Arashiyama on the western outskirts of Kyoto is famous for its traditional temples and shrines as well as being a major sightseeing district. Its star attraction is the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which is simply magical in fall with the autumn light pepping through the bamboo.
The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles and Kyoto’s elite would visit to enjoy its natural setting. A favourite pastime of the nobles was appreciating and enjoying the red maple leaves of the area which is called momiji (紅葉) in Japanese.
The Arashiyama Momiji Festival celebrates this ancient custom and the colors of autumn and takes place on the second Sunday of November. This year the festival is on Sunday, November 8. The festival in its modern form first started in 1947 with most of the action taking place around the Togetsukyo Bridge, which is both a landmark and symbol of Arashiyama.
The Arashiyama Momiji Festival features colourful autumn leaves, performers dressed in traditional Heian Period costumes, as well as traditional dance, music and art performances such as noh and kyogen.
The highlight of the festival is the re-enactment of the nobles cruise down the Oi River in small boats. Five Heian period decorated boats filled with nobles and courtesans in traditional costumes cruise down the river in a spectacular sight. The performers on the boats play traditional music as well as recite the ancient arts of noh and kyogen. A great place to catch all the action is from the Togetsukyo Bridge.
Another highlight is the open-air tea ceremony performed by an oiran (courtesan) on the bank of the Oi River.
The Arashiyama Momiji Festival recreates the atmosphere and traditions of the ancient Kyoto Heian court with traditional performances and events with the stunning autumn colours as an amazing backdrop.
Location: Arashiyama, Kyoto
When: Sunday, November 8
Time: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm / 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm
The quickest way to get to Arashiyama from Kyoto Station is on the JR Sagano Line (JR Sanin Line). The one way ride to Saga-Arashiyama Station takes about 15 minutes, central Arashiyama can be reached after a brief 10 minute walk from the station.