Synonymous with seemingly never-ending bamboo shoots, Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s most ethereal locales. If you’re looking for solitude, however, there’s a caveat: tourists descend on the bamboo grove in droves during daylight hours. Having gleaned the aforementioned titbit from fellow travellers, we decided to embrace another early morning in the hopes of having the bamboo grove to ourselves.
Since neither of us particularly fancied a repeat of that misty morning in Kawaguchiko, we decided to give ourselves some additional beauty sleep and set the alarm for 6am. When we rolled up to the bamboo grove just past 8, we were lucky enough to have this magical place virtually to ourselves. When it comes to dodging hordes of tourists, the early bird catches the worm.
The zesty green bamboo canes rustled in the breeze; in the heart of the bamboo forest, you could almost forget you were on the outskirts of Japan’s ninth largest city.
The swaying bamboo canes seemed to stretch on indefinitely – as did the stream of sightseers who arrived forty-five minutes or so after us. Soon after their arrival, we decided to leave the bamboo forest behind and explore the neighbouring Kameyama-kōen Park; we didn’t catch sight of any of the park’s monkey population, but the viewpoint overlooking the Hozu River somewhat compensated for this.
Towards lunchtime we caught the train back into central Kyoto, then set off on foot for Nishiki Market.
Perusing the wares we spotted a few unappetising options – namely, placenta essence (we seriously hoped this was a mistranslation!) and pickled cucumber. Whilst Nishiki Market was interesting to visit, it was by no means as good as Tokyo’s Tsukiji or Kanazawa’s Ōmichō Market.
Continuing to evade the midday heat, we wandered along the neighbouring undercover shopping street. No sooner had we collapsed into a heap than an elderly Japanese man eagerly picked up Laurence’s camera and proceeded to take pictures of us! He then returned Laurence’s camera and gave us a hearty “welcome to Kyoto, welcome to Japan” before seeking out the next utterly befuddled tourist. One thing’s for sure, the Japanese are far more eager to interact with tourists and give off a positive impression of their country than we are!
We then wandered up to Kyoto Imperial Park; at almost a mile in length, the absolutely vast grounds of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace left our legs weary at the thought of exploring them in full! Opting to explore the southern portion of Kyoto Imperial Park, we divided our time between people-watching and relaxing by Itsukushima Shrine, a picturesque spot at the very southern edge of the park.
In need of some air-conditioning, we decided to investigate the food department of a Japanese department store – the sky-high prices made Harrods resemble Aldi! We amused ourselves no end trying to find the most expensive items and marvelling at how anyone could justify spending ¥7000 (£54) on a bunch of grapes! Trust me, that’s no typo: ¥7000. I wish I’d taken a picture for the ridiculousness of it, but sadly it slipped my mind.
As the sun began to set, we wandered around Ponto-chō, a prosperous neighbourhood which borders the river. Its lantern-lined main street complete with traditional architecture and tea houses makes it a pleasant place to wander round, though the eateries were well out of our price range. Reaching the end of the main street, we double backed along the riverside, which was bedecked with fairy lights and tinsel-esque decorations. After a few sunset snaps from Shijo Ohashi Bridge, we detoured via a supermarket to pick up some food for tea.
- To get to Arashiyama, take the JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama (¥240/ £1.85; 15 minutes). From the station, follow signs for the “Path of Bamboo”; free entry, open from dawn to dusk.
- If you want to avoid the crowds, aim to arrive early in the morning (the 7.30-8.30am window should be sufficient) or just before sunset.