I have been living in Kyoto for six months now and, as anyone who has lived in a tourist destination for long can tell you, famous sightseeing areas quickly become less and less interesting. Sure, the temple of the Golden Pavilion is breathtakingly beautiful. But after you’ve strolled around the tiny garden for the nth time and taken the mandatory “reflection of the temple in the lake” photo, there is not much other excitement to be had there. A similar story can be applied to most temples and shrines.
With that said, there are a few sightseeing places in the world that are more than just beautiful views and interesting background stories. Places you can visit time and time again and not tire of. Places that offer a more genuine experience than one of those “must have a picture with me in it” kind of places. Arashiyama is one of those places.
Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto with everything the city has to offer, but in a smaller, more picturesque package.
The thing I love to do most there is to walk in Arashiyama’s bamboo grove. It is both magical and a little bit scary at the same time. No matter what time of day you enter the grove, it’s dark. Not a darkness that requires any light, but more of a mysterious, hazy darkness. It also always feels like there is a slow breeze in the bamboo trees, no matter the weather outside. It is really hard to explain this fairytale-like feeling you get from walking there, but let me say this — if ghosts do exist, I know that they are thriving here.
This mysticism of the bamboo forest is sadly lost many times due to the thousands of tourists who seem to be there for the sheer enjoyment of annoying you with their humongous cameras and incredibly slow walking pace.
I believe the most enjoyment can be had here in the low season, or really any time when the grove is next to empty. If you get stuck in a wave of tourists, though, I know of a hidden gem to escape to. If you walk a while into the forest, you come to a hill. Continue straight at the first house you see until you come to a cross-way. If you continue left here, you will come out of the grove and up a hill with a small playground on the side. Keep on climbing this hill and you will reach a small vantage point. This vantage point has the most amazing view you can imagine. You can spot large, majestic mountains crammed with leaf tree forests separated by a river flowing calmly into the horizon. It is like the nature you see here was arranged for a beautiful painting, rather than the opposite.
So yes, Arashiyama is my number one recommendation in Kyoto. And even if you didn’t find anything written above appealing, there is so much else to do here. Everything from Japanese “mandatory nude” hot springs to excellent street food vendors can be found just a stone’s throw away from Arashiyama’s centre.
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