Tourists have been coming to Arashiyama for 1000 years, so I absolutely had to have it on my must-do list when we first visited Kyoto. Arashiyama is a western suburb of Kyoto city and offers so many things to do focused on its natural beauty, local food and traditional culture.
During the Heian period, the nobility would take trips to Arashiyama during cherry blossom and autumn leaves season for outdoor tea parties and strolls along the riverbank. Not much has changed, it’s still popular as a weekend retreat today.
Take the local train from Kyoto station to Saga-Arashiyama, it only takes 10-15 minutes depending on whether you get the rapid or not and will cost Y240 each way.
There’s easily a day of exploring here so let’s take a look at my top 10 fabulous things to see and do in Arashiyama.
Table of Contents
One of the most photographed parts of Arashiyama is the bamboo groves and with good reason. The paths through the bamboo are peaceful and beautiful in the dappled light although much shorter than I had imagined them.
These groves are scattered through Arashiyama but the most well known seems to be the one behind Tenryu-Ji temple.
Oigawa River and Nakanoshima Park
The bridge across the Oigawa River in downtown Arashiyama is another well-photographed spot.
The hillside was pretty with the first buds of the cherry blossom on the hill but it would have been much more spectacular a week or so later. Even if you time your trip perfectly for cherry blossom you can’t be at every spot in peak bloom.
Tenryu-ji Temple was founded in 1339 and is the main temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of the Rinzai school of Buddhism (Zen). The gardens are a major feature of this temple particularly the Sogen Pond with its backdrop of Mount Arashi and Mount Kame. Cherry blossom is also particularly pretty with big crowds gathering under the weeping cherry trees.
Yudofu for lunch
There’s no shortage of great restaurants in Arashiyama but I particularly wanted to try a local specialty of yudofu, or tofu cooked in water. Drew was slightly less enthusiastic but he went along with it. I like tofu anyway but I really enjoyed it with the extra flavours and condiments. The pretty little garden in the traditional Saga-Torimoto street made it extra special. Consider putting it on your ‘try it once’ list.
Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple
Nembutsu-ji was founded in the 9th century by the monk Kobo Daishi who placed stone statues for the souls of the dead. Today the temple is home to thousands of stone statues. At the back of the temple is a short path leading through another bamboo grove.
This street is just before you come to the Nembutsu-ji temple and is preserved in the style of the Meiji Period. Many of the traditional Machiya (townhouses) have now been converted to shops and restaurants including the Yudofu speciality restaurant we ate at that day.
Gio-Ji temple is nestled back into the forest and is best known for its moss garden which is carefully tended to keep it weed-free. There were several ladies hard at work when we visited, presumably monks/nuns by their robes.
The entrance and small main hall have thatched roofs and the hall has a round window with a view back out to the garden.
It is perhaps too touristy for most travellers, but traditional Japanese rickshaws appear in many of the tourist areas. Young fit men pull them through the narrow streets but perhaps there is a reason why almost every other country has banned human pulled rickshaws in favour of motorised or pedal-powered. This guy certainly earned his pay that day pulling it up the hill, and they don’t even get a tip in Japan.
Jojakko-Ji temple is set on the mountainside and was founded in 1596. Steep stairs lead up the hillside and through the Niomon gate. From the top, there are great views over Kyoto and the moss and maple trees make it very pretty. It rained a little while we were walking through making the fresh bold green of the moss really shine.
The spring cherry blossom (sakura) or autumn leaves (Koyo) season is a great time to go to Arashiyama. Not only are the public gardens, temples and private homes filled with blossoms and coloured leaves but so are the surrounding hillsides. The trees are lit up along the riverbank in the evenings to encourage people to walk along and enjoy the short seasonal display.
If you’ve been to Arashiyama what did you enjoy most about it? If not what attracts you most to a destination when travelling? What sort of activities or locations do you enjoy?