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After spending an hour and half walking through the famous tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, we decided to head to Arashiyama district. We spend only half day in Arashiyama, but managed to accomplish 6 things leisurely and in no rush.
How to get to Arashiyama Kyoto
Arashiyama is a pleasant tourist district located in western Kyoto. The easiest way to get there is by JR Sagano (also known as JR San-in) Line from Kyoto station to JR Saga-Arashiyma station. Both the local and express (or limited) line are located on platform 32-35 close to each other. The local line makes about 6 stops, while the express line will reach JR Saga-Arashiyama station in 3 stops. The ride takes about15 minutes and cost about 240 yen.
Half day in Arashiyama – 6 things to do
A whole day is more desirable for Arashiyama – there are so many shrines and temples to visit, and there is the mountain and the river. It is just a very lovely area to walk around and explore. But we had only half day here, accomplishing six things easily and leisurely, in the order I described below.
1) Visit Tenryu-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage site
From JR Saga-Arashiyma station, it took us about 12 minutes to walk to Tenryu-ji (FYI the word “ji” in Japanese means temple). Founded in 1334, Tenryu-ji is ranked first of Kyoto’s five great zen temples. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Entrance fee is 500 yen per person.
The temple’s buildings were repeatedly destroyed in fires and wars over the centuries, and most of the current halls were rebuilt during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). But Tenryu-ji’s garden survived the centuries in its original form. This magnificent garden is a real testament to the timeless nature of Japanese landscaping. It has a central pond surrounding by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains.
2) An exquisite vegetarian meal at the Shigetsu restaurant inside the temple
Shigetsu is a large temple style vegetarian restaurant located inside Tenryu-ji. It serves traditional Japanese buddhist cuisine called shojin-ryori. The restaurant is open only during lunch between the hours of 11am and 2pm. We made the reservation on its website and reserved the cheapest course (3000 yen) for all five of us (including the kids). The food was plenty and remarkably good!
3) Walk through the bamboo forest located just outside the temple’s north gate
After lunch, we walked through the temple’s garden and reached its north gate. Located right outside the gate is the bamboo forest. Free for entrance, the bamboo forest is probably the town’s biggest claim to fame and one of the most photographed sights in Japan. Its small windy paths are guarded by tall bamboo on both sides, creating an otherworldly atmosphere that remains calm and peaceful no matter how busy it gets.
The best time to visit the bamboo forest is early morning or late afternoon on weekdays as fewer visitors are expected. We were there after lunch around 1pm on a Sunday, strangely it was not crowded at all.
4) Take a lazy stroll along the river
After the walk through bamboo forest came to an end, we turn left to the road and followed the path that led to the riverfront. It was quite a pleasant stroll! You can ride the boat, or rent a canoe, or simply walk along the river and soak in all the fresh air and beautiful scenery. It is not hard to imagine why so many people come here during the spring cherry blossom season and the fall season.
5) Walk across the Togetsukyo bridge
Nicknamed the “moon crosing bridge”, Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama’s most iconic landmark. The wooden bridge spans across the river in front of the Arashiyama mountain, offering spectacular views particularly during the cherry blossom season and the fall season.
6) Climb up the mountain to Iwatayama Monkey Park
After walking across the bridge, you will find Togetsu Cafe to the right just by the river. Behind the cafe you will find a traffic light and a sign directing to the entrance to Iwatayama Monkey Park. It takes about 20 minutes to hike from the entrance to the top of the mountain where the snow monkeys can be found. Be warned, it is a real hike up!
There you have it. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, we managed to do six things leisurely over half day in Arashiyama area. The main tourist area in Arashiyama is quite compact, If you’d prefer not to walk, you can always hire a rickshaw to take you around. Or best yet, you can rent a bike and cycle through the area. Bike rentals can be found just outside the JR Saga-Arashiyama station.
If you only have half day in Arashiyama, you can still accomplish a lot. But if your itinerary allows, definitely allocate more time to enjoy this beautiful part of Kyoto. My other favorite restaurant Otsuka is also located in this area not far from the main entrance of Tenryu-ji Temple.