The Bamboo Grove
It's likely that you'll visit Arashiyama to see the iconic bamboo grove. While this is indeed a pretty place to take a few shots, take note that it will ALWAYS be populated with tourists no matter when you come (besides maybe nighttime). I thought by arriving before sunrise I might be able to take shots in the quiet serenity of the bamboo grove, but I was sorely mistaken. There was already a line-up of at least twenty other photographers by 6:00AM. While we took turns to get "the shot", it definitely wasn't what I had expected: serene bamboo rustling in the morning breeze while the light filtered through. With this being said, do come see the 0.5 kilometer-long pathway through the bamboo, but come as early as possible. And also: STAY TO EXPLORE ARASHIYAMA! There is more to see than just the grove.
Tip: After much research, I located another bamboo grove at Adashino Nenbutsu-ji about a 25-minute walk north from here. At the time of visit (April 2018), the grove was under maintenance, but it would be worth researching if you want to go for a more serene experience! See the map at the bottom of this page for its location.
Head north from the bamboo grove and enjoy the walk amidst the traditional wooden buildings, many residential, many now converted into tea and souvenir shops. The walk is beautiful through the towns of Arashiyama and Saga, and is surrounded by forest and temples along the way.
On the very northern outskirts of Arashiyama lies an offbeat temple known for its numerous whimsical rakan statues: Otagi Nenbutsu-ji.
Originally constructed during the eighth century by Empress Shōtoku, Otagi Nenbutsu-ji was originally built in the Higashiyama area. Misfortune struck when the Kamo-gawa River flooded and washed the temple away. It was reestablished north-east of Kyoto, but fell into ruin over the centuries leaving only the main hall, temple gate, and Jizo Hall. To protect the remains, it was moved in 1922 to its current location outside of Arashiyama. Again misfortune struck in 1950 in the form of a typhoon causing even more damage.
The current aesthetic and welfare of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji was spearheaded by head priest and notable sculptor, Kocho Nishimura, who took charge of renovations in 1955. He employed visitors to sculpt rakan, small stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha, which now number over 1,200! Due to the vast number of sculptors during that period, each statue is completely unique and many have humorous poses and expressions. You can walk amidst rows of these charming and wonky little statues and have fun putting yourself in the mind of the sculptors!
This was definitely the highlight of my trip out of Kyoto to Arashiyama, and I would absolutely suggest making the trek up to the temple! It's a 35-minute leisurely walk north of the center of Arashiyama.
Cost: 300 yen
Hours: 8AM - 5PM