An Ideal Blissful Day in Arashiyama, Japan

lady wearing kimono standing in the middle of bamboo grove Aat Arashiyama

A day trip to Arashiyama wasn’t on our priority list. Because when I hear or read too much about a particular place, I question if it is too touristy. But the bamboo groves were too gorgeous to be ignored. As I researched more while eating my vegetarian burger at Lottera in Kyoto, we decided to give it a try.

Thank god! I wasn’t stupid enough to skip Arashiyama – Because it is beyond the bamboo forest and has some amazing hiking trails.

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Is Arashiyama worth it?

A visit to Arashiyama can become the highlight of your Japan Trip!

It is Kyoto minus all the buildings, adding a wider river and more mountains with many trees. There are shrines, hiking trails, boat rides and zen food. And many things are here for free of cost. A hike to the well-preserved village where actual Japanese people live is a great way to meet local people beyond tourists. Or even to feel like part of a Japanese anime themed in a village!

The town is sparsely dense, with landscapes different from what you see elsewhere.

Why is Arashiyama famous?

Bamboo groves are synonymous with Arashiyama. Most people make a trip to Arashiyama solely for this. Indeed all of us want to behold the most beautiful sight. So it makes Arashiyama famous. The crowd follows the famous. Hence you find a lot of tourists in Arashiyama.

Does it mean you are going shoved and pushed here?

Before going there, I was sincerely worried about getting caught up in a situation like “Hallstatt of Austria.” Hallstatt and Arashiyama are equally popular. The difference between visiting the two most famous tourist spots is – Chaos in Japan is organized, and we went during off-peak season. We had one whole day and could wander in and around the grove many times to have a place with less crowd.

Plus, Arashiyama’s beauty stretches beyond the bamboo forest. So, we believe you shouldn’t skip your trip to Arashiyama just because it is famous.

How long to spend in Arashiyama?

In any given place, spending at least two nights is better. Saying that, we mortal vacationers with a limited number of offs can’t stretch days longer. Staying in Kyoto for six nights, we made a day trip to Arashiyama and felt quite content with it.

So anywhere between a day or two is good to explore Arashiyama by feet beyond the bamboo groves.

Best time of the year to make a day trip?

Photo by topcools tee on Unsplash

The hills around Arashiyama are like a colour wheel in Autumn. So, visiting Arashiyama from September to December 1st week is best. I would avoid Arashiyama in Sakura season – No doubt about its impeccable beauty of it. If I could see that many tourists in December, I can’t imagine how crowded it would be in December.

How to reach Arashiyama from Kyoto?

Arashiyama is located less than 10km from Kyoto. Hence getting here is super easy. So don’t bother to book a taxi or take a private tour which costs you a fortune. Instead, take a train or a bus, based on your convenience.

How much is the train from Kyoto to Arashiyama?

There are two types of trains.

  • JR Sagano line: The 15-minute train journey will cost you less than 250 yen. JR Pass holds well on this line.
  • Sagano scenic railway: The 25-minute ride is more experience-based than the regular commute. If you are in peak autumn, taking Sagano scenic railway is a great idea to see mountains full of colours. Mind that it costs more than 800 yen per person for one way journey.
  • The Keifuku Randen Tram Line – The purple tram line that runs on the outskirts of Kyoto goes to the train station of Arashiyama near Tenyurji temple. The tram doesn’t leave Kyoto station. So you must catch a bus to Hankyu Karasuma Station and then shift to the tram.

Kyoto to Arashiyama by bus

We opted for city bus number 28 from Kyoto city station to Arashiyama, which takes almost 40 minutes – Honesty, we had been riding trains and metros until then. So taking the bus to Arashiyama was frankly to experience a bus journey in Japan. Plus, it goes through the Kyoto university area. So we could see some of Kyoto’s “non-touristy” neighbourhoods filled with Pachinko slots.

Amazing things to do in Arashiyama.

1. Walk on the banks of the Katsura river and Togetsukyo Bridge.

The bridges are meant to connect either side of a river bank. Togetsukyo Bridge bridge does the same with river Katsura with aesthetics.

First of all, the locality of the river with a bridge itself is pleasing. Though it was the second week of December, autumn foliage dotted the forest around. The chilling wind got colder on the river bank by the river. The water level wasn’t higher, and the banks were cosy enough for us to lie down for a while under the sun.

The name Togetsukyo translates to “Moon Crossing Bridge,” and it’s said to have been given this name by an emperor in the 13th century, who noted that the moon’s reflection on the river resembled a bridge crossing it. The current bridge was reconstructed in 1934 but still maintains its traditional design and aesthetic.

