Situated in northeastern Kyoto, we went on Kyoto public transport to the Ginkaku-ji area. Also known as the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, it showcased the Higashiyama culture of the Muromachi period. It was built by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, the founder of Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), as his retirement villa in 1460, but was bequeathed to Rinzai Zen in 1490. The intention to cover the main building in silver foil was never realized after his death. The structure and grounds are governed by the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi: a world view centred in the acceptance of transience and imperfection, a Buddhist concept.

The Kogetsudai (Moon Viewing Dias) sand garden is not totally Zen in origin as its design was for a shogun; the pile of compressed sand symbolized Mount Fuji while casting shadows and light over the raked sand around it. A two-foot-high mound called Ginsadan (Sea of Silver Sand), named for its appearance in the moonlight is located a few metres away. The sand around it gives the impression of rolling waves coming into shore under the moonlight. A winding path rises behind Ginkaku-ji’s garden, with the grounds covered by a variety of mosses. From the top of the hill, Mount Daimonji-yama is in full view; the site of the Gozan no Okurbi Festival, when bonfires are lighted in the shape of daimonji or “great character” on three sides of the mountain – guiding souls of one’s ancestors to return from the other world for their annual visit.

Just at the foot of the road leading to Ginkaku-ji is the Philosopher’s Walk, a 2.3 km pedestrian path that ends south, near Nanzen-ji. It is a cherry-blossomed lined canal route taken regularly by the influential 20th-century Kyoto University philosopher, Nishida Kitaro. A little further down the road is the 10,000 sqm Hashimoto Kansetsu Garden and Museum. A Nihonga artist, calligrapher, and poet (1883 – 1945), he created the garden with several pieces of Heian to Kamakura periods of stone works. The Museum on the grounds contains some of his paintings and pottery craft.