A Day in Arashiyama
A Day in Arashiyama
Note: The route I took was actually in reverse, as I walked to Otagi Nembutsu-ji directly from the train station (about a 2.7 km walk), and then backtracked. This is my “do over” route, and how I’d try to do it next time. However, it wasn’t so bad finishing my day at the Monkey Park, looking over Kyoto from the mountain top.
If you’re ending with the temple and are thinking of going back by bus to save time and energy, be aware of the bus timetables.
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On the map
…are the places I visited during my day in the Sagano Arashiyama area, and a suggested itinerary, as well as a couple of bike rental places to visit the further-out locations in case you want to ride a bike instead of walking or taking the bus.
Of course, there are many other things to do in Arashiyama Kyoto. At the bottom of the post, there are some additional temples and places you might want to consider visiting if you have more time.
If you want to skip to a specific part of the post, here are some links: 1. Saga Arashiyama Station 2. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama 3. Riverboats 4. Togetsu Cafe 5. Arashiyama Park Nakanoshima 6. Togetsu-kyo Bridge 7. The Kimono Forest 8. Miffy Sakura Bakery 9. Tenryu-ji Temple 10. Rilakkuma Tea House 11. Bamboo Forest 12. Sagano Toriimoto Preserved Street 13. Otagi Nembutsu-ji Temple. At the bottom of the post there’s a blurb about a few other things to do if time allows: Daikaku-ji Temple, Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple, Giouji Temple, and the Sagano Romantic Train.
1. Saga Arashiyama Station: The Start of Our Journey
You’re likely coming from the central part of Kyoto. If so, your journey will take you from Kyoto Station on the JR San-in line to Saga Arashiyama station. (Click here for Google timetables or here for the JR West timetables.)
The good news is that the ride isn’t too long — about 20 minutes — and that your IC card will work for this trip, including the Pasmo or Suica card you might have bought if you traveled to Tokyo before going on to Kyoto.
The bad news is that the train is likely to be crowded with other visitors eager to visit the bamboo groves, especially during prime hours.
It’s about a 15-20 minute walk to the (base of the) monkey park — there’s a station closer, but getting there from Kyoto station involves taking a bus as well…I found it easier just to walk the route. This path will be starting at the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, with the assumption that you’re getting there early and then backtracking.
However, you can do these things in any order you’d like. If you want to get to the bamboo grove during a less crowded time, you might want to go there early, for instance. Early morning bike tours of the bamboo forest and the Arashiyama Kyoto area sound enticing and, if I ever get back, would be something I would consider doing.
2. Kyoto Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Arashiyama Monkey Park opens at 9:00 AM and closed at 4 or 4:30 PM depending on the season, so if you’re starting your day here, prepare to get here at opening time to allow yourself to spend a full day in the area.
It’s also an excellent place to start your day as you’ll likely have more energy then — it’s a climb as the park is situated on a mountaintop where the many macaques roam freely. Visitors are reminded not to get too close, but if you want to feed the monkeys, you may do so from inside a building with a safety screen – making you feel that, perhaps, YOU are the one being watched here.
Anyway, human behavior is, to me, more interesting than monkey behavior. This is your chance to watch simian antics of all sorts!
Certainly, it’s fascinating to watch the baby monkeys put their little hands through the screen to grab food out of visitors’ hands.
The top of the mountain here offers expansive views of Kyoto and the Katsura river, so when you’re done watching monkeys (and humans) sit on one of the benches and look at the landscape.
3. Take A River Boat
After descending the mountain, you’ll see riverboats leaving from both sides of the Katsura river. I didn’t have time in my day to allow for a boat ride, but it seems that you can rent a boat from several places along the river. There’s also a riverboat lunch cruise that you can book in advance.
4. Stop For a Quick Bite
Mountains and rivers! If you’re tired, maybe it’s time to take a break. There are plenty of choices by the river, including many udon noodle places– too many to sample in one day. I stopped at the Togetsu cafe, which you’ll notice on the left after you cross the first part of the bridge onto the island in the river.
It’s a coffee shop with counter service, but an excellent place to stop and sit for a bit, get a matcha latte and a quick bite of tempura and edamame.
5. Arashiyama Park Nakanoshima
After (or, perhaps, before) getting a snack, stop at the large, lovely, park area on the island in the river. On a spring day, it was full of families with children on little bikes, people walking by the river, and cherry blossoms.
6. The Bridge
After having a bite to eat and enjoying the park, take a walk on the Togetsu-kyo bridge over the Katsura river and stop to appreciate the view of hillsides, riverboats, and water flowing over a small dam in the river.
When you get to the other side, you might want to stroll along the banks and look in a few shops. If you didn’t find a riverboat rental on the south side of the river, there are boat rentals on the North side of the river.
When I arrived in Arashiyama Kyoto, I had a vague plan in mind but didn’t even realize that the main town here is Nonomiya — a busy, bustling area that includes many shops, restaurants, as well as a large temple complex and the famous bamboo groves.
