Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan – Solo Travel for Introverts

Solo Travel for Introverts Ratings –

Sensory Peace – High. Super-peaceful, almost meditative almost zero sound. Gardens use minimalism for a muted aesthetic.

Solo-Friendliness – High.

Commute Friendly – High. There are frequent buses and trains here.

Predictability – High. Most of these temples are very tourism-friendly. They have websites where you have to reserve courses in advance. Cash is king.

Safety – High.

Nerdy stuff – High. Calligraphy and tea-ceremony courses.


Ritsumeikan University

If you are a quieter person and loves to explore the hidden parts of the city, try out the  Ukiyo-ward (Ukyo-Ku) in the North-Western side of Kyoto. This is different from Arashiyama, which is far-western side and further away from the city-proper, and generally crowded with tourists. The best way to get to Ukyo Ward is taking a bus to Ritsumeikan University. The university campus nestles at the foothills of mountains and the first thing I noticed here is the incredibly fresh air. There are frequent buses here often huddled with students. Near the campus area, there is the International Museum of Peace, which as the name “Peace” suggests, is a war museum.

From here, you have two options. You can head east and go to the Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavillion). This is recommended in many guide books as it is a gold-plated temple, but it’s generally crowded with tourists. However, if you want a place interesting for a different reason, head west instead, into Ryoan-Ji.

Ryoan-Ji

Rock Garden at the Zen Temple Ryoan-Ji
Rock Garden at the Zen Temple Ryoan-Ji

Ryoan-Ji is a 15th-Century Zen Complex with extremely cozy grounds with nooks and corners to hide away. There are pathways that curve through stone-lanterns, idyllic lakes and goes through magnificent gates into the main attraction which is a rock garden. If you’ve played around with miniature Rock Gardens or Rock Garden Apps on your phone, this is the real deal.

This rock garden is abstract with fifteen stones placed aesthetically into gravel. The rocks are arranged such that from any angle, only 14 of them can be seen at a time. Legend says one can see all 15 only upon attaining enlightenment.

If you go further west, you can also visit the Ninna-Ji complex which has a beautiful 5-storey pagoda.

Website – http://www.ryoanji.jp/smph/eng/

Miniature Rock Gardens on Amazon

Zen Rock Garden apps on Android and Apple

Myoshin-Ji Complex

Smaller Sub-temples at Myoshin-Ji Complex
Smaller Sub-temples at Myoshin-Ji Complex

From Ryoan-Ji, if you walk south taking any of the parallel narrow alleyways, you will find yourself surrounded by traditional Machiya-style wooden houses on the sides with the mountains looking down on you from behind. Going past the Ryoanji train station, if you walk further south, you will find the Myoshin-Ji Complex.

This complex has Myoshin-Ji at the center and around it are several beautiful other temples laid out in a circle with a ring-shaped meditative walk between them bordered by carefully-designed Zen gardens.

These sub-temples include Daiou-In, Daishin-In, Ryosen-An, Taizo-In and Daiho-In.

Shunko-In

Among the sub-temples of Myoshin-Ji, the most interesting is Shunko-In. Shunko-In is managed by Rev Takafumi Kawami whose work is combining the traditions of Zen mindfulness with the egalitarian philosophies of the US, bridging the gap between the East and the West. For example, this sub-temple emphasizes gender-equality in priesthood, accepts marriage-equality and promotes inter-faith dialogue with similar progressive Christian churches. You will find articles online about the temple promoting Zen for the 21st century and reaching out to millenials the world over.

Shunko-In is friendly towards Zen-beginners and conducts various sessions such as Zazen (sitting meditation), Calligraphy and Tea Ceremony. I personally opted for the Calligraphy session and it turned out to be a great experience. I was taught about traditional ink and paper, various Japanese scripts and techniques of brush usage.

They also have the option of overnight Temple Stay.

Website – https://shunkoin.com

Zen gardens before Temples at Myoshin-Ji
Zen gardens before Temples at Myoshin-Ji

Restaurants

There are peaceful and quiet places here for food tucked into corners (so you need google map. The temple guides also give info on nearest restrooms, cafes and restaurants).

Some worth mentioning are

  • Chikurin no Sato (Kaiseki)
  • Camellia Garden (Tea Ceremony)
  • Cafe Yamaneko.

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