By Cathy Cawood
Arashiyama is located on the outskirts west of Kyoto. Since the Heian Period a thousand years ago, nobles would come to visit to enjoy its natural surroundings. Not highly regarded as a stop for westerners but one where you will find throngs of Japanese tourists. Generally, I find that to be a good indicator of a quality place to visit.
Accessible by several trains, Arashiyama is, in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in the world! If you are to go here (and you should) it is a must that you visit during koyou (leaf changing) season which for this area peaks in mid November.
I found its beauty so captivating that on my first ever visit here, I canceled plans that I had later in the week in Kyoto to not just return but return twice in one day.
By day the view of the koyou, aided by the natural sunlight brings out the minute details and multiple colors that one tiny leaf holds. Basking in all its natural glory. Coupled with backdrops of moss covered rocks, tiny shrines nestled within the mountain sides and even central Kyoto off to the far distance makes for a most aesthetically stunning experience.
One of the most attractive vantage points for koyou viewing is Okochi Sanso. A former home to period actor Denjiro Okochi, spanning over 30 years to build its seemingly endless grounds contain meticulously kept gardens designed to show off the four seasons, a tea room and other buildings. Admission is 1,000 yen. and includes a bowl of matcha and a sweet.
Return when the sun sets where many of the temples and shrines stay open late and through out its grounds, tiny lights are situated just so on its leaves and benches are strategically placed so that one can sit underneath a starry night sky and pay homage to the sacred leaf upon sacred grounds.
Not much more in my life has been so profound an experience than sitting on one of these benches with a cup of tea in hand and a fixed gaze upon these tiny leaves gracefully & poetically making its dissent as does slow rolling tears from my eyes.
Adjacent to Okochi Sanso are the famous bamboo groves. An astounding display of bamboo forestry where again visiting both by day and night will give a strikingly different experience. When I had walked through here at night there had been a full moon. The light of the moon beaming through the forests and a nothing but the sound of the fall breeze rustling the bamboo leaves way up top left me with an eerie but peaceful calm.
From the forest to the main streets of Arashiyama you will pass Tenruji Temple. If you are not tired and would like to experience more picturesque beauty then you should stop in. Built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji this temple is a registered world heritage site and head temple of its own school of Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.
There is a beautiful garden with a koi (carp) filled pond that overlooks the mountainsides and is breath taking. Admission is 500 yen
If you are still not too tired walk further down where you will find more food stalls and the wondrous Togetsukyo (Moon Crossing) Bridge built during the Heian period and holds a further panoramic view of the gorgeous mountainsides.
Whether you plan on traveling to Kyoto for the first time or making a return trip take time out to travel if but for a day to Arashiyama and experience beauty, elegance and tranquility personified.
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Japan has left an indelible mark on my heart and soul. From the films of Mizoguchi Kenji to the culture of tea I am an avid consumer of anything related to the Japan of old and generally focus my travels and experiences within this realm. The culture of tea has so profoundly changed my life that it moved me to start my own online Japanese Green Tea business www.zenjicha.com where I import high grade tea from Uji! I also sell small handmade products that I have found around Japan and have built relationships with these warm and gracious people. I reside in New York and would love to hear from anyone!