6 things to do in Arashiyama, Kyoto
I just returned from a trip to Kyoto, Japan. Beautiful city, brimming with culture and quiet vibrancy. On my trip, I visited a place called Arashiyama. Arashiyama is a district in the outskirts of Tokyo that many tourists visit when in Kyoto, and for good reason. The area is mesmerizingly beautiful, plenty of fresh air and greenery. Perfect for cherry blossom viewing too, if you go during the right time. As far as I know, many prefer to make a day trip out of Arashiyama, but me? If I ever return to Kyoto, I’ll be making it a point to stay a day or two out there. With that said, here’s a list of my top 6 things in Arashiyama to do and/or see.
Togetsu-kyo is a famous bridge in Arashiyama, and is virtually impossible to miss. To get to pretty much all the other sights I’m about to mention from the Hankyuu line Arashiyama train station, one has to cross this bridge. And even if you do not, it is big enough that you will see it. The bridge was built during the Heian Period (which is, if I remember my high school Japanese history correctly, is somewhere from the late 700s to the 1100s). On one side of the bridge, there is a small park with sakura trees. Beautiful if you manage to visit sometime in April. Otherwise, the bridge itself is definitely still picture worthy, especially with the Arashiyama mountains in the background.
Kyoto is filled with UNESCO world heritage sites, and it’s easy to see why. Grand structures backed by so much history and culture, they should be protected. Arashiyama is known for one such temple – Tenryu-ji, ranked as one of Kyoto’s top five Zen Buddhist temples. While the buildings themselves have been burnt down several times, the gardens surrounding them have not. The landscape garden truly reflects Zen Buddhism in its serenity and simplicity. There is a central pond surrounded by rocks, trees (I believe they are pine trees) as well as the mountains in the back. Definitely worth a visit for those of you into architecture and scenery.
#3. Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
Along the main road, just after the entrance to Tenryu-ji, you’ll find another entrance that leads to the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves. Also one of Kyoto’s must sees. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it, but pictures don’t do it justice. Standing on a narrow path amidst a tunnel of sprawling bamboo is a unique experience in itself. Take a quiet stroll through the bamboo forest in the early morning, breathe in fresh air, look up at the early sunlight filtering through the bamboo, and let go of any worries weighing down on your shoulders.
#4. Iwatayama Monkey Park
Do you like animals? I know I do. Monkeys? Cute and cheeky little buggers. Arashiyama has an actual monkey park, Iwatayama Monkey Park. The park is located in the mountains, here’s a small admission fee, but once you’re inside, be prepared to hike a little up the mountain before you lay eyes on over a hundred Japanese macaque monkeys just freely roaming around. You can also buy food from vendors to feed them, but be sure not to aggravate them, as they are, after all, still wild animals. On top of that, you can also get a pretty amazing view overlooking the city.
#5. Ukai (traditional cormorant fishing)
Have you heard of a traditional fishing method called Ukai? If you spend a little time watching the Hozu River (it’s the river Togetsu-kyo is built over), you’ll see these birds called cormorants diving into the water and then resurfacing. Ukai is the practice by local fisherman using trained cormorants to hunt for fish. The practice has been around for over a thousand years, and while it is (unfortunately) dying out, you can still watch it happening right on the river itself. There are paid boat cruises for those who want an in-depth explanation of Ukai (cruises depart from the boat pier next to Togetsu-kyo), or you can also watch from ashore.
#6. Unagi donburi
Let’s be honest, no list is complete without food. Arashiyama is known for its’ eel dishes, so I made it a point to visit the best restaurant in the area for unagi, Unagiya Hirokawa. The interior is beautifully decorated in “Sukiya” (wooden architecture) style, and there is even a little garden that you can look into through full length glass windows from the inside of the restaurant. The menu? Eel, eel, and more eel. What I enjoyed most was the smoky charred flavour. The best eel I have ever had to date. The side dishes available are also very eel-centric.
I highly recommend the kimoyaki (grilled eel liver; pictured above) and koi no arai (half boiled fresh carp) for those of you who want to step outside your comfort zone. After a good hearty bowl of grilled eel rice, head down the street and pick up some refreshing yuba (tofu) ice cream to balance out your palate. Perfect.
The restaurant isn’t too hard to find – it is on the main road just further up from Tenryu-ji and the bamboo grove. Also, a small heads up – people queue for this restaurant. I myself queued for over an hour, and I highly suggest going just The restaurant isn’t too hard to find – it is on the main road just further up from Tenryu-ji and the bamboo grove. when it opens at 11am for those of you who want to maximize your time in Arashiyama.
Arashiyama may be a little out of the way for tourists staying inside the downtown area of Kyoto, but it is still a charming place that offers so much to see and do. The place is the busiest around early April (which is when I visited) and in November, when spring and fall colours appear, so for those of you photography enthusiasts, Arashiyama is definitely a must-visit. Have any of you visited Arashiyama before? Let us know what you think of it below!