The Arashiyama bamboo grove is known for its rich bamboo stalks located in the Arashiyama mountains (Storm Mountains). A popular tourist destination, this place of scenic beauty offers a unique window into Kyoto’s historic heart. Arashiyama is located just a train ride away from the Kyoto Station, journey covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
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Why visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Being surrounded by a vast amount of bamboo, makes you feel as if you stepped into another world. The world of Arashiyama is green and peaceful. A local told me that it's best to visit the bamboo grooves when the weather is a little windy because the tall bamboo stalks look very dreamy and mesmerising when they gently rock back and forth.
It’s not every day that you get to walk through a thick bamboo grove. Arashiyama is one of those incredible alien worlds which invites you to admire it for hours without getting tired of it. The Arashiyama bamboo grove gets really busy since it’s such unique and wonderful attraction, hence you need to do a bit of hacking in order to capture its silent soul.
Although this Kyoto top spot is mainly associated with the Arashiyama bamboo grove, there are many other things to do in this district. Once you leave the tourist sites behind, you can walk through quiet neighbourhoods and secluded residential streets. If you continue up towards the mountain, you will discover wonderful remote temples, far away from the crowds.
How to get to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The fastest and easiest way to get to Arashiyama is by train. Take the JR Train from Kyoto Station on the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. From there, walk for 10 minutes and follow the signs to Arashiyama bamboo grove.
What to do in Arashiyama
This 14th century temple is one of the main attractions in Arashiyama. It features a magnificent Zen garden and a cute little tea house.
This beautiful park has many different trails where you can enjoy a peaceful and quiet afternoon. Sometimes you can spot Snow Monkeys here too, which makes Kameyama-koen Park a popular attraction for wild photography enthusiasts. One of the trails will take your right into the Arahiyama mountains where you will find a beautiful lookout spot.
Okochi-Sanso Villa is home to a beautiful garden with magnificent views over Kyoto. It was originally the residence of the film actor Denjirō Ōkōchi and was used for several movie sets. Matcha tea and a tasty snack are included in the price of the entry ticket.
This temple is famous because of its maple trees. During the maple season, it becomes very popular and rather crowded. Best to visit during December, when there is a lower number of tourists around.
Follow the steps up to a secluded bamboo forest. During winter in Japan, this garden looked astonishing and was free from any tourists.
If you too enjoy the beauty of a moss garden, then Gio-ji Temple is the place for you. It's quite a walk away from the Arashiyama bamboo groves, so make sure you have plenty of water and snacks with you for this journey.
This lovely temple is well off the beaten track. It features 8000 Buddhist statues and a small bamboo grove at the back. Because it's quite far, not many people come here, which makes it into a perfect spot if you like to be away from the crowds.
If you are willing to walk for quite some time, away from the Arashiyama bamboo groves, then you will be rewarded with the most beautiful Arashiyama temple I've had the pleasure of discovering. From all the temples I have visited so far, this was my very favourite.
Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji is a secluded Buddhist temple, home to over 1200 rakan covered in moss. A rakan is a stone statue representing the disciples of Buddha. All rakan statues in the Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji have been donated and a majority have been sculpted by amateurs. When I finally got to Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, it started raining, but instead of running back towards the train station, I sat down under the temple's roof and admired the drops falling down on the ground. It was a true zen experience.
When to visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama bamboo grove is very popular amongst tourists, hence it’s pretty much always crowded. If you wish to capture those perfect pictures, best to visit first thing in the morning, before sunrise. I strongly recommend going off the beaten track and exploring the trails which take you into the mountains. Alternatively, follow the paths towards Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji . On your way, you will have a chance to see and photograph traditional Japanese houses, independent shops and tiny eateries, far from the madding crowds.
By meandering around Kyoto’s streets, visiting its temples and shrines and relaxing in some of the most impressive Japanese gardens, a camera enthusiast can easily create a mesmerising photo collection. Kyoto is the place where Geishas roam in Gion, the Tea Ceremony is practised on a daily basis and old Japanese traditions are very much kept alive. For a photographer, Kyoto is paradise.
Visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove at night
During December, I recommend visiting the Arashiyama bamboo grove at night because the paths get illuminated and the Arashiyama bamboo forest looks magical and dreamy. This festival of lights is called Arashiyama Hanatouro illuminations and it only takes place in December for about 10 days, between 5 pm and 8:30 pm.
Few visit the Arashiyama bamboo grove at night, after 9 pm, because the path gets too dark for the groves to be seen, and there is not enough light for photography.
The best souvenir at Arashiyama
On my way to Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, I came across this little shop owned by an old Japanese lady who smiled a lot. I love helping small, independent businesses, especially when they are located out of the tourist areas. I strongly recommend checking this place out. It's a very cool shop with much cheaper prices than anywhere else in Kyoto.
When To Photograph The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Amongst the best things to do in Kyoto, photographing this beautiful city is a must. In my opinion, the Arashiyama bamboo grove is one of the most photogenic and fascinating places you can take your camera to. Arashiyama is the best if you wish to walk through Japanese gardens, explore the bamboo forests and listen to the early morning sounds of nature.
Japan is a country with four full seasons, hence you can visit at any time and you are guaranteed to capture some of Kyoto’s different personalities. I for example, really enjoy Spring in Japan. Many visit Kyoto during spring, to enjoy the cherry blossom festival.
The bamboo forest in Arashiyama is open 24/7. Remember the bamboo groves are tall and there is little light penetrating through the canopy, so you need to be well versed on how to use your camera for low light conditions. If you just want to photograph Arashiyama and you don't mind the tourists around you, then probably head over at around 12 pm for optimum light conditions.
To get the best of Arashiyama, get there before the sunrise, as early in the morning as possible. This will ensure that the path is quiet (maybe have the odd photo enthusiast around). First, this means you can enjoy the Arashiyama bamboo groves and even meditate if you wish to. It’s really wonderful to listen to the sound of wind slowly rocking the tip of the bamboo trees. Second, without tourists meandering around, you can take your time perfecting that awesome shot. Experiment with different angles and camera settings. I find that just after sunrise, the path has a very nice and mellow glow.
Normally I would advise you to arrive here at night time or just before the sunset, but you will find the path stays busy until late at night. During Winter time, for example, people come from all corners of Kyoto to enjoy the illuminated path which gets switched on at 5 pm.
Tips for Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Need to know: you might need to arrange your own transportation during early morning or very late at night as there will be no trains to and from central Kyoto. If you are dedicated to capturing the best photo of Arashiyama, then I suggest renting a bike.
Food: There are plenty of eateries around but if you decide to arrive too early or late at night, note that you will have to pack some sandwiches and snacks. Don't forget a thermos filled with either green tea or fresh coffee.
Journal: I honestly can’t express enough how incredible it is to just sit down, relax and listen to the sound of morning slowly overtaking the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Have a journal with you and take your time, write how this incredible forest makes you feel. Allow yourself to be filled with joy and zen.
The Arashiyama bamboo grove was a surreal and wonderful experience. If I'm perfectly honest, Arashiyama's beauty lies far beyond its famous bamboo grove, within the most secluded spots, into the heart of the Storm Mountains. Don't forget to leave a comment below and tell us your Kyoto story!