February 12, 2005
by Natsuki Kamikura and Satoko Kawaguchi
Arashiyama and Sagano are famous for the sights of cherry blossoms in spring and red leaves in fall. There are numerous temples and shrines, so it takes a lot of time to visit them all in a large area. However, you will spend a good time there. What follows are just some of the sights of this beautiful district in western Kyoto.
Togetsukyo is the famed “Crossing Moon Bridge” over the Katsura River. It is the very symbol of Arashiyama, and shows off its beauty. The original bridge was built in 836AD, the current one in 1934. Its piers are made from durable concrete and the bridge itself is made of wood. It is designed to match with the atmosphere of Arashiyama.
Tenryu-ji temple, a World Heritage site, is very large and has a beautiful garden.It was established in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji, founder of the Muromachi bakufu (military government), who re-opened trade with China to raise funds for the building expenses. Over the centuries there have been eight fires in this temple, so most of the buildings were reconstructed. You will see a gate called Chokushi-mon, roofed over with cypress bark. This gate is the oldest structure in Tenryu-ji, and is said to have been transferred from Fushimi Castle. The Hiun kannon (a Goddess of Mercy) stands in front of the main temple. This kannon has a cloud on its back, symbolizing God and travel; it is said to protect people who travel by air. The kannon has a cross in her left hand for protecting people without regard to nationality or religion.
The most beautiful scene is Sogenchi, a garden with a pond. This garden is designed to “borrow” two nearby mountains, Arashiyama and Kameyama, to create a scene that gives the impression they belong to the garden. Tenryu-ji temple was among the first to be designated as a special sight in Japan.
Nonomiya shrine is surrounded with a bamboo grove, and it is well known that the Kuroki No Torii (black torii gate) and a brushwood fence which are both described in The Tale of Genji can be found there. This small shrine is famous for the kami (god) of relationships and learning, so many women seeking a good match and many students aiming to pass exams visit here.
When you go through the torii, you will find a stone to the left called Kame No Ishi. It is said that your wish will come true within a year if you touch and stroke the stone while praying. When you go to the right, you will find the moss garden. At the bottom of the shrine, there is a building for seeking the grace of being blessed with a child and an easy birth. Akishino-nomiya, son of the current emperor, and his wife Kiko visited this shrine. After that she had a child.
Rakushi-sha, the “House of Falling Persimmons,” is the simple hut where Mukai Kyorai, one of pupils of haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), lived in his later years. Matsuo Basho stayed in this house too in 1689 and wrote Saga Diary. The house was reconstructed in the Meiji Period by Inoue Juko, a haiku poet from Kyoto.
You will see a straw raincoat and a rain hat. These mean that the owner is at home. Check and see! There are a lot of tablets inscribed with haiku and persimmon trees in the garden. One story says that the hut’s owner wanted to sell his persimmons while they were ripe on the tree, but they were blown down by a strong wind before his customers arrived! Perhaps you will want to write a tanka or haiku poem when you ramble through this garden. A special box is set up in Rakushi-sha for you, so you can drop your poem into it. The most excellent of these works are published in a haiku journal called Rakushi-sha. Let’s write about the beautiful nature of Arashiyama and Sagano.
Jojakko-ji is famous for the sight of red leaves in Kyoto. In autumn you can walk a path which is covered with beautiful maples. You can look down from the top of the hill at Kyoto city if you climb the stairs. It is a little hard to climb, but the beautiful scene will reward you. You can even see as far away as Kyoto Tower.
Train and Rafting
If you want to experience nature keenly, you’d better take a special train. You can enjoy the grand natural scenery along the Hozu River and surrounding mountains. The train has only five cars, and car No. 5, “The Rich” is special. It’s a car without any glass windows or doors, so you’ll see the river, trees, and flowers directly. This train travels from Saga station to Kameoka station in about 25 minutes. Heading for Kameoka Station, you should sit on the right side for the best view.
When you reach beautiful sights, the train will stop for you and a conductor will explain about the spot. Staff take your pictures on the train and you can buy them if you want. They will be a memory of your train trip. When you arrive at Kameoka Station, you should try boating. Descend from Kameoka to Arashiyama on the Hozu River. You can enjoy a thrilling experience and talk with the boatman. This is a popular plan, so you should reserve a boat early. You’ve taken an interest in the Arashiyama-Sagano area, haven’t you? Come check it out with your own eyes! You will find many new things and interesting places.