Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 7: All Day in Arashiyama

November 29, 2016

The first time I visited Gion and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was last year, both when it was too late to see anything except for little Japanese yokai popping out of the shadows. Not the best time to visit. This year, a second attempt. Last night: Gion. First thing today: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

It is rush hour in Kyoto Station. I feel like I am in slow motion—everyone around me is a blur of  blue or black suits. But I am not the only one in slow motion, there are two little kids in school uniforms with matching hats and bags right in front of me taking their precious time chanting as they climb the stairs: 'Saisho wa gu, jan ken pon!' Sounds just like our own jak en poy! It is the same! They are playing rock paper scissors! I look for my platform and the kids disappear behind a jumble of slacks.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

I arrive in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. There are only a handful of people scattered along the path. Woohoo! This is close to those beautiful photos of the grove I have seen on the internet. I take in the serene surroundings and am thankful I got here before the busloads of tourists arrive.

There are many places to see in this area, not just the bamboo groves. Should I head south of the groves to recommended sites such as Tenryuji Temple and Togetsukyo Bridge? Or north to less visited sites? I pick north. (In hindsight, Tenryuji Temple and Togetsukyo Bridge would have been better visited early to avoid crowds.)

March to December 9AM to 5PM
January to February 10AM to 4PM
Admission fee: 250 yen

North then, to Rakushisha ("fallen persimmon hut"), a hut owned by Mukai Kyorai, a 17th century haiku poet. I have never heard of this guy before today. But I stop by the hut anyway because Matsuo Basho—him I have heard of—is Mukai Kyorai's teacher. And Matsuo Basho has visited this hut and composed some of his poems here. Maybe I can find my inner poet at Rakushisha.

I peek inside the hut and visit its small garden with bare trees, green grass, and poetic stones—stones engraved with poems, not only by Matsuo Basho, but by other poets as well. I sit on a bench and squeeze my brain for a haiku, but no haiku poem comes.


Inside Rakushisha


One of the engraved stones in the garden

Maybe one will come to me later. I leave the hut and walk farther north passing rows of trees dressed in autumn colors, a quirky shop or two, quiet homes, a neglected-looking shrine, restaurants, more shops, and then more houses...

The field in front of Rakushisha

Lots of tanuki here

A neglected-looking shrine

Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street

...and walk and walk until it seems I am transported back in time. The houses have turned ancient. I am now in Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street.

Adashino Nenbutsuji
9AM to 430PM (until 330PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 500 yen

At the end of Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street is Adashino Nenbutsuji, a temple said to have been founded by Kukai or Kobo Daishi. (This guy is great: he also established a monastery in Koyasan!) In ancient times, Adashino, the area where the temple is now, was where the dead were buried and stone statues were put there as gravestones. A creepy thought. Adashino Nenbutsuji now has these stone statues neatly arranged in lines. Very organized. Not creepy at all.

In Adashino Nenbutsuji, I find a path cutting through a bamboo grove. It is a short ascending path. Pretty. And quiet. And leads to a cemetery. A very, very quiet cemetery, that somehow gives me the creeps so early in the morning.

After visiting thousands of gravestones, I continue farther north, passing by many residential houses, until I reach a vermilion torii at a fork in the road. There is a tea house right behind the torii. A hot drink would be perfect right about now, but the tea house is still closed. I take the road on the right, which is the right road to my next destination.

8AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 300 yen

1200 stone statues greet me at Otagi Nenbutsuji. Each stone statue has a different facial expression and I busy myself peering into each face. Some make me smile, others almost make me laugh out loud, a number make me want to poke their cheeks and tummies. These stone statues are too cute! I wish I could take one home! These pleasant looking stone faces are well worth the long walk!

Can you guess which one is my favorite?

In half a day I have only explored the northern half of Arashiyama, which is technically Sagano. I go back the way I had come and step into いっぷく処つれづれ, one of the many restaurants I had earlier seen. It is time for some carbo loading.

Carbo loading

It is around 2pm when I find myself back at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, this time weaving through swarms of tourists. I must make my way to the end of the grove to get to Tenryuji Temple.

830AM to 530PM (until 5PM from late October to late March)
Admission fees:
Gardens 500 yen
Buildings 300 yen
Dharma Hall 500 yen (open on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays

There are too many people in this UNESCO World Heritage Site and I decide to just buy a ticket to see the gardens of Tenryuji. One might think I've had enough of gardens yesterday, but these Japanese gardens have the power to make me hand over my money.

Tenryuji's meticulously designed stone and pond garden is a pleasant picture. It is one of the oldest gardens in Japan and has retained the same form from the 14th century. Most awesome! But the crowds too are awesome in number that I do not stay for very long.

Tenryuji's Main Hall

Togetsukyo Bridge

I have to go to the south bank of Katsura River, and to get there I need to cross Togetsukyo Bridge, which literally means "Moon Crossing Bridge". It's not nighttime yet, but my face is as round as a moon, so it is quite fitting. Eventhough it is cold and windy, I do not hurry and stop every now and then to observe the boats and the birds.

9AM to 5PM (until 430PM from October to mid-March)
Admission fee: 550 yen (if you have a Kansai One Pass, you get a 100 yen discount)

The only reason I am on this side of the bridge is to visit my cousins at Monkey Park Iwatayama. What my primate cousins (and the woman at the ticket booth) did not tell me was that this 10-minute walk is uphill. I huff and I puff all the way to monkey territory. The monkeys are free to roam the area, bask in the sun, eat their meals on the roof of the rest house, enjoy the view of the city on the bench. While they are free to roam outside the rest house, we humans have to get inside if we want to feed them (monkey food is available for sale inside the rest house).

I'm inside the rest house, while this guy is outside begging for food

Lots of monkeys here, including monkeys in clothes :D

Do not disturb, eating ongoing

View of the city from Monkey Park Iwatayama

I have fed the monkeys. Now it is time to feed myself. I make my way back down and navigate the streets to the train station. Until I smell something delicious. I see a bunch of taiyaki turning golden brown. Drool! I stop and wait in line and can barely hold my saliva in. My turn comes and I order one chocolate and one matcha taiyaki. The guy looks at me like he can't believe I am such a big eater, but hands me the goods anyway. I happily bite into my taiyaki. Believe it mister!

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour
Nara: Day 4.5: Yoshiki-en, Todaiji, and Kofukuji in Nara Park
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Kyoto: Day 5: Rainy Day in Uji City
Kyoto: Day 5.5: Tofukuji, Kawai Jinja, Shimogamo Jinja
Kyoto: Day 6: Ginkakuji, Ryoanji, Ninnaji
Kyoto: Day 6.75: Gion Night Walking Tour
Kyoto: Day 7: All Day in Arashiyama (you're here!)
Kyoto: Day 8: Last Day in Kyoto
Osaka: Day 8.75: Dizzying Dotonbori
Osaka: Day 9: Osaka, Over and Out

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