This post was queued for publishing in March but the COVID-19 situation was getting worse at that time so I held off. The situation is still bad but I realize that life should go on as well. I also learnt that talking about travel also help me stay hopeful. So here we go with an article about one of my favorite places in Japan.
If you plan to visit Kyoto and Kansai area, a place you should place in the itinerary is Arashiyama. It has beautiful scenery, moss gardens, temples and accessible mountain view, all of which can be seen in an one-day trip.
Thinking about the Arashiyama summer trip in June 2014 always put a smile on my face. It resembles a scene in anime, the Japanese animated movie, where you see children in summer days running and discovering nature in forests and mountains freely. And I really thought “This is truly summer” when I first stepped out of Arashiyama JR train station, seeing blue sky and sunshine.
Arashiyama is a small town at the western part of Kyoto. From Central Kyoto, you can go there easily by taking JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama station. There are three stations in the town so you have other options as well. One thing to note is the logistics of carrying luggage during the trip was easy as there are many lockers at train stations. If I recall correctly, Saga-Arashiyama station doesn’t have lockers so depending on the route you take, you can look up for a station with available lockers before reaching Arashiyama. It is much more enjoyable to travel light for the reason I’m about to mention shortly.
Exploring Arashiyama on feet is relaxing and pretty doable in one day. But if you want to maximize your time there, the quickest and most fun way is to use bike to quickly zip between places, especially along Hozu River.
Bicycles are available for rental right next to Arashiyama train stations. There is something to be said about zipping around the town on your bike and suddenly find yourself at a strange, breezy and beautiful corner of Arashiyama. Getting a copy of Arashiyama map and you will be set for a memorable experience. Yes, I think using a paper map is much better than your phone. And there is a sense of exploration about riding a bike and using paper map whenever you wonder at a new corner.
There is a digital cycling map for you to plan the trip ahead.
Daihikaku (Senkoji Temple)
This is a temple with the spectacular view of Arashiyama. Though Senkoiji is not in the top list of must-see temples, the view from it is amazing on photos. I was motivated to cycle along Hozu River and climb the mountain to contemplate the view by myself.
One of the most popular places for tourist in Arashiyama is the bamboo forest. Bamboo is a common scene in rural areas in Asia. What is special about the one in Arashiyama, I think, is its density and how the path runs in the middle of the forest. These make the scene more photogenic from various angles.
Something not everyone know was that the bamboo forest is pretty large and there are many areas where you can see this. The beginning part has a wider view but only when you reach the end that you start seeing the forest getting thicker. We actually found an area where the bamboo forest is quite thick and no one else was there. Unfortunately, it was too thick to take any well-lit photos inside the forest. It definitely felt much more immersive than others.
Moss garden at Gio-ji temple
I am a sucker for Japanese gardens. Having seen the rock garden in Ryoan-ji, I was eager to see the moss garden in Gio-ji. Being overwhelmed in a greenished moss garden is to say the least. I was lucky to visit Gio-ji in a sunny day. After being in many touristy spots, I stepped into a totally different world and my eyes were fed with the most greenish color ever. Even the amazing photos I saw online were just the under-representation of the actual scene.
I have been a train lover ever since I went to Japan in 2012. The romantic train seems worth a try next time I visit Arashiyama. The landscape of the region is gorgeous and the train really allows you to enjoy the nature at a comfortable pace. It is a popular activity in spring and autumn, but not so much in summer when I was there.
For someone that like rock and moss gardens, temple hopping in Arashiyama really took most of my time and it was worth it. There was almost a temple around the corner. Describing it like this might make it sounds like going shopping. It isn’t not. But the thrill was real.
If you like Kyoto, you probably will fall in love with Arashiyama. It is like Kyoto’s mini version with all the best fun packed for you. Here is one of my favorite photos taken at Hozu river to end the article. Stay safe and we’ll talk again soon!