Arashiyama (嵐山) (Wikipedia) is a lovely, nature-centric area in western Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185). Arashiyama is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons, and there are several events here throughout the year.
Arashiyama’s famous bamboo grove is the most well known feature in the area. Many small shops, restaurants and other attractions are found nearby, including Tenryuji Temple, the Togetsukyo Bridge and the pleasure boats that are available for rent on the river. Walk past the bridge and you’ll come across Monkey Park on Iwatayama. Keep going and you’ll find a remote temple and lookout post up on the mountain, buried in the forest.
TIP: Walk past the pleasure boats and the river narrows. The main path ends at a hotel in the forest where another path leads up to Daihikaku Senko Ji Temple. Stop before going past the hotel. The river is shallow here and perfect for swimming (May-Oct). Just mind the tour boats coming through from the rapids above. The water is clean.
North of central Arashiyama the atmosphere becomes less touristy and more rural, with several small temples scattered along the base of the wooded mountains. The area north of the Togetsukyo Bridge is also known as Sagano, while the name “Arashiyama” technically just refers to the mountains on the southern bank of the river but is commonly used to name the entire district.
One of the best and convenient ways to travel around the Sagano area is by rental bicycle, which are available near the train stations. (Although, if it’s super busy, it’s better to walk, and plan not to travel as much in one day.) Cycling through rural residential areas and past fields while traveling between temples can be one of the most enjoyable parts of a visit to Arashiyama. There is a preserved town area near the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple.
Arashiyama becomes most attractive (and busy) around early April and the second half of November when the cherry blossom and fall color seasons usually peak. During the summer months, traditional cormorant fishing is practiced on the Hozu River for tourists to watch. Lines are tied around the large birds’ necks, the birds dive into the water and catch fish, then are hauled back up. The line around the birds’ necks prevents them from both escaping and eating their catch. An ingenious method.
Another good time to visit is during December’s Hanatoro illumination, when lanterns line the streets and bamboo groves.
Hankyu Arashiyama for the south side of the river. Keifuku Arashiyama for the north side of the river. (Train Route Finder)
Ranked among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryuji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, there are gardens with walking paths. (Official Site | Wikipedia)
Daikakuji is a temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Formerly the residence of an emperor, the buildings were converted into a temple in 876. During its history the temple traditionally had members of the imperial family serve as the head priest. Beside the main temple buildings there is a large pond and a pagoda. (Official Site | Wikipedia)
This mountainside temple was founded in 1596. With small, attractive buildings and gates, the temple has a quiet and understated atmosphere. Maple trees and moss are located just beside the paths and stairs that lead across the temple grounds. From a number of spots, visitors can enjoy views over Kyoto. The main hall is currently being renovated through summer 2016, but a visit is still worthwhile. (Official Site)
Similar to Jojakkoji, Nisonin Temple is a hillside temple with slightly larger and more imposing buildings. A generally understated atmosphere on the temple grounds is partly due to the overhanging trees along approach. Founded in the mid 9th century, Nisonin is of the Tendai sect. There are views over the city from the upper grounds.
Gioji is even more nestled into the forest than Jojakkoji and Nisonin. It is known for a moss garden punctuated with tall maple trees. The temple’s entrance gate and small main hall have thatched roofs. The latter has an cute round window looking into the gardens.
Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple
Adashino Nenbutsuji is located at the end of the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. The temple was founded in the early 9th century when the famous monk Kobo Daishi placed stone statues for the souls of the dead here. Today, the temple grounds are covered by hundreds of such stone statues. In the back of the temple, a short path leads through a bamboo forest.(Official Website)
|Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple
A ten minute walk north of the similarly named Adashino Nenbutsuji, the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is famous for its 1200 stone statues of rakan, devoted followers of Buddhism, each with a different facial expression. Created relatively recently in the 1980s and early 1990s, the many statues stand across the temple grounds which cover part of a forested mountain slope. (Official Website | Wikipedia)
Activities & Events:
|Sagano Scenic Railway
The Sagano Scenic Railway runs seven kilometers from Arashiyama to nearby Kameoka, mostly alongside the pretty Hozu River. The trains travel at a maximum speeds of about 25 km/h during their 25 minute journey, so passengers can enjoy the scenery without it rushing by too quickly. (Official Website | Times & Fares | Wikipedia)
|Hozu River Boat Tour
Departing from near the JR Kameoka Station, the Hozu River Boat Tour is a leisurely two hour trip that takes passengers down the winding Hozu River to the Togetsukyo Bridge. The trip passes through forested mountainsides along the river and along some small rapids. The boats seat 25 people and are heated in the winter. (Official Website | Hozu River Wikipedia)
|Cormorant Fishing (Ukai)
July – Mid September
The Hozu River in Arashiyama is one of about a dozen rivers in Japan where ukai, a traditional fishing methods using cormorants, is practiced. Tourists can observe the action from paid sightseeing boat cruises or from ashore. Cruises depart from the boat pier near the Togetsukyo Bridge. (Hozu River Wikipedia)
|River Swimming 😍
Follow the path on the south side of the river, past Monkey Park. You’ll come to where the river narrows. It’s shallow and warm during the summer months, a perfect place to picnic and splash around.
Boat rentals can be made from either side of the river. Rentals are by the hour. It makes for a pleasant, relaxing and romantic way to enjoy the river.
|Hanatoro Fall Illumination 😍
The mountainsides next to the bridge and the bamboo groves are lit up for several days. Beautiful, and a great idea for a romantic date.
|Floating Lantern Festival 😃
Floating lanterns are decorated and set afloat on the south side of the river, starting at the Togetsukyo Bridge. They’re only in the water for a short distance, and the festival is popular, so get there in the afternoon to secure a seat on shore.