The day we went to Arashiyama we started out running around Tokyo (semi-literally), as we tried to squeeze in visits to Ueno Park and Senso-ji (for the second time) before making a mad dash to our bullet train late morning. We got to Kyoto Station with the expectation we would turn right around and head west to Arashiyama. We opted to travel light once again, and left our luggage in lockers at the station (we got the last one large enough to handle our 2 small suitcases and long poster roll), shouldered our daypacks, and had a quick lunch before hopping a commuter rail train out to the western suburbs of Kyoto. Arashiyama, though technically a suburb, feels quite rural. A river divides the town, which is banked up against a mountain.
Aside from Hakone, our brief trip to Arayashima was the only time we spent outside a major city while in Japan. My motivation for choosing Arashiyama initially was the cover of the Lonely Planet Japan guide, which features a photo of its bamboo grove that looks simply magical.
And it is pretty in there amongst the bamboo, it’s true, though we found the grove at Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto felt more magical. (I harbor a wee suspicion that they got the two confused, since Kodai-ji’s grove has stairs and Arashiyama’s doesn’t, but who knows for sure?)
The bullet train runs through the middle of the bamboo grove, and the thing to do (if you’re Japanese, even better if you have on your kimono), is to pose on the tracks and defy fate (though with the signal arms up, it’s pretty clear your life is not in danger).
They have over a dozen shrines and temples you can visit, each more scenic than the last, many of them built into the hillside. I think those merit a post of theri own – coming soon. And in town we found a dinner place that specialized in tofu and tofu products, so we enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal that I could fully participate in. So many forms of tofu/soy products, all painstakingly presented in different formats, dishes, etc. Here’s our dinner before…
Arashiyama was also our big splurge night for accommodations. We stayed 9 nights in Japan, and 4 of those were free nights at the Tokyo or Kyoto Hyatts.
4 of the other 5 nights we stayed in a range of places – from a run-of-the-mill airport hotel our first night, to a pretty basic hostel our last night in Tokyo (private double room, but shared bathroom/shower rooms), to a Japanese-style inn in Hakone, to a regular-ish boutique hotel in Osaka. But in Arashiyama I threw practicality out the window and picked a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast (ryokan) with only 15 rooms that was hovering on the edge of crazy expensive (in my mental budget). Was it worth it? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
There was such lovely design in the rooms, such attentive service, and such an AMAZING breakfast – which due to communication barriers and my vegetarianism, we mistakenly thought was going to consist mainly of “plain rice” – that the experience was priceless. Note how breakfast pretty closely resembled the previous evening’s dinner (but double the amount, since Alex and I shared the dinner). Here it is before…
Visual presentation is such a huge part of the experience, with all these lovely little dishes and bowls, different colors and textures of food, different tastes, decoratively cut vegetables, and such. I mean, a carrot cut in the shape of a cherry blossom! Who could ask for anything more?