Arashiyama: a Town of Maiko, Sweets, and the Bamboo Forest
By Kelsey Leuzinger
On May 23, 2014
One of the most intriguing places to visit in Kyoto is Arashiyama. This ancient town is filled with small shops, traditional restaurants, and beautiful landscapes. You will see every type of old-fashioned items from handmade glassware to goma dango (ごま団子-sesame see balls) sold along the street.
This is a place you could spend all day taking in the sights and appreciating the beauty of this little town.
While it is possible to visit this quaint town in a half day, my husband and I took a whole day looking at shops and walking through the bamboo forest after checking out the Monkey Park. The reality is this was only a small percentage of all the sightseeing Arashiyama offers. It is a place where you should take your time; and if you’re lucky, you can see some of Japan’s beauties such as these Maiko (舞妓).
It was mesmerizing to watch the perfectly poised young women walk past all the observers and photographers, even though people with cameras were standing right in front of them, trying anything to get a good picture. You could tell that they were working; even as beautiful as they looked, their purpose was not for show.
Another novelty of this town is its abundance of sweet treats. Not only are traditional sesame treats sold throughout town, but also ice cream that comes in seemingly unlimited flavors. Just like other ancient traditional towns such as Kamakura, Arashiyama offers orange, green tea, and sesame flavored ice cream cones; they’ll even mix them if you want!
Call me a Gaijin, but what I loved most about the treats in this town and Kyoto in general was their KitKat flavors! I made a goal to find and eat as many different kinds as possible, and my favorites were found here. They sold cinnamon and black tea flavors; don’t miss out if you’re a KitKat fanatic like me.
After walking down the street and sampling some snacks, we stumbled upon the Bamboo Forest. It’s a short walk from the train station, and is so worth the additional walking you will do in the forest. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It felt like I was looking up at nature’s thin, green skyscrapers that were almost touching the clouds. The pathway was actually busy at times, with so many people standing in awe at the beauty of this dense forest.
This walkway continues up a hill and around some curves, and ends with a path leading to a small train station of the Sagano Scenic Railway. Here you can buy refreshments and souvenirs at a small shop before you make your trek back down the hill and through the green forest to enjoy the scenery once again.
Some tips for your trip:
- Bring bug repellent! Unfortunately, as beautiful as the Bamboo Forest was, I was covered in mosquito bites when I left. It would have made my trip more enjoyable to know this in advance.
- See more than I did. Even with seeing monkeys, Maikos, and bamboo, I didn’t scratch the surface on all the temples, shrines, and restaurants Arashiyama has to offer.
- Don’t be afraid to try the food! This goes for anywhere in Japan, of course, but Arashiyama offers some unique treats you can’t get anywhere else.
1. Via SagaArashiyama, 16 minutes, ¥240
This is the most direct from Kyoto, but you will come out a little north of the main street with the shops, Bamboo forest, and major temples. Makes for some extra walking but worth it if you’re not in a rush.
2. Via Arashiyama station on the Hankyu line. 19 minutes, ¥220
It’s the last stop on this line. Exit and continue walking to the left; you will see the Monkey Park ahead and can cross the famous Togetsukyo Bridge on your right that leads into the town. You get the full experience by going this way.
3. Via Arashiyama station on the Keifuku Arashiyama line. 28 minutes, ¥350
This stop exits you into a fun sweets food court with souvenir shops as well. I recommend visiting the shops, but if you start here you’ve missed some of the street and will have to backtrack to see it all.