There’s plenty to do here — plan to allow some time to just wander around in shops, find a restaurant, sample some street food, or sample a couple kawaii (cute) desserts (see below).
And Owl/Cat cafes are not confined to Tokyo! The Arashiyama Forest of Owls and Leopard Cats has both. I didn’t visit because I’d had my owl cafe fix in Tokyo.
But, otherwise, here were my picks in Nonomiya:
7. The Kimono Forest
Bamboo can wait! Don’t miss the Kimono Forest, a human-made “forest” of colorful kimono fabric arranged inside transparent pillars, mimicking its natural cousin up the road.
Of course, the Kimono Forest is a favorite photo spot, both for the many women sporting kimonos (kimono rental operations seem to be doing a thriving business in Kyoto) and Instagrammers.
8. Miffy Sakura Bakery
If you think cute desserts and themed cafes are confined to Tokyo, think again! There are at least two places to get adorable desserts in Arashiyama, so save your appetite.
The Miffy Sakura bakery has a counter serving up Miffy-themed desserts as well as a gift shop offering all the Miffy merchandise you could want.
9. Tenryu-ji Temple
If you’re visiting Arashiyama for the bamboo forest, Tenryu-ji temple may not even be on your radar – but don’t miss it.
This expansive temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to large — and impressive — gardens. I wrote more about Tenryu-ji (as well as other Kyoto Zen temples) in this post.
10. Rilakkuma Tea House
Ready for some more kawaii sweets? Or even kawaii food after visiting Tenryu-ji? The Rilakkuma Tea House and Rilakkuma Honey Stand, right up the street from the Miffy Sakura Bakery has an outdoor counter serving up ice cream as well as an upstairs teahouse serving up Rilakkuma-shaped food.
Of course, there’s also a large gift shop for all the Rilakkuma merchandise you could possibly need.
11. The Bamboo Groves/Forest
The moment you’ve been waiting for, no? You’ve seen the pathways through lush forests of bamboo, tranquil and meditative. But if you come here during the prime hours of the day, you’ll be sharing the experience with the crowds of other people who also want to experience the bamboo groves.
Even so, that doesn’t stop everyone from having a mindful moment. I viewed a tall-modelesque woman standing still amidst the crowds, eyes closed, head raised as if in meditation. It looked to me like a moment in some film about a woman taking a solo journey and “finding herself.” I almost looked up to see if there was a drone overhead taking footage.
If I could to my day in Arashiyama over, I’d get to the bamboo groves earlier than I did. I’m sure it’s easier to take those lush pictures of bamboo without the crowds.
Another way you might get good photos is to hire one of the many rickshaws — they have their own, exclusive, path through the bamboo.
12. Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street
This is a bit farther out from Nonomiya, in the northern Sagano area. I walked up here to get to Otagi Nembutsu-ji temple, but “discovered” this street practically next door that makes you feel a bit like you’ve stepped back into earlier times in Japan (though you have to imagine away the modern cars).
However, if you want to get away from the crowds and want to go to Otagi Nembutsu-ji (highly recommended), stop here as well.
Getting to the Northern Sagano area where the street is located is approximately a 2.5km walk or bike ride from the bamboo forest — not too far (though I’ll admit, opinions of “far” differ.) Buses come and go hourly, so if you need to save energy, you might want to take the bus. The buses here have electronic signs inside with English spellings of stop names, so it’s easy to get around if you don’t speak Japanese. I found that the bus near here also went to Daikaku-ji temple, and ended up visiting that as well (see below), though it’s not on this one-day itinerary.
10. Otagi-Nembutsu-ji Temple
This temple has many moss-covered stone figures, and each one is unique. This was one of my favorite stops on my day in Arashiyama. I could have spent almost all day looking at them. I wrote more about this temple in my post about Zen temples in Kyoto.
Other Things to Do in Arashiyama Kyoto
Finally, it’s time to head back to town and to the train station (unless you’re lucky enough to be staying in the area).
This is plenty (maybe too much, depending on your pace) for a one-day itinerary. But if you have time, here are some other things to do in Arashiyama Kyoto:
Daikaku-ji is a Shingon Buddhist temple built in the 800s that was once an imperial palace. It’s worth seeing if you have the time, but I enjoyed my visits to Otagi Nembutsu-ji and Tenyru-ji more.
Giouji-ji is known for its moss gardens. I sought this one out, but somehow got lost and fatigued on the way and ended up following some fellow travelers and getting on the bus which took me first to Daikaku-ji and then back to Nonomiya. But if you have the time, it looks worth a visit.
This temple is known for its many memorial statues and is in the north area of Saga Arashiya, close to the preserved street. I had it on my “to-do” list; I can’t recall why I missed this one.
Sagano Romantic Train
I didn’t take the romantic train, so I can’t tell you how romantic it is, but the Arashiyama is beautiful, so I’m sure its a chance to take in some stunning scenery, especially during cherry blossom season.