After a few days in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. One of the first things on the to-see list in Kyoto was the nearby town of Arashiyama. It’s home to a beautiful bamboo forest, incredible gardens and a monkey park. We got up early the next morning to visit all three and they did not disappoint!
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
My number one tip to get photos without people in them: arrive really early or late. We got there around 7:45 a.m. and there were photoshoots with professional photographers wrapping up, as well as tourists like us hoping to get a photo.
When we first entered the forest, I thought it was a tourist trap — the bamboo wasn’t that impressive. I was grumbling to my husband until we turned the corner and saw this:
Ok, still a tourist trap, but a beautiful one.
Tenry-Uji Temple Gardens
After the forest, we made the quick 5-minute walk to Tenry-Uji Temple. We didn’t tour the temple, just the gardens. They were beautiful, but not my favorite. My recommendation? Visit the Okochi-Sanso Villa and gardens instead — it’s also a 5-minute walk from the bamboo forest, much less crowded and even more magical.
Okochi-Sanso Villa and Gardens
Okochi-Sanso Villa was home to Japanese silent film actor, Denjiro Okochi. Okochi built the gardens over 30 years while he lived there, and they are stunning. There’s a path along the property that guides you through the twists and turns, giving way to breathtaking aerial views of Kyoto. There are also a few structures along the way, including a buddhist shrine, teahouse, open-air museum and more. At the end, you’re treated to matcha tea and candy. The whole experience was peaceful and I left feeling rejuvenated. We visited in the fall/winter and saw the autumn leaves Japan is famous for.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
My husband was excited for the opportunity to feed monkeys, so off to the park we went. From the bamboo forest, Tenry-Uji or Okochi-Sanso Villa, it’s about a 20-minute walk over a bridge before you get to the park entrance. From there, it’s a 40-minute paved hike to the top. It’s nothing too strenuous, but had my heart pumping.
At the top are macaque monkeys everywhere. You can feed them from behind a fence in a designated room or stand among them out in the open. I felt a little weird about the experience, especially when circus music came on and there was a mass feeding facilitated by park employees. But, the monkeys seem well taken care of and get to roam freely, so it’s not all bad.
Arashiyama is worth a visit, but it’s very crowded. Get there early and have a plan: while the bamboo grove is open 24/7, the other sights don’t open til later. Wear comfortable shoes — it’s a lot of walking. Once you’re done exploring, there’s a town in Arashiyama with tons of food and souvenirs. Most of it was too touristy for me, so we didn’t stay long, but I made a point to get a Japanese sweet potato for a snack — I eat them often at home!
If you’ve been to Arashiyama, what was your favorite part? Anything I’m missing? Tell me in the comments!