Morning at Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

Arashiyama: A Beautiful Retreat near Kyoto

Tiếng Việt

Resembling an ink wash painting, Arashiyama in the western outskirt of Kyoto has long been a favourite escape of the Japanese elites. Since the Heian period, the nobles came here to unwind from the hustle of the city. Today, foreign and domestic tourists flock here to see the evergreen bamboo groves of Arashiyama, as well as to find serenity at Tenryūji – a temple with a stunning mountain backdrop.


The history of Arashiyama (嵐山, “storming mountain”) and the adjoining Sagano dates back to the Heian period when the Japanese imperial family and court started building retreats along the base of Mount Arashiyama. Perhaps, a beautiful natural setting and close proximity to the capital city were the reasons why this place became the noble’s favourite relaxation spot. In later years, the retired Emperor Go-Saga had many cherry trees from Mt. Yoshino replanted here, making the area one of Kyoto’s most popular hanami spots.

Shrine in Arashiyama
En route to Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

Bamboo Groves

Since planning my trip to Kyoto, I have always wanted to visit the bamboo groves in Arashiyama. Along with the torii tunnels of Fushimi Inari and the magnificent Kinkaku-ji, it belongs to one of the city’s most iconic sights. But no matter how often I saw this forest in photos, the real thing is more dreamlike than I could imagine.

Strolling through this verdant landscape of soaring bamboos in the early morning, I felt serene. There was virtually no noise, except for the rustling sound of swaying bamboos. Above, the sunlight beamed through the thick layer of leaves, casting a soft shadow on the hilly path. And there was the pleasant aroma of bamboo leaves lingering in the crisp morning air.

A beautiful shrine at the entrance of Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

Bamboo has long been an unseparated part of  Japanese culture and we can see bamboo in nearly every aspect of life, from ice-cream cups, chopsticks, baskets, fences to buildings. Even in myths and legends, the bamboo tree is metaphorically associated with the man’s strength. Many festivals also include the use of bamboo in various forms, most prominent is the Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, which took place on the 07th of July in the lunar calendar.

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Tenryu-ji

Though many visitors came to Arashiyama to enjoy the beauty of nature, the nearby Tenryū-ji and its beautiful landscape garden should definitely not be missed. Ranked first among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryū-ji (天龍寺, “Temple of the Heavenly Dragon”) is a star attraction in Arashiyama. 

The temple was first constructed in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji to commemorate his former friend-turned-enemy, Emperor Go-Daigo. These two used to be allies until Takauji turned against the emperor in a struggle for supremacy over Japan. By building the temple, Takauji attempted to appease the spirit of the former emperor. However, his attempt might be in vain as the temple was repeatedly ravaged by fires and wars over the centuries. What we see today is a mere reconstruction of the original temple which took place in the 19th century.

Tenryū-ji

Having more luck than the temple buildings, Tenryū-ji’s gardens survived in its original form. It features a central pond surrounded by a circular promenade, rocks and pine trees, as well as the forested mountains of Arashiyama on the western side. The garden is the work of landscape designer, Muso Soseki, who also served as the first head priest of the temple.

Tenryuji Zen Garden

Practical Information in Arashiyama

  • Located at the western outskirt of Kyoto, there is a fair distance from the city centre to Arashiyama. Whether you go by train or bus, the trip takes around 20 to 25 minutes. Personally, I found the most convenient way is taking the JR train from Kyoto station to Saga-Arashiyama station (15 minutes, 240¥ one way).
  • You can access the Arashiyama Bamboo Groves directly from the main street of Arashiyama. A 5-10 minutes walk from the train station will bring you there. There’s just one main path through the groves, which leads slowly uphill. The bamboo forest is located just a few steps away from the northern entrance of Tenryū-ji. Thus, it’s best paired with a visit to the temple.
  • Being one of Kyoto’s most photographed spots, the bamboo groves are very crowded throughout the day. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to visit the place early in the morning. The groves are also less crowded at night, but it will be too dark to take photos.
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20 thoughts on “Arashiyama: A Beautiful Retreat near Kyoto”

  1. Ảnh rừng trúc đẹp quá Len. Lấy được cả chiều cao và chiều sâu. Cám ơn cháu. Cô thích chỗ này, thế nào cũng đi xem.

