Sorry for the lack of updates recently! The workload for my classes this semester has been tougher than I’d anticipated. We’re now two weeks into the semester, and I haven’t done much since this semester started except go to class and do homework. This weekend I finally got to take a break from studying to explore more of Kyoto!
Yesterday, a few friends and I went to Arashiyama, a popular tourist district on the Western outskirts of Kyoto. It was our first time to Arashiyama, and we didn’t know much about Arashiyama beforehand (other than that there was a monkey park there). We hopped on a bus from Imadegawa that took us directly to Arashiyama. It was about a 40-minute bus ride and only cost ￥230 to get there – much cheaper than the subway!
Immediately after getting off of the bus, we were greeted with this gorgeous view of the Hozu River (Hozu-gawa). All four of us were so happy to be around so much nature!
We had about two hours of free time before our plans to meet up with another group of friends, so we decided to use that time to have a wander around. Immediately after heading towards the famous Togetsