There are a lot of hidden benefits to visiting Japan in the off season, but visiting the gardens is not one of them. I soon discovered most, if not all, of the shrines and temples I visited featured meticulously cared for gardens, only in Winter, they all lack flowers (and color).
In Kyoto, I visited the popular Heian Shrine with the express purpose of finding the location where a scene from Lost in Translation was shot. Specifically speaking, Scarlett Johansson's character is seen skipping across a stone walkway over a pond.
Earlier in Tokyo, I'd already enjoyed a Suntory whisky at the Park Hyatt a la Bill Murray's character.
To access the shrine was free, if I recall correctly, however you needed to buy a ticket to visit the gardens. And guess how many people pay to visit Japanese gardens in Winter?
Answer – not many, so I had the whole garden to myself.
When I happened across the stone walkway from the movie, I recognized it instantly, and used the opportunity to have a little fun with my camera.
I balanced it on a sign post, set the auto-timer, and then began to recreate scenes from Lost in Translation.
Walking across the path was boring in the photos, so I jogged. Then, since I was absolutely alone, I also took a moment to meditate…well, at least long enough to snap the photo which makes it look like I'm meditating.
The impromptu photo session was worth the price of admission (which was in the area of $5), though I don't recommend paying for Japanese gardens in Winter.