In recent years the bamboo forest in Arashiyama has grown and grown in popularity among foreign visitors and even ranked as their number one sight in all of Japan in some survey I saw on TV a couple of years ago. Having never really had any interest in the bamboo forest, I didn’t recognise the name Arashiyama when I hopped on a bus from Kyoto Station. The fact that it was packed with tourists and I had to stand up the whole way really should have alerted me that I was en-route to somewhere popular! I was quite taken aback at how crowded and touristy it was though!
Once I’d disembarked, I could see Togetsu-kyo Bridge (above) and I then set off in the opposite direction to get a bus to the place I really wanted to go. Otagi Nenbutsu Temple (08:00 – 17:00) was my destination and thankfully there is a bus which stops right outside it. The temples principle image is 1,200 carved stone figures of Rakan (the disciples of Buddha) which look like they could’ve been unearthed having been hidden for centuries!
However, they are actually fairly modern as they were sculpted by worshippers from various parts of Japan between 1981 and 1991 as part of the temples reconstruction. From afar I was wondering if I’d even got the right place as it just looked like an ordinary temple to me but then as I got closer I could see that those stones were the Rakan figures I had come to see.
It costs 300 yen to enter this cosy little temple and the idea is that you try to find the Rakan figure that looks most like you. I couldn’t be bothered with that and was happy enough to just see the diverse range of emotions and actions of the figures, a large number which were covered in moss. They really are quite beautiful and the more memorable ones include those boxing, drinking, sleeping or even wearing sunglasses.
Not wanting to take another bus, I decided to walk back down the hill in the general direction of the river and station. This traditional-looking neighbourhood is filled with little shops and old houses and it was a rather pleasant walk.
After about half an hour I encountered Arashiyama Torokko Station but trains were only once an hour so I continued on and, despite my legs being tired, I was glad I did as I came across the bamboo forest (below). Of course I can recognise its beauty but I was quite surprised at how small it was. I just assumed it was much, much bigger! As expected though it was packed full of tourists posing for photos and so I just snapped a couple of pictures and moved on as I had a train to catch at JR Saga-Arashiyama station.
On my way to the station I stumbled upon the Kimono Forest (below) by chance. This little place features multiple pillars wrapped in kimono fabric and they are supposedly illuminated in the evening which must make for a fairly nice spectacle.
If I had known that I could’ve taken the train to get to Otagi Nembutsu then I would of course done it that way but I just hopped on a bus because it was the right number and was unaware of its destination. I certainly didn’t make the same mistake on the return journey to Kyoto Station where I then went on to Nagoya via changes in Maibara and Ogaki. For someone who often has places to himself it was a bit of a shock to see thousands of other tourists but of course I am one of them too when outside of Tokyo and I shouldn’t forget that!
Click here to read ‘The Alternative Tour Of Kyoto’