Japan, Japan 2016

Japan 2016: Arashiyama & Kyoto

We’re continuing my mini tour around Japan – after visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima, I moved on to Osaka, which makes a great base for visiting Kyoto.

arashiyama - marceline smith

While I’ve enjoyed my previous two visits to Kyoto, I find it quite tiresome as it’s hard to get around and mobbed with tourists and tour groups. I would still like to see some more of Kyoto’s big sights some day but this time I mostly skipped Kyoto for nearby Arashiyama.

arashiyama - marceline smith

I arrived at JR Sagaarashiyama station, which is a short walk from Tenryūji. There is a charge to get in, but you can choose either the temple or garden, or there’s a discount for both. Since it was mega hot that day, I chose both so I could stay out of the sun for a while. There’s lots to explore and lots of places to sit and contemplate the garden.

arashiyama - marceline smith

There are a variety of short walks that give you views around the pond and it’s always surprising what new things you can see from different points. It’s what I love most about Japanese gardens. It was very hazy and overcast, which isn’t great for photos.

arashiyama - marceline smith

I spent quite a while trying to photograph this butterfly – they move so fast!

arashiyama - marceline smith

The garden leads out to the famous bamboo grove where the plants seem impossibly tall. The grove is free to visit and always rammed with people which kind of ruins the atmosphere. It must be lovely without the crowds. It’s more enjoyable off the main path where you can hear the wind swishing through the bamboo.

arashiyama - marceline smith

After ticking those off, I went to the little Arashiyama station to book the Sagano Scenic Railway, a traditional old train with wooden seats and open windows that takes a scenic route along the river. It’s recommended to book in advance at busy times if you want to get a window seat and not end up standing in the aisles. I planned to visit the Gioji moss garden until the train left but after walking the seemingly endless paths in blazing sunshine I couldn’t handle it any more and retreated back to the station. If the weather is more helpful, there are lots of incredible looking gardens in the area.

arashiyama - marceline smith

I ended up with one of the best seats on the train – for the first bit the left side gets all the good views but then the right side has it for the majority of the journey. If you can speak Japanese, it’s worth asking to be on that side. You can move around the train to take photos but it’s much easier if you’re already in a good spot.

arashiyama - marceline smith

This was definitely my highlight of the day as the scenery is amazing with lush forests, bright turquoise waters, rapids, kayakers, bridges and a short pause at a tanuki themed station. The whole experience was just fun too, with the sound of the wooden train and the breeze through the windows. I took a little video of it too – don’t you feel relaxed now?

On the Sagano scenic railway, Arashiyama

At the end of the journey it’s a short walk to the JR station (though I thought I would die of heatstroke as there’s zero shade on the way) where I caught the train back to Kyoto (getting a seat before all the people coming back from Arashiyama!). I had hoped to visit a few places in Kyoto but spent way too long trying to find Poyon-ya (the bunny themed shop I’ve visited on both previous trips) before accepting that I was in the right place and it’s gone. So sad!

How to get there

Getting to Arashiyama from Osaka is really easy. The Shinkansen takes just 15 minutes to Kyoto but there are also local and rapid trains that don’t take much longer so I just jumped on the first one going, thanks to my rail pass. After that, it’s a bit of a hike across Kyoto station to catch the JR Sagano Line for Kameoka or Sonobe getting off at Sagaarashiyama. There are maps at the station, which have all the temples marked.

The Sagano Scenic Train runs hourly from 9am – 4pm and is closed regularly so check before you go. You can book seats at Arashiyama station near the bamboo grove – either one way or return. When you get off at Torokko Kameoka station you can walk to the JR station at Umahori to get back to Kyoto.

There’s lots more to see in Arashiyama too including the monkey park, Togetsukyo bridge  and a preserved Meiji period street so I would like to return in cooler weather.

If you want ideas for Kyoto, there are quite a few in my Planning For Japan guide.

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