Arashiyama is located at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains, and is a lush green town with the famous bamboo grove and the Tenryu-ji temple. The area has always been a popular destination since historic times (Heian Period 794-1185), when aristocrats and nobles would escape the capital to enjoy its natural setting and breathtaking beauty during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons. Today, the area is bustling with tourist activity, making it difficult to capture its true essence. But it’s still worth the trip to get a refreshing break from the main city and all the temples and shrines. This is how we spent our time there!
How to get there:
The fastest access, and the one we recommend is by JR line (Japan Railway). Take the JR Sagano line to Saga-Arashiyama station from Kyoto station (approx. 15min, ¥240). Once you get off the station, the walk to the Bamboo Grove is about 10 min. Honestly, just follow the crowd!
The entrance to the grove is free! But do not expect a thick forest, this is a walkway extending less than 1 km, and flanked by tall bamboos on both sides. At first, you wonder what the fuss is all about; cables zigzag across poles and groups of loud tourists fill the narrow path…but don’t give up just yet!
Walk a little further, and you are in the midst of a grove, the crowds are thin (or at least thinner than when you first started), and you can feel the gentle breeze swaying the tall bamboo; sunlight seems to be play in and out of the shadows – enjoy this brief moment of zen while you can!
You might even see an artist capturing the colors of the grove! The Japanese have a long history with bamboo, in myths and legends, in several paintings, and use in their daily life. But it’s not often that we get a chance to see bamboo forests in their natural state along a well planned path like this one.
The grove is a popular place for young couples to dress up in traditional kimonos and walk up to the temple; offering beautiful photo opportunities.
Soon, we were at the end of the path and close to the entrance of the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple.
The temple has an entrance fee (¥600)and is open from 8:30am – 5:30pm daily. Wash your hands at the entrance of the temple before stepping in to the gardens and the main house.
The temple features beautiful scenery and offers a tranquil setting against the backdrop of the Arashiyama mountains. The serene gardens are a fine example of shakkei landscaping (or borrowed scenery).
The views change depending on the season and the garden morphs into a riot of colors during the cherry blossom and fall seasons.
The temple was built in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) by a shogun in honor of the Japan’s emperor Tenryu-ji, and is one of Kyoto’s 17 world heritage sites.
The temple gardens feature a pond, gentle streams and a variety of plants and flowers, often depicted in paintings and traditional Japanese literature; all this against the backdrop of the mountain range.
A short hike up the trail of steps led us to the lush green views of the Arashiyama area, and while we had missed the Cherry blossom season, we could only imagine the heightened beauty with a burst of colors on the trees, with little peaks of the rooftops…
Passing by a couple of wishing wells, we made our way into the main temple building, an expansive meditative room neatly lined with tatami mats, and a bamboo “fence”.
The windows looked like paintings with a view of the beautiful scenery…pictures cannot capture the beauty and tranquility of the moment. We sat there for some time admiring the views, and a quick pause for reflection before we move on.
Where to eat:
There are lots of great places to eat in Arashiyama-Sagano area, and some fine examples of Tofu, soba noodles and kaiseke cuisine. We had plans for the evening so we could not venture far. A detour to Ex Cafe and we sipped on lovely matcha and some green tea cake and parfait.
The cafe also features a small rock garden; a delighful view while you sip on some tea!
Wrapping up our afternoon (all this had taken up half a day), we headed back towards the train station to make our way back into Kyoto.
This was one of the local trains that we crossed; how adorable is this?! 🙂
Other things to do:
There are several other things to do in the area; the Togetsukyo Bridge (also called the “Moon Crossing Bridge”), the former villa and garden of the popular silent actor Okochi Denjiro, Monkey Park Iwatayama, Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street with traditional Japanese houses, and the Saga scenic steam train ride (25 min ride crossing the river and bridge). Unfortunately, we ran out of time and could not possibly include this within an afternoon 😦
This was a great trip, and you must visit for yourself to smell the sweet air, feel the cool breeze and hear the bamboo leaves rustling against each other – don’t just take our word for it! ❤
Hope you enjoyed reading!
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