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    For some reason I didn’t go to Arashiyama when I was in Kyoto. It might have been the thought that I can also see bamboo trees here, or simply because there was not enough time. However, the way you described this place as more magical than you can imagine really intrigued me. Moreover, that beautiful Zen temple, albeit a reconstruction, adds to the charm of this part of Japan.

    1. Actually, I didn’t intend to go to Arashiyama in the first place. The weather was not great, and as you already mentioned, we also had a lot of bamboo here. But the groves is more beautiful than I expected: soothingly green, thick and very tall. That’s why I went there twice 🙂

  3. Forestwood – A philosophic Australian writes here, one who admits to loving Scandinavia. I'm interested in global politics, but scratch the surface and you'll find I am a practical Environmentalist with an Egalitarian bent trying to unleash a little creativity. Scandinavian culture, literature and traditions are close to my heart, even though I am Australian. Travel broadens the mind, so I travel whenever I can. I am an avid reader, I enjoy photography, writing and a variety of crafts, particularly traditional art forms. You are always welcome to stop by at S.t.P.A.
    Forestwood says:

    Great tip for tourists to get there early. By 10am the bus tours arrive!!! Lovely photos and yes I also went to Tenryuji! I hope to post on it soon.

    1. Can’t wait to read about it 🙂 My first visit to Arashiyama was in the afternoon and you can imagine how crowded it was. So I decided to wake up early and went back there. This time, I only had to share the bamboo groove with 9-10 people. It was a pleasant moment!

      1. Forestwood – A philosophic Australian writes here, one who admits to loving Scandinavia. I'm interested in global politics, but scratch the surface and you'll find I am a practical Environmentalist with an Egalitarian bent trying to unleash a little creativity. Scandinavian culture, literature and traditions are close to my heart, even though I am Australian. Travel broadens the mind, so I travel whenever I can. I am an avid reader, I enjoy photography, writing and a variety of crafts, particularly traditional art forms. You are always welcome to stop by at S.t.P.A.
        Forestwood says:

        Amazing! And the early mornings have a special atmosphere. I went the wrong way first over the railway line, but then found the right path on the way back! Did you go to the garden or the lookout up the back?

      2. Forestwood – A philosophic Australian writes here, one who admits to loving Scandinavia. I'm interested in global politics, but scratch the surface and you'll find I am a practical Environmentalist with an Egalitarian bent trying to unleash a little creativity. Scandinavian culture, literature and traditions are close to my heart, even though I am Australian. Travel broadens the mind, so I travel whenever I can. I am an avid reader, I enjoy photography, writing and a variety of crafts, particularly traditional art forms. You are always welcome to stop by at S.t.P.A.
        Forestwood says:

        Cool!!

  4. Leya – Sweden – Love my family, photography, art, literature, architecture, flowers, trees and dogs, but most of all Nature itself. I also keep on travelling...
    Leya says:

    Beautiful – a place for me.

      1. Leya – Sweden – Love my family, photography, art, literature, architecture, flowers, trees and dogs, but most of all Nature itself. I also keep on travelling...
        Leya says:

        You too, Len.

      2. Leya – Sweden – Love my family, photography, art, literature, architecture, flowers, trees and dogs, but most of all Nature itself. I also keep on travelling...
        Leya says:

        You too!

  5. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    Absolutely gorgeous photos Len. How wonderful to get to the bamboo grove early before the crowds.
    Alison

    1. Thank you, Alison. It’s a bless to be there in the early hours. Definitely worth the effort to wake up at 5:00 🙂

  6. Incredible! Your photos of the bamboo groves are the best I’ve ever seen. I love the aesthetics of the bamboo bounded by the tall grass and curved bamboo railing.

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