With so many things to see and do in Kyoto, it’s hard for travellers to pick and choose what to put on their itinerary. As such, it’s a good idea to maximize each day of your travels by picking attractions that are near to each other. One such area just outside Kyoto where this sort of planning is possible is Arashiyama – Storm Mountain – where there are countless things to see and do. Follow this ready-made plan for an unforgettable day trip out of Kyoto!
Getting to Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a thirty minute drive outside of central Kyoto, but the best way to get there is by tram. The ‘Randen’ Train is the only street car in Kyoto and has been operating since 1910. From Shiji Omiya where the train starts, it’s roughly 22 minutes to stop A14, Arashiyama Station. The trams run every ten minutes during the day and is reasonably priced at 210 Yen for adult tickets and 110 Yen for those aged 6 to 12 years old. However, if you plan to extend your day trip by visiting other nearby sites, purchase a special day pass for 500/250 Yen which allows you to ride all day long.
Day Trip Morning Plan
You don’t need to get up super early to follow this route, but the earlier you go, the more you’ll get out of the day. Suppose you’re on the Randen train by the reasonable time of 10:15, you’ll arrive within plenty of time to visit a few scenic spots before lunch.
On leaving the Arashiyama station (passing by countless food stalls, souvenir shops and ice-cream stands) head towards the Bamboo Grove Road just a short walk away from the station (turn to the right on exiting the station, the Bamboo Grove Road is up on the left.) Stepping into the grove you’ll be plunged into relative darkness – the towering stems reach up high into the sky and sway to and fro whether there is a breeze or not. Intermittent beams of dappled sunlight sparkle on the ground as the formation shifts – it’s a very atmospheric place and you’ll likely see at least one or two groups of girls clad in geisha costumes, having their photographs taken against this moody backdrop.
Enjoy a peaceful walk up through the forest – if it’s busy and crowded and you long to escape from all the other tourists, don’t worry – you’ll soon be out of the crush. Up ahead is Ōkōchi Sansō (Ōkōchi Mountain Villa), the former home of Japanese actor Denjirô Ôkôchi, whose stunning gardens have been turned into a public attraction. Don’t be put off by the 1,000 Yen entrance fee – the peace and tranquillity is well worth the cost, especially if you’re desirous of getting away from hordes of other day-trippers. Bite the bullet and splash out – take your time wandering through the manicured style of traditional Japan, and don’t forget to stop off at the tea house for your complementary cup of green tea.
On exiting the garden you can either walk back the way you came through the bamboo grove, or take the path to the right which will lead you down a steep hill with views towards the Oi Gawa River. At the bottom, turn left and follow the river up to the bridge.
Day Trip Lunch Options
The best place to get a spot of lunch is near the station. There are lots of restaurants and stalls that line the main road from the river up to the station, so have a look around and see what’s available. There is much less choice once you cross over the bridge so I suggest lunching before commencing with the afternoon plan – we visited during holiday time and pretty much none of the restaurants were open on the other side of the bridge, so at the risk of going hungry, grab something near the station!
eX cafe 京都嵐山本店, Foursquare.com
Day Trip Afternoon Plan
One of the things that Arashiyama is best known for is its monkey park. The Iwatayama Monkey Park is located on the other side of the Oi Gawa River. Cross over the Togetsu Kyo bridge and turn to your right; the steps leading up to the monkey park are on the left.
Priced at 550 Yen for adults and 250 Yen for kids aged 4 – 15, the monkey park is a delight for all the family, especially if you haven’t seen these animals in the wild before. The park usually houses about 170 monkeys which roam free within the grounds. You can buy food in the hut and feed them nuts, apple and banana from the safety of being behind bars – an unrivalled experience as their oh-so-human fingers stretch out and take the food from your hand.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk up to the mountain top, and the monkeys are so funny to watch that you can easily spend and hour and a half in the park, at least. There is a children’s play area for entertaining the little ones if they get bored of the monkeys… as if! Be careful to observe the rules and regulations that ensure the safety both of yourselves and the monkeys. A visit to the Arashiyama Monkey Park is a unique and enchanting experience.
Optional Extras for a Longer Day Trip
Following the above route, your day trip will likely be over by mid afternoon. However, if you decide to make more of a day of it, there are several other options for things to see and do near by.
Near the Arashiyama station there are countless souvenir shops selling handmade crafts, local foods and a plentiful number of omiyage to delight your co-workers with. Shopaholics could easily spend an hour or two browsing the wares and relaxing in a cosy tea house. Also near the station is the ‘Station Foot Bath’ where you can enjoy a hot spring experience while waiting for your return train. Unusually, you have to pay for use of this facility (foot baths are often free to the public) but at only 200 Yen (with a towel included) it’s hardly extortionate. You can also see the ‘Kimono Forest’ – the beautifully decorative cloth used in traditional Japanese costumes have been framed inside plastic tubes, lining the pathway like a multicoloured bamboo forest.
If you want to extend your trip by doing more outdoorsy stuff, I recommend switching the plans around so that you do the monkey park in the morning, and then the bamboo grove and actor’s garden in the afternoon. From there, you’re on the right side of the river to continue up through the hills to many more scenic spots and ancient sites. If you turn left out of the actor’s garden (rather than right to the river or straight back through the bamboo grove) then it will take you up over the train tracks and to the tourist spots beyond.
Up in the hills there are countless temples to visit, such as Jojakko Ji, Nison In, Takiguchi Dera and, further afield, the Adashino Nenbutsu Ji, where 8,000 hauntingly beautiful statues of Buddha memorialise the souls of the dead. (From the Bamboo Grove to Adashino Nenbutsu Ji is about a 20 minutes walk away and looks like a bit of a hike, but well worth it.)
If you’ve had enough of the Arashiyama area and want to make the most of your Randen Train Day Pass, there are plenty of things to see back along the way. On the A line (red line) there are several shrines and temple you can stop off at, and if you change to the B line (blue line) at Katabira no Tsuji (A9 / B1) then you can go to places off in that direction too. Aside from temples and shines, there are numerous cherry blossoms in this area, and getting off at B7 you can walk up to the World Cultural Heritage Ryoan Ji, which has a splendid ‘dry’ garden with white sand and stone formations.
For returning, if you have enough hours left in the day and fancy ticking something else off your list, head on over to the famous Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavilion). Rather than taking the red line back to Shijo Omiya, take the blue line to the end and from there it’s only a 15 minute walk up to the site.
Now that I think about it, there is really so much more to see in Arashiyama than a simple day trip can cover! Isn’t that always the way? But I tend to think it’s better to leave a place having a few things left that you didn’t get to do, rather than thinking to yourself ‘That’s it… I have no need to ever visit this place again.’ Arashiyama is a beautiful part of Kyoto, with much to delight those who enjoy nature, untouched beauty and the wonder of traditional Japan. Even if you’ve only got a few