Postcard From: Arashiyama

The Togetsukyou Bridge crosses the K River, with Arashiyama in the back.

Togetsukyou Bridge crossing the Hozu/Katsura River (the river changes its name as it passes under the bridge).  There is a hint of the cherry blossoms to come on Arashiyama’s slope in the background.

Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, the Arashiyama (‘Storm Mountain’) district is both a Japanese National Historic Site and designated Place of Scenic Beauty. Arashiyama is famous for both the explosion of cherry blossoms that cover its slopes in the spring, and the amazing displays of color in the fall when the leaves change. The district is also home to the breathtaking Sagano bamboo forest. I had wanted to see the bamboo forest again on our visit to Kyoto in 2015, so my daughter-in-law arranged a wonderful day’s visit to the district for our family.

The Karatsu River from the train

The Hozu River from the train. The river’s aqua color is gorgeous.

We began our visit to Arashiyama with a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railroad (also known as the Sagano Romantic Train), a private line that runs along the Hozu River as it heads east into the district (reserved seats only). The charming, old-fashioned trains run from Torokko Kameoka station to Arashiyama station, and offer superb views of the river and foliage along the way. We were about a week too early to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, but it was obvious they would be spectacular. The train ride is especially popular in the fall when the leaves turn, and the views are said to be even more amazing than they are in the spring or summer. Visitors can also take boat trips down the river in the summer and fall, and we saw a few traditional inns and restaurants on the river banks where visitors stop and/or stay to enjoy the scenery.

At Saga-Arashiyama station, our grandson enjoys a traditional Japanese treat, mochi dango. The balls made from pounded sweet rice

At Arashiyama station, our grandson enjoys a traditional Japanese treat, mochi dango. The colored balls are made from pounded sweet rice and served on a stick.

The Sagano bamboo forest walk begins just across the street from where the train ride ends. It’s almost like entering another world as you step on the path, and pictures really can’t do it justice. Even the light seems different. Gigantic bamboo stalks surround the path and whisper overhead as you walk toward town. The forest path ends at the main road through Arashiyama, and takes around 20-30 minutes or so to walk from end to end and absorb the scenery. Visitors are not allowed to leave the path without special permission.

The bamboo path through the Sagano forest. The fence is made from dried bamboo branches.

The path through the Sagano bamboo forest. The fence is made from fallen dried bamboo branches.

The bamboo towers overhead, swaying in the wind.

The bamboo towers over the path, swaying in the wind.

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The torii at the entrance to Nonomiya Shrine, located about halfway down the bamboo forest path. The twisted rope on the torii is a shimenawa and is hung with shide (folded paper). The shimenawa indicates that a place has been purified, and is also thought to ward off evil spirits.

You don't see trash on the ground in Japan. Trash receptacles are everywhere, and trash is sorted for recycling.

You don’t see trash on the ground in Japan. Trash receptacles are everywhere (the ones in Sagano are appropriately made of bamboo), and trash typically is sorted for recycling.

Arashiyama is a popular area with visitors, and there are many restaurants and shops lining the main road featuring Japanese specialities and locally produced goods. Before heading down the main road through town, our group stopped at a traditional restaurant and enjoyed a tasty grilled beef and tofu lunch, but other restaurants along the road offered tempura, soba and other dishes. After our lunch we wandered down the street, stopping along the way to admire the goods for sale. I did some shopping at one store that sold items made from local bamboo, and purchased some hand-crafted bamboo spatulas to bring home. There were also several snack shops along the road, some selling traditional treats such as mochi dango, others offering ice cream and other treats. Even though it was very cold the day we were there, I tried a sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream cone – delicious!). The main street also had numerous souvenir shops where we found some of the more exotic flavors of KitKat bars, including roasted tea and wasabi (both were very tasty).

Grilled beef and tofu lunch in Arashiyama

Grilled beef and tofu lunch in Arashiyama

Japanese restaurants often present their menu outside using realistic plastic models of the items. If you don't speak Japanese, you can take your waiter outside and point to what you want.

Japanese restaurants often present their menu outside using realistic plastic models of the items. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can bring your waiter outside and point to what you want.

Young Japanese women visiting Kyoto often rent kimono for the day, to create a more "Japanese" feeling while they visit the sites.

Young Japanese women visiting Kyoto and the surrounding areas often rent kimono for the day to have a more ‘Japanese experience’ while visiting the area.

We strolled the main road until we eventually reached the wooden Togetsukyou (‘Moon Crossing’) Bridge that crosses the Hozu River. Actually, depending on which side of the bridge you’re standing on, you may be looking at the Katsura River – the river changes names as it passes under the bridge from east to west. The Togetsukyou Bridge was first built over 400 years ago, and has been used many times as a location in historical dramas. The bridge is famous as an outstanding spot to view the cherry blossoms (or autumn foliage) that cover the slope of Arashiyama.

Togetsukyou Bridge

The Togetsukyou Bridge carries both foot and light motor traffic.

The weather changed abruptly while we were viewing Togetsukyou, with the already cold weather suddenly turning stormy. We quickly hurried back to Arashiyama station and caught a train back into Kyoto, stopping for one more short visit in the Gion district before heading back to our machiya rental to warm up before dinner.

It was still cold when we got to Gion, but the rain had stopped.

It was still cold when we got to Gion, but the rain had stopped.

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2 thoughts on “Postcard From: Arashiyama

    • Laura says:

      I’m kind of glad we didn’t go when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. It would have been beyond uncomfortably crowded. We could see the promise of what was about to arrive on the cherry trees, and got to enjoy the rest of the scenery and shops in relative ease. It is a beautiful area – I want to go back through the bamboo forest again!

      Like

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