Arashiyama (嵐山 or Storm Mountain) is a nationally designated Japanese Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. The district, including Mount Arashi which forms part of its backdrop, is a very popular day-trip destination from Kyoto. Located about 45 minutes west of downtown, you could easily visit many local attractions and be back in the city by evening. Just be prepared for the tourist crowds, especially on weekends.
The area is home to numerous tourist sites, most notably the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Tenryū-ji Buddhist temple. Arashiyama tourist village, with its many arts and crafts shops, snack stalls, and restaurants, is also the terminus of Kyoto’s last remaining electric streetcar line, the Randen operated by Keifuku Electric Railroad.
Along the Riverfront
The Ōi River separates Mount Arashi from Arashiyama village, and is a popular spot for boat rentals and riverside strolls. At the Togetsukyō Bridge (渡月橋, or “Moon Crossing Bridge”), the river officially becomes Katsura River. In spring, visitors flock here for the cherry blossoms that line the riverbanks and mountain slopes; during autumn, people come for the foliage viewing when the hills are a vivid red, orange, and yellow.
The Sagano Bamboo Grove
Possibly the most popular natural attraction in the area, the Arashiyama bamboo grove is a remarkable sight and often considered one of the most beautiful places on Earth. A narrow path winds through the grove, thickly forested with tall bamboos that are best appreciated at early morning or late evening (when there are no crowds!) – listen to the rustling and creaking sounds as the bamboos gently sway in the breeze. The experience is even better in the summer when the stalks are a bright vivid green, bathing the scene in an otherworldly glow.
Tenryū-ji Temple and Nonomiya Shrine
The Tenryū-ji Temple (天龍寺) is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, and located adjacent to the bamboo grove. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the grounds contain a garden with a circular promenade around Sōgen Pond, designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan. A place for a quiet break away from the crowds.
Nonomiya Shrine (野宮神社, Nonomiya-jinja) is a shrine near the Sagano bamboo grove, and is where unmarried imperial princesses would stay to purify themselves for a year or more before taking up their duties at the Ise Grand Shrine (one of Shinto’s holiest and most important sites). It is also known as a shrine of match-making and marriage, and so is very popular with young women. Touching the Kame-ishi (Turtle Rock) next to the shrine is said to make your wish come true within a year!
The Kyoto Randen Steetcar
A convenient way to and from Arashiyama is the Keifuku Line, popularly known as the Randen streetcar. This is Kyoto’s last remaining tram line, and runs between the city center and Arashiyama village. A number of local attractions are located near the terminus, including a public foot bath (to rest your weary feet after the day’s hike in the mountains) and a “kimono forest” showcasing traditional silk yuzen kimono fabrics. Lots of craft and souvenir shops line the touristy village streets.
The trip between Kyoto and Arashiyama takes around 45 minutes, and many locals use the Randen line as part of their daily commute. Similar to Tokyo’s Toden-Arakawa line, a day-pass will let you hop on and off the tram to explore the neighbourhood around each stop.
The Kurumazaki Shrine (車折神社) is a small but popular shrine at Kurumazaki-Jinja station. It contains the Geino-jinja sub-shrine which is said to help the entertainment profession, so many performers come here to offer prayers and thanks in support of their craft. A tamaki shrine fence contains the names of famous actors and entertainers who have visited and made offerings. Who knows, you might even bump into a celebrity or two!