There are places and things in Japan that everyone raves about. You’ve probably heard the following words countless times from your friends and the people you meet in Japan: “Oh, you’ve gotta see this!”, or “you haven’t tried *insert food* yet? You simply have to!”
Understandably it can have a negative effect on your own perception; Hype can be the most potent extinguisher after all. Expectations can be set impossibly high as a result of everybody else’s glowing recommendations. Trying that sushi from that particular restaurant at that moment when the stars are correctly aligned isn’t going to lead you to the elixir of eternal life, as much as that seems to be the case if you listen to everybody else.
However, there are certain spots, certain foods, certain experiences that do live up to the hype. Arashiyama is one of them.
Nestled at the northern most point of the ancient city of Kyoto, it sits within perfect view of the mountains and hills that bear its name (Arashiyama, or ‘Storm Mountain’). The easiest access point is to take the Hankyu Kyoto train line to Katsura from Osaka, then change to the local line that leads you further north.
Upon leaving the station, you are instantly surrounded by the mountain ranges and the Oi river (and not to mention the normally substantial amount of foreign and Japanese tourists). Crossing the Tugetsukyo bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge) over the Oi river then takes you to the town itself.
You can feel the old culture running beneath the surface, but these days Arashiyama is peppered with gift shops, some laden with cheaper goods for the budget conscious tourist, others with slightly more expensive but ultimately more fascinating glimpses into the old Japanese way of life. Alongside these and the many tea shops, cafes, Ice cream vendors and other little amusements, there is one real standout place in Arashiyama. The thing that make it “Really That Good!”
As you wander along you will come across the Bamboo Grove. It’s entryway is obscured by masses of people and an insanely popular ice cream and confectionary stall, almost as though it were reluctant to be discovered. When you do penetrate the throngs of ambling tourists and rickshaws for hire and make your way past the shops that line the small pathway, you reach the Grove itself.
It truly is an incredible sight. The narrow passage is lined with towering poles of bamboo that sway and occasionally snap against one another. Sound itself seems to become lost, absorbed into the sea of green. If you are so lucky as to find you self one of the few people in the Grove (during the winter in particular), it’s as though you are in some other world. It really is a place to lose yourself; to forget all of your worries; to really connect with not only Japan, but with yourself.
Of course, there is so much more to Arashiyama, too much to really detail in one small article. The Matsuno Taisha shrine; Okochi Sanso; The Torokko-Saga railway line; the Iwatayama Monkey Park; all of these are available for you to see and experience in Arashiyama.
However, it is often said that the greatest things are the ones that you find without ever suspecting, and it is not for any one person to tell you what you should enjoy. As with any place or experience, one place may be more poignant or captivating to you than it is to another. Remember, sanctity does not lie in any one object or place, but in what you bring to it. Just in my own eyes, the Bamboo Grove amongst all of the other incredible places and experiences is what allows Arashiyama live up to all the hype.