On the western outskirts of Kyoto, lies the district of Arashiyama (嵐山), a designated Historic Site (史跡 shiseki) and Places of Scenic Beauty (名勝 meisho) of the Monuments of Japan (記念物 kinenbutsu). Let’s take a closer look at this wonderful district, immersed into nature.
Description of the Arashiyama Area
The Arashiyama district has conquered a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people, with its unspoiled natural beauties. At the center of Arashiyama is the landmark bridge Togetsu-kyo (渡月橋), the “Moon Crossing Bridge”, that is able to offer great scenic views of cherry blossoms and autumn colors throughout the year. To the north of the bridge thickly forested mountainsides drop steeply to the Oi River beneath, which then becomes the Katsura River, conventionally after the Togetsu-kyo. The district also houses the Tenryu-ji, the Iwatama Monkey Park, the Matsunoo-taisha, and of course, the long bamboo forests pathways. Let’s see in detail everything that Arashiyama has to offer.
The Tenryu-ji, or Tenryu shiseizen-ji, is the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. This temple is a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, according to the Monuments of Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site among the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
Another great attraction of the Arashiyama District is the Iwatayama Monkey Park, inhabited by over 170 Japanese macaque monkeys. The monkey here can be fed with food bought in the park store as the monkeys appear to be very docile.
The Matsuno-taisha is a Shinto shrine, 1.3 kilometers south of the Arashiyama district. The shrine dates back to the year 701 AD and is one of the oldest shrine in the Kyoto area.
The bamboo forest paths of Arashiyama are probably the most famous attraction of this district of Kyoto. Stretching between the Tenryuji temple and the Nonomiya shrine, some of the paths are up to 500 meters long, but one of the best spots that are usually suggested to visitors is located after the entrance to the Tenryuji temple, where the bamboo groves grow further apart and the feeling of tranquility provided by this forest becomes overwhelming.
Another popular attraction of the Arashiyama district is not exactly a landmark, as it is the Kameoka Sagano Scenic Romance Train, or Torokko Train. The rails being built in 1889, this is a 30 minute trip that offers the travelers a great view of Arashiyama, particularly during the viewing seasons, such as during the Sakura Blossoms or when the Autumn colors conquer the mountain.
Festivals in Arashiyama
The Arashiyama discrict of Kyoto, so immersed in unspoiled nature is clearly a perfect setting for matsuris and other festivals, making for perfect folklore experiences of Japanese traditions. There are three main events to be seen in Arashiyama: the Momiji Matsuri, the Mifune Matsuri and the Ukai Cormorant Fishing.
The Arashiyama Momiji Matsuri, or Maple Festival, is usually celebrated in November, and it takes place close to the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. In this particular matsuri, many people dress in 10th-century court costumes and perform traditional dances, music and plays on boats sailing on the Oi River.
The Mifune Matsuri takes place in May and is quite similar to the Momiji Matsuri, but it is organized by the Kurumazaki Shrine close to the river. In this event each boat has a particular function, such as reading poetry, perform music or carrying the shrine’s mikoshi.
Ukai cormorant fishing is a japanese traditional fishing method consisting of having cormorants (diving birds) catch river fish, this takes place by the evening light, on illuminated small fishing boats, providing a surprisingly romantic setting.
Getting to Arashiyama
Getting to Arashiyama from Kyoto is fairly simple, there are several ways you can take and none will take you more than 30 minutes:
- From Kyoto Station, take the JR Train Sagano/San-in Line to Saga/Arashiyama Station, from there it will be a 10 minute walk.
- Also, from Kyoto Station, you can take the Kyoto City Bus #28, getting off at the Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae stop.
- From downtown Kyoto all you have to do is get to the Katsura Station, from there you will be able to take the Hankyu Arashiyama Line, to stop at the Arashiyama Station.
The Arashiyama discrict in Kyoto, is one of those places in Japan where time feels still and one can simply enjoy the nature, taking long walks and breathing fresh air, there are also several stands selling food in secluded areas, that just have to be tried, and you won’t regret it!