November 17, 2012
A Midsummer Walk in the Serene
Mountains of Northern Kyoto
by Yuka Yamazaki
Look at around you. What do you see? Through the window might be towering skyscrapers and noisy roads congested with traffic. Your coworkers might be clearing those last stacks of files and shutting down their computers as they get ready to vacate the office, or perhaps a group of screaming, hyperactive kids are playing among a jungle of toys strewn across your living room floor.
Had enough? I know just what you need: a peaceful retreat where you can relax, breathe the fresh air and feel at ease in your mind.
Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan, is a very popular tourist destination, and therefore might not seem to be a place where one can easily relax and escape the hectic urban lifestyle, but I will show you that there is another way to enjoy this beautiful scenic location.
Now, let us begin our day-long midsummer walk in Arashiyama.
We disembark at Hankyu Arashiyama Station and make our way to Togetsu-kyo Bridge, about 10 minutes away. Togetsu-kyo in Japanese means ‘Moon Crossing Bridge’, and was named such by the Emperor Kameyama in the 13th century. It is a famous sightseeing spot in Kyoto, so while the surrounding landscape might be lovely, the sight of so many tourists and vendors on and around the bridge makes you feel queasy. It’s time to take a different route. So, let’s cross the Togetsu-kyo bridge.
Let us follow the river. As you progress farther down the winding path, there are fewer and fewer people around. What a relief! Sit by the bank and enjoy the lush greenery reflected in the river. Perhaps you will catch sight of a crane taking flight.
Continue down the path and eventually you will come across some small stone stairs leading up to Kameyama Mountain. There are some great views from up here. Take a deep breath and savor the scent of fresh, new leaves.
Walk further up the mountain…
…Stop! You feel the presence of someone, something…
You realize that they are welcoming you with spotlights, dancing on the stony path at your feet.
By the time the light show has ended, you have reached the summit of the mountain and another performance awaits you: this time it is the artistic vocals of the hototogisu, the Japanese cuckoo. Time to take a seat on one of the benches. Peer up at the vast expanse of blue sky, down at the boats silently floating along the Hozugawa River from which you have come, and chill to the sweet background music.
Wait a minute! You have noticed something. Is that a little village you see, on the other side of the river? Let’s check it out. Now this feels more like an adventure.
Let’s go back down the mountain. Can you remember the way you came?
Let’s hope so! Don’t forget to say farewell to the company you have encountered on your stroll.
Head back towards the Togetsu-kyo bridge and cross it. There will be another smaller bridge, named Togetsu-kyo ko-bashi, and next to it a small lane next to that bridge which runs parallel to the river. This dark, mysterious path that runs deep into the mountain entices you. Where does it lead?: Arashiyama Mountain, after which this touristic region takes its name.
You stumble across a strange, handwritten sign with an arrow pointing left. If you can read Japanese, you will know that it says that there is a special viewing point nearby.
According to the sign, the person or group who wrote it goes by the name “Daihikaku.” Who is that, I wonder?
You continue down the lane in the direction of where the sign is directing you and wonder about that strange sign you saw for a while, but very soon you will soon forget about it as you a greeted by beautiful little cascades streaming out from the mountainside.
You continue your leisurely walk down the lane deep into the mountain, taking in the scenery and feeling the light breeze on your face.
This is a small urban adventure in relatively unexplored areas of Arashiyama that you can experience with little effort and, not to mention, courage. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and a bit of curiosity to venture off the beaten track!
You might say, “But Yuka, there are no temples or shrines on this walk, and I am in Japan after all!” Well, do you remember that sign you passed earlier? That is an important clue: you have to find out where it leads to on your own!
If you are tired with your daily life, you will certainly appreciate Arashiyama. Enjoy!
How to get there
There are several ways to get to Arashiyama from Kyoto Station.
① By Train
Take JR Sagano line (also known as JR Sanin line) to Saga-Arashiyama Station (15 minutes). Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a 10 minute walk away.
② By bus
Take the bus No. 28 to Tenryu-ji Temple. This temple is located in the center of Arashiyama district, and Togetsu-kyo Bridge is close by. However, the journey takes much longer than by train and you may also get stuck in traffic.
③ By bicycle
You can also access Arashiyama by bicycle. There are many shops where you can rent bicycles in Kyoto.