Spring brings in the cherry blossoms; summer, the fresh greenery; a kaleidoscope of leaves in autumn; and a wonderland of snow in winter when the four faces of each season come to life in the popular tourist destination of Arashiyama in Kyoto. Alongside the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, the bamboo grove, Okochi Sanso Villa, and avariety of temples and shrines as must-see tourist attractions in the area, there are also experiences for foodies, hot-spring lovers, and culture junkies. While you could easily spend days in the area, reserving a day for Arashiyama on your trip to Kyoto is highly recommended.
Words and Photography: Yuriko Ishii
Located 30 minutes by foot from Arashiyama Station on the Hankyu line in southern Arashiyama is Nison-in Temple in north Sagano. There are a number of places to check out along the way, making it a whole day’s worth of sight-seeing fun as you stroll and stop on by. For those so inclined, there are a number of shops around offering kimono rentals if you wish to try out the popular trend of donning the traditional garment to walk around the streets.
Arashiyama’s iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge
The Togetsu-kyo Bridge stands proudly over the Katsura River flowing gently below it. This landmark is symbolic of Arashiyama and is the perfect place to start your walking tour of the area. The bridge (literally “moon-crossing bridge”) is said to have been named in the Kamakura period when the then Emperor Kameyama (who reigned between 1259 – 1274) noted that the moon appeared to cross the bridge as he sailed on the night of a full moon. The handrails on the bridge are made of wood to blend into the beautiful surrounds of Arashiyama, while the piers and girders are made of reinforced concrete. For a great way to see the bridge, rent a boat and sail down from the upper area of Katsura River.
Shrines and temples surrounded by nature
A tour of the many shrines and temples in the area is a must on any visit to Arashiyama. Tenryuji Temple was constructed in 1339 by Takauji Ashikaga to pray for the repose of Emperor Go- Daigo with Muso Soseki appointed as the temple’s first chief priest, and is also a recognised World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The temple features Sogenchi Garden, the first location to be designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan. The elegance of period-style tradition intertwines in perfect harmony with the Zen culture in this garden and invokes different ambiences throughout the year through the seasonal changes from the cherry blossoms and azaleas, to the beautiful greenery and winter landscapes. Be sure to check out the impressive Cloud Dragon painting on the ceiling of the Zen Meditation Hall while you’re there!
Nonomiya Shrine is also another spot to add to your list. The deity Nonomiya is enshrined in the main shrine, with the deity Atago (protector of fire and victory) in the right shrine, and the deities Shiramine Bezaiten (protector of arts), Shirafuku Inari (protector of childbirth and business), Oyama Bezaiten (protector of traffic safety and wealth), and Nonomiya Daikokuten (protector of marriage) in the left shrine. Located in the leftmost area is the Turtle Stone, which is said to grant your wish within a year if you rub it
while you pray.
A mystical bamboo grove path and Okochi Sanso Villa
The symbolic path stretching through the bamboo grove from Nonomiya Shrine to Okochi Sanso Villa offers a 200-metre-long leisurely stroll to soak up the mystical atmosphere of the surrounds. Bamboo plants reach straight up towards the sky on either side of this path, creating a breathtaking air of sheer beauty and wonder. Okochi Sanso Villa was originally the holiday home of famous period-film actor, Denjiro Okochi (1898 – 1962). He spent the last 30 years of his life searching for eternal beauty, gradually building his classical Japanese-style circuit garden. Beautiful seasonal trees, such as pines, cherry blossoms, and maple trees are found around the Daijokaku (main house) where the old-capital atmosphere can be enjoyed, before hiking over to the tea house to be greeted with a view of the Hozu River’s gentle current stretching across below.
Enjoy delectable delights, shopping, and art
The western exit at the front of Arashiyama Station is lined with famous Kyoto establishments. Within the free-flowing station, free of ticket gates, are two-metre-tall poles wrapped in Kyotoprinted silk, covered in acrylic, and lit up with LED lights. There
are 600 of these poles placed around the station to create this “Kimono Forest” of mystery that has become a popular hot spot. With the number of restaurants and stores around, the area is always bustling with people.
The Arashiyama area puts on a show of eye-catching wonders throughout the year, the pink, spring views of the cherry blossoms in full bloom (late March to early April), and the gorgeous autumnal leaves (mid-November to early December) are the best of the best. Try dropping by popular sightseeing destinations during the morning to beat the rush of fellow tourists when you’re in the surrounds.