Words and Photography: Yuriko Ishii
Gaze upon cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, a kaleidoscope of leaves in autumn and a snowy wonderland in winter at Kyoto’s Arashiyama, a popular tourist destination famous for its vibrant display of Japan’s charming four seasons. This aesthetic district also offers many experiences renowned for beckoning foodies and culture junkies.
Nison-in Temple is in north Sagano, which can be accessed by a 30-minute walk from Arashiyama Station on the Hankyu line. Along the way, there are countless tourist sites to check out, filling your day with sightseeing fun as you stop and stroll by. For those determined to embrace the full experience, a stroll around Arashiyama in a Kimono (traditional Japanese garment) may sound attractive, as kimono rental stores in the area have been trending lately.
Arashiyama’s Iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge
One of the first places you’ll want to visit on your Arashiyama walking tour is the Togetsukyo Bridge, a symbolic landmark of Arashiyama, which proudly stretches across the gently flowing Katsura River. The bridge is said to be named based on an ancient tale where Emperor Kameyama (who reigned between 1259-1274) attended a boating party during the Kamakura period. On the night of the full moon, he said the “moon appeared to cross the bridge”, hence the name “moon-crossing bridge”. The handrails on the bridge are made of wood to blend in with the scenic surroundings of Arashiyama, and the piers and girders are made of reinforced concrete. For a more profound view of the Togetsukyo Bridge, rent a boat and sail down from the upper area of Katsura River.
Shrines and Temples Embraced by Nature
Shrines and temples are labelled as must-see destinations when visiting Arashiyama. Take Tenryu-ji Temple for example. Constructed in 1339 by Takauji Ashiga to pray for the repose of Emperor Go-Daigo along with Muso Soseki as the first chief priest, Tenryu-ji is no ordinary temple. The temple is a World Heritage Site listed as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Behind the temple’s Hojo (abbot’s chamber) lies a garden that harmoniously intertwines elegant Ocho (Dynastic) traditions with Zen culture. The garden encompasses pleasant views of seasonal changes throughout the year, from cherry blossoms and azaleas to beautiful greenery and winter landscapes. Another must-see feature is the famous Cloud Dragon painting on the ceiling of the Zen Meditation Hall. Nonomiya Shrine is also an unmissable spot. The god of fire and victory is enshrined on the right side of the main shrine, while the gods of entertainment, childbirth, business, road safety, financial fortune and good marriage are enshrined on the left. On the far left is the sacred stone ‘Okame-ishi’ (turtle stone), which is said to grant wishes within a year if stroked while praying.
Mystical Bamboo Grove Path and Sublime Okochi Sanso Villa
The serene Bamboo Grove Path, an elegant pathway stretching 200 metres from Nonomiya Shrine to Okochi Sanso Villa, is one of Arashiyama’s most iconic tourist attractions. Visitors can take a relaxing stroll along the lusciously lined bamboo pathway and be surrounded by soaring bamboo stalks. The breathtaking beauty of the Grove is often described as being otherworldly. Okochi Sanso Villa was originally the holiday home of famous period drama actor Denjiro Okochi (1898 – 1962). Before passing away at the age of 64, Okochi spent the last 30 years of his life searching for eternal beauty. His discoveries are embedded in the Japanese-style circuit garden, which he gradually put together over the years. You can enjoy the quaint scenery of the former capital from the Daijokaku (main house), where beautiful seasonal trees such as pines, cherry blossoms and maple trees add lively colours to the seasons. You will also be wonderfully greeted by the view of the Hozu River’s gentle clear stream once you reach the tea house.
Enjoy Delectable Delights, Shopping, and Art
Inside Keifuku Randen Tram Line’s Arashiyama Station, a free-flowing station with no gates, 600 cylindrical poles dressed in vibrant Kyo-Yuzen (Kyoto printed silk) are lit up with LED lights to bring traditional Japanese beauty to the railway line. The magical view of the clustered kimonocovered pillars has given the place the name “Kimono Forest” and has become a highly visited tourist destination. With many restaurants and stores around, the area is always bustling with people.
The Arashiyama area puts on a show of eyecatching wonders throughout the year. While all seasons show unique seasonal delights, the blushing pink spring views of cherry blossoms in full bloom (late March to early April) and the eye-catching display of autumn leaves (mid-
November to early December), are known to be unforgettable. Try dropping by the popular tourist spots in the morning to beat the rush of fellow tourists when you are in the area.