Arashiyama is a district and mountain 10 km away from the Kyoto city center. It is both an “Historic Site” and “Place of Scenic Beauty” officially designated by the government of Japan. We took a city bus to the main stop in Arashiyama and spent the day visiting the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayana, the Buddhist Tenryu-ji temple, the Arashiyama bamboo grove, Okochi Sanso, the former home and garden of Okochi Denjiro, a famous garden lover and samuri actor from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, and Kameyama park.
After we got off the bus and oriented ourselves, we started with a hike, straight up the mountain through the jungle to get to the monkey sanctuary. And it was serious jungle: hot and humid and clammy all at the same time.
I kept up a pretty quick pace because the jungle seemed like a high-risk, bug location, and I didn’t want to pause and risk getting bitten, but that meant quite the climb up the hill. I was pretty hot and tired when we came out of the jungle at the top of the slope. For the most part, the monkey sanctuary was an open, unfenced compound in a clearing with monkeys and sanctuary employees everywhere. In the center was a caged building, where people could buy peanuts and bananas and feed them to the monkeys outside the cage. Those monkeys were pretty aggressive, grabbing their treats and demanding more, and there were lots of instructions everywhere about how not to provoke the monkeys. Generally, zoos and other animal enclosures leave me with a sad and uneasy feeling, but I think the Arashiyama monkey sanctuary does a good job of putting the monkeys’ well-being first, and I enjoyed our visit.
After visiting the monkeys, we hiked back down the slope and crossed the river. We walked through the main village to our next stop: Tenryu-ji which is famous for its gardens. Before we even made it to the temple compound though, we came across a lotus pond in full bloom.
Tenryu-ji, like many of the temples we visited, really is a large compound of many buildings surrounding one main temple. And in this case, also many gardens surrounding one main garden. We visited the main garden and temple, but also walked around to some of the other smaller gardens and outbuildings. The gardens are internationally known for being some of the nicest Zen gardens in Japan, and I could really tell by the quality of the facilities that the temple is benefiting from a lot of tourist money and interest. It was busy when we visited but not unreasonably so, especially compared to some of the other sights we visited in Kyoto. We chose to first walk around the gardens and then enter the temple.
It was really interesting viewing the garden first at the same level as the ground and then again but elevated on the veranda of the temple. For only being a few feet difference, it really changed the perception of the garden. I conferred with Pretty Boy and he agreed: it just felt different, a different energy being a few feet above the garden, rather than right down in it.
We had to remove our shoes when we entered the temple, so walked around the veranda and along an enclosed path to a neighboring building in our socks. All of the “no shoes” places we visited in Japan were so remarkably clean. I loved it and was completely comfortable in my socks!
We entered Tenryu-ji through the front entrance that faces the Arashiyama village and exited through the back entrance that led right into the Arashiyama bamboo grove. The Arashiyama bamboo grove was one of the things at the top of our list to see while in Kyoto, so we were really happy to make it there! It ended up being a long enclosed path through the middle of a very dense and tall bamboo grove. The path on both sides was lined by tall, dense fences, and I was kind of disappointed about the fence. I wanted to see the ground, maybe run between the dense bamboo, stop Pretty Boy from trying to scale a bamboo or two. But I guess the groves might not withstand that kind of treatment at the hands of hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. But fence or no, the bamboo itself was quite stunning. What we could see over the top of the fence, it looked like the groves just kept going in all directions, and even though it was such a bright and sunny day, we couldn’t see any sunlight laterally between all the bamboo trunks. It was cooler in the shade of the bamboo, and we were grateful for the respite from the sun.
At the other end of the path was the estate of the late Samuri actor, Okochi Denjiro, now open to the public to view. The estate gardens were established and expanded over the actor’s lifetime into the huge estate that it is now. The Okochi Sanso is much less popular of a tourist attraction and was therefore much less crowded when we visited. And interestingly, we only saw three other groups of visitors were all Caucasian.
The garden layout also had a very different feel from the other gardens we visited. Everything was dense, the paths more narrow and winding. We had to duck under trees and gates and weave around huge shrubs and bushes in order to follow the walking path tour of the whole estate. The estate was laid out in patches where the path went under dense covers of greenery, but in between, the path was exposed in intensely, sunny clearings.
After Okochi Sanso, we walked through Kameyama park to get back to the river and bus stop so we could head back to the hotel. By that time, I was pretty exhausted and hot and wasn’t so sure how much more walking and sight seeing I’d be able to handle. I’m really glad Pretty Boy convinced me to climb to the top of the hill at Kameyama park: the view at the top was amazing and is quite iconic. In several picture slide shows I’ve looked at since our trip, the view we had of the Oi river from the top of Kameyama park has shown up in a few Kyoto, Japan, and general travel slide shows. And we were able to photograph the cutest little neon colored lizard on the path too!
The walk down from Kameyama was much easier that the walk up. We caught a bus back into Kyoto, and after a long, long day, we made it back to the hotel for dinner and rest. The details of the next day, our last in Kyoto, are in my Kyoto post. Up next, a overview of all the tasty food we ate in Kyoto!