| Nyl |
In a country like Japan where there are so many places to see and explore, it is all too easy for people to overlook the town of Arashiyama. This sleepy little enclave in western Kyoto is only half an hour by train, but it’s a world away from the frenetic buzz of the city.
It was during a recent holiday that I found myself visiting Arashiyama by chance, and discovering what an unpolished gem it was! Who would have guessed at the wealth of natural attractions that could be discovered in and around this relatively small township?
There are wonderful waterfalls and streams, lush greenery and farms that stretch for miles, hot springs and stretches of river perfect for whitewater rafting – all set against scenic backdrops. Due to its relatively small size, Arashiyama which means ‘Storm Mountain’ can be explored entirely on foot or on rented bicycles. The town is also serviced by several buses as well as three train stations, all of which are within walking distance from the central area. Besides sightseeing, there are also lots of gift shops for souvenirs to take back home.
The Bamboo Forest is the most popular attraction in Arashiyama. Covering an area of 16 square kilometres, it is one of the most beautiful natural environments in Japan.
It’s a good idea to get here early as it gets crowded later in the day. The groves are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The statuesque bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, with reported growth rates of 250cm in 24 hours due to its unique rhizome-dependent system, which can be quite invasive as a result. Towering toward the sky like outstretched arms with the sun peeking through the stalks, the majestic plants are a photographer’s dream.
Right outside the Bamboo Forest entrance is the northern gate of Tenryuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of five major temples of Kyoto. In Japan, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are often situated near bamboo groves, which are viewed as a clever means of warding off evil, while the bamboo is seen as a symbol of strength.
Built in the 14th century by a shogun in honour of the passing of Japan’s emperor, Tenryuji has one of the country’s most incredible Zen gardens and is today the headquarters of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism.
The Bamboo Forest and Tenryuji Temple may be the main attractions for visitors but the entire Arashiyama district is worth exploring.
Jinpu, a traditional rickshaw provides an unforgettable way to tour the famous sites of Arashiyama.
Perhaps, one of the easiest ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the area is by taking the Sagano Romantic Train Ride. The ride follows the course of the Hozu River on a narrow-gauge track through the idyllic canyon from Arashiyama area to Kameoka area. Depending on the time of year, one can see cherry blossoms, wisteria, stunning maple leaves, and Arashiyama’s bamboo groves along the path of dramatic river gorges.
Visitors can stroll along the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge), another famous landmark in Arashiyama; it was originally built during the Heian Period (794-1185) and most recently reconstructed in the 1930s. The bridge looks particularly attractive in combination with the forested mountainside in the background.
The Hozu River, over which the bridge is built, is also worth seeing. In the past, it was used to transport logs for the construction of many of Kyoto’s temples and Osaka castle. Today, its boats are purely a tourist attraction.
Visitors interested in watching monkeys can go to the Iwatayama Monkey Park, a research centre located on the slopes of Mount Arashiyama just south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. It’s inhabited by a troop of Japanese macaques or ‘snow monkeys’. After hiking uphill for about 20 minutes, visitors will find an open area with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. The monkeys are trained to expect food only through a hut’s screened windows to keep them from causing problems.
At the top, there are also spectacular views of Kyoto city, with lots of opportunities to take great pictures.