the world around them, and the bamboo acts as a screen, dividing this place from everything else. While you can hear some of the noises of the city, they are faint. The rustle of the wind in the trees will begin to drown out the other sounds, bringing a serenity that makes you forget everything else. You can just be present and one with the earth.

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Kotoin 1
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Katsura Imperial Villa

Japanese citizens wait months, even years, to be able to see this. As tourists though, you just have to reserve a spot a couple of days in advance. There are a series of meandering stone paths that wind through some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. There are a few cleverly hidden tea houses arranged along the path too. Stumbling upon them feels like finding hidden treasures every time. The main building is the living space and has a moon-viewing porch situated near a lake. It's the perfect place to sit and observe the moon, reflected onto the water.

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Katsura 9

Water Temple (Shingonshu Honpukuji)

This is a place that is hard to describe, but amazing to experience. There is an incredible sequence of experiences as you enter. First, head into a staircase, then descend down, and after, to your left, you are greeted by a bright orange light, and it beckons you to come toward it, but the entrance is behind you. You make your way around the curved walls, with concrete on one side and orange wood on the other, until finally you see the light again. This time, it has a purple hue, and as you get more and more encompassed by the light, it turns orange again, until, finally, you are flooded by the brightness of it coming through the lattice wood. It is an experience I wish I could relive many times.

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As you move toward the entrance, you are shaded by the canopy of trees all around you. Through a gateway is bright light which beckons you inside. Once you pass through, you are shrouded in sunlight and green. This is a wet garden, so there is moss everywhere. There is also a stream, with a bridge across it, and some temples that you cannot enter, but they can be admired from the outside. This was one of the last temples we visited, and we were lucky enough to see it the day after rain, so the greenness of everything was overwhelmingly beautiful.

Honein 5
Honein 3
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