Along a river in the West of Kyoto lies Arashiyama, a rural suburb of Kyoto. Literally “Storm Mountain”, Arashiyama is actually a tranquil place where you can wind down and relax in a beautiful natural setting.
Arashiyama has its fair share of temples, or else it wouldn’t be Kyoto, but you might want to skip having a closer look and instead just stroll along the countryside lanes near the hillside to the northwest of Arashiyama.
These countryside lanes lead you through rice fields and bamboo forests and along the way you pass by some craft shops and cafes.
This is a most pleasant way to observe the scenery and watch the locals go about their business. Discovering Arashiyama at leisure like this can easily take you a whole day.
The heart of Arashiyama centers on Togetsu-kyo (Crossing Moon Bridge), which is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in spring and for maple leave viewing in autumn.
As the name suggest, the bridge might also be an ideal location for watching a glorious full moon in September. Since the Heian Period (794-1192) Japanese have enjoyed tsukimi (moon viewing).
During other seasons this wooden bridge in traditional architecture is nonetheless scenic against the backdrop of mountains on either side of the flowing water.
Organizers of pleasure boat tours have their piers on either side of the river near Togetsu Bridge. The broad river is also a good place where you can observe night-time cormorant fishing in summer.
The first stop of most bus tours to Arashiyama is Tenryu-ji Zen temple where the main attraction is not the temple building but the temple garden. A fee is charged just for visiting the garden but this is not something that deters Japanese garden connoisseurs who happily splash out the money. Some people prefer to view the garden from the terrace of Tenryu-ji and they swear that this is actually the best view.
If you have overdosed on visiting temples in central Kyoto, then skip Tenryu-ji and just make your way around the garden to its back where you will find a large bamboo groove.
Tall bamboo stalks slightly swaying back and forth and bamboo leaves rustling in the wind, this is the image and sound that best fits Arashiyama.
Most tour groups race through this peaceful place but it is worth a slow stroll with frequent stops to admire the gracefulness of the bamboo plants.
Having passed through the bamboo groove, a country lane runs along the foot of the mountains. Strolling along this lane you will pass by Jojakko-ji Temple first, followed by Nison-in Temple and finally Gio-ji Temple.
These temples are open from 9:00 to 16:00 all year-round. Visitors can enjoy the temple grounds nestled in the mountain side for a fee of yen 400, 500 and yen 300 respectively.
Don’t expect grandeur or anything exceptional; these small temples are rather unassuming and understated and their main attraction is the setting amidst the greenery of the forested mountain slopes.
Administratively, Arashiyama is the place in the south of the river while Sagano is the name of the area north of the river. To add to the confusion, the river that flows through the area is called Katsura River east of Togetsu Bridge and Hozu River west of the bridge. However, for touristic purposes the whole area is referred to as Arashiyama.
Walk along the river towards the south and you will come to a rather odd temple: its main attraction are crickets. Suzumushi Temple is the perfect place for lovers of these little creatures.
Come with your family, partner or friends for a relaxing day out in this leafy suburb of Kyoto. Arashiyama is worth a visit during all seasons, just avoid the stormy days...