Okochisanso garden became a worthwhile trip before I’d even made it there. To reach this traditional garden on the outskirts of Kyoto, you walk through the world famous Arashiyama bamboo grove. Even though it’s packed with tourists, the bamboo grove is a visual delight; perfect for getting you in the mood for Okochisanso. The late afternoon sun filtered through the foliage and the sounds of cicadas and rickshaws made for a charming atmosphere. I had to make it to the garden before closing so I couldn’t stay, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Entry into Okochisanso costs a thousand yen, which includes tea and a small cake at the end of your walk round. Okochisanso is the former home of jidaigeki (period film) star Denjirō Ōkōchi, who starred in films by famed directors like Akira Kurasawa. Compared to the bamboo grove there are very few visitors despite their proximity; my friend and I encountered perhaps three or four other groups during the hour or so we were there. A walk around Okochisanso takes you from one scenic area to another, via steep and narrow rock paths. A beautiful moss garden gives way to a tranquil tea room; a stunning mountain view leads onto an impressive panorama of the city. The garden is immaculately kept, with almost as many staff as visitors. The walking route is one-way, and easy to follow thanks to frequent arrow signs. I would definitely recommend a late afternoon visit before the garden closes at 5pm, as the sun hangs low in the sky and shrines through the leaves and branches, casting long shadows over the moss lawns and walls of the traditional buildings. The garden is a photographer’s dream, with a consistent traditional Japanese aesthetic but enough variety therein to keep you drawn in. The highlight for me was cresting the hill at the top of the garden and walking into an amazing vista of forested hills, with a small traditional building as the only irregularity in a sea of green. The relaxingly cool room at the finishing point of the walk is a great place to sit and look out onto the garden, contemplating what you’ve seen. The cold green tea is refreshing, and served in an old-style bowl as soon as you sit down. The evening walk back through the bamboo grove is a perfect end to your peaceful visit to a beautiful Kyoto garden.
If you’re looking to beat the crowds and get a look at some authentic Japanese gardening, it doesn’t get much better than Okochisanso. The place exemplifies zen, and is worth the entry fee for the walk up through the bamboo alone.