2. Try vegetarian Temple Meals at Shigetsu.

It had been Ashrith’s food bonanza throughout the Japan trip. It isn’t that I starved to death – There was veg food for me in Japan – I mostly ate Italian for meals and 7/11 bread rolls for breakfast. So I was craving one authentic Japanese meal, which is veg.

Here at Shigetsu in Arashiyama, my dream came true, my stomach was full, and my soul was healed with a delicious and healthy vegetarian authentic Japanese meal on our day trip to Arashiyama.

The restaurant is in a traditional Japanese building that overlooks a tranquil garden, creating a serene and relaxing atmosphere perfect for enjoying a delicious meal. You sit on the floor of a Tatami mat – So it is divinely delightful food.

But it’s not just the ambience that sets Shigetsu Tenryuji Restaurant apart – it’s the food. The restaurant specializes in shojin ryori, a type of vegetarian cuisine that’s traditionally served in Buddhist temples. The dishes are visually stunning, incredibly flavorful, and satisfying despite being completely meat-free.

What is Zen in food?

We are no culinary experts. So we didn’t know what zen food was. But we can tell you it is healthy, simple yet good-looking, has lots of Tofu and is delicious.

When the waitress got the starters with many pastes/dips, we wondered how to eat them! Don’t worry, here at Shigetsu, they come with a booklet in which someone has nicely sketched each dish that you will be served with an explanation of the ingredients. Thankfully it even shows if you eat something with your hand or chopsticks. If that booklet wasn’t there, surely I would have dipped my Tofu sauce with rice- Believe me, when you use sauces wrongly in Japan, it upsets the chefs and waiters!

Is Shigetsu Arashiyama expensive?

Each meal set we took (one soup and five side dishes) cost us 3500. So lunch for two cost us 7000 yen – This is the most expensive meal we had in Japan. But it is worth it. It isn’t just for what you eat – but for the experience as a whole. Mind that the restaurant is open from 11 am to 2pm only. After walking on the river bank/ town and before heading to Tenyutji temple, have your meals here and go ahead.

3. Visit Tenryuji Temple – a world heritage site.

A Buddhist temple built in the 14th century is one of the most famous Buddhist temples. Zen monks consider it one of the five holiest temples of Kyoto. So, the beautiful temple’s magic amplifies with the chants that you here, as many monks live here.

What to See at Tenryu-ji

Apart from the religious significance, the unique feature of the temple is a large painting of Bodhidharma! Indeed, it surprised me to see Bodhidharma here because he was a south Indian prince who turned into a disciple of Buddha and spread Buddhism across China! Never expected to have a little south Indian connection here at a temple in Arashiyama.

The giant painting is visible from the courtyard itself at the entrance. So you need not enter the temple to see it.

But my favourite part of the temple complex remains the garden. Unlike typical Japanese gardens, this is huge! The beautiful garden landscape features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains.

I wished I was there in Autumn peak to have a kaleidoscopic treat. To cheer me up, there were many birds. Especially a giant stork stood and went on fishing in the pond.

Tenryu-ji Temple admission fees.

There is an admission fee to enter the temple premise. So we bought an entry ticket to the garden only and wandered outside the temple, on the premises, before heading to the bamboo forest.

The admission fees per one adult costs (as of December 2022)

  • Garden only: 500 yen
  • Tenryu-ji Garden and Buildings: 800 yen
  • Other halls + gardens + other temple buildings – 1300 yen.

4. Lose yourself in the iconic bamboo forest

When you look at google search results for the Arashiyama day trip, at least the first 10 images show you a bamboo grove that seems too perfect to exist. The Arashiyama forest is home to towering bamboo stalks that rustle in the wind, creating a symphony of sounds that’s both calming and invigorating. Or spooky, if you are the only tourist there!

Bamboo creates a canopy on the top, and a minimum amount of light penetrates, creating a hypnotic atmosphere. Usually, we keep our sight straight and walk ahead. But you may want to walk for a few seconds at least here with your heads held up – Don’t blame me if you feel dizzy.

Is Arashiyama Bamboo Forest a tourist trap?

It depends on how you take it. In our view, it isn’t a tourist trap but a unique landscape which you get only a few places in Japan. The Arashiyama bamboo grove in which you can walk around is 200m, and the rest of the area is fenced, where tourists aren’t allowed to enter.

How long does it take to walk through Bamboo Grove?

The grove is just 200m long. But I am warning you – it is one of the most famous spots in Kyoto (or even Japan?). So there will be a lot of tourists. So go early in the morning if you want to take pictures alone because the TikTokers and Influencers will take over the pathway. And avoid post-lunch. Evenings are better for strolling and not great for photographs.

Or go during the off-season as we did in December. Spend much time here instead of just waiting to get that “photo for the gram.” Because it is fun to watch how crazy tourists can go here and forgets the world to take a perfect photo.

How do I get to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove?

Saga Arashiyama station, where JR lines stop, is a kilometre walk from the grove. We chose to enter the forest through Tenyurji temple from Arashiyama town. Irrespective of your chosen path, you will walk at least 500m to the grove.

How much does it cost to go to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove?

Arashiyama bamboo is open 24hrs, and there are no entrance fees.

5. Hike along Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street

The best part of our Arashiyama day trip was our hike from the bamboo forest to Otagi Nenbutsu ji temple. The hike was in the plan, but we were totally unaware that we would be walking in one of the most beautiful villages in Japan.

The area is quaint and makes a nice stroll. There are signs in the area directing visitors to different sights and back to Saga-Arashiyama station. A 4km one-way walk is easy and involves walking on straight paths with little slope.

History of Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street.

During the Edo period (the 1600s-1860s), Saga Toriimoto was a bustling commercial hub, serving as a stop on the famous Tokaido Road that connected Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo). The area was known for producing textiles, particularly silk and cotton, and many merchants and craftsmen.

What is special about this Street?

The hike begins at the bamboo forest and takes you through the woods and a small pool. Probably 5% of tourists who come to Arashiyama bamboo forest walk 4km to the Saga Toriimoto. So all you hear is bamboo rattling, birds chirping, and leaves rustling.

As you wander down the narrow road, lined with traditional machiya townhouses, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to another era.

What are Machiya houses?

Machiyas are traditional urban houses of the Edo period with wooden facades and delicate latticework on the windows. The sliding doors adorned with intricate designs will make you feel like you’re walking through a living museum.

I felt like I was the main character in Ghbli’s movie, especially Totoro – A girl walking to her home in a Japanese village.

But don’t be fooled by the antique appearance of this street – there are plenty of modern flairs to be found here as well. Because most of these houses are occupied – It isn’t an open-air museum. Everything that happens in any Japanese village happens here. The postman comes and delivers letters on his bicycle. Cafes and shops receive goods in a minivan. Some houses are converted into shops with quirky and creative goods by the local artisans who call this street home.

There are many cafes – most of which were closed in December 2023! I am not sure of the reason – It may be because it was December and a non-tourist season. Or it could even be Post Covid effect.

What to see along the Saga Toriimoto hiking trail?

You come across several shrines along the way. But, remember, most of them have a hefty entrance fee.

  • Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji temple – We wanted to visit this temple because it has 1200 unique and whimsical statues covered partly in moss until we reached the temple gate, only to realize the entrance fees are 400 yen/person.
  • Gio-Ji Temple – Another interesting temple you can add is Gioji temple which is famous for its moss garden. Mind that the moss garden remains lush green during peak autumn and summer.

6. Take a stroll through Kimono Forest.

The Keifuku Randen tram line’s station at Arashiyama has the craziest installation ever – There are cylinders a bit taller than human size wrapped with Kimono fabric, creating a unique pathway around the station.

While the Kimono Forest might seem like a whimsical art installation, it actually has a deeper meaning. The installation was created as part of a revitalization project for the Randen tram line, which runs through Arashiyama. The pillars of fabric are meant to evoke the feeling of a forest, a nod to the area’s natural beauty. At the same time, they pay tribute to the traditional textiles of Japan, which have been woven into the country’s cultural history for centuries.

Visiting this during day time is less interesting than you do it after dusk – These cylinders get lit and are a great way to end your Arashiyama day trip.

Places in Arashiyama that aren’t worth your time.

Hailing from India, we have seen enough monkeys. But, of course, there is a difference between the Japanese macaque and the Indian rhesus monkey. Seeing Japanese monkeys in the Nagano snow forest is fascinating since it is one of a kind. But not in the gardens of Arashiyama.

Many bloggers talked about Arashiyama street food. And we were excited about it. However, after gobbling various things at Matsura Dori street of Gion in Kyoto at an affordable price, the similar overpriced food of Arashiyama was underwhelming. But I am sure we couldn’t have asked for a better zen food experience than Shigetsu.

Found our blog on the Arashiyama Day trip interesting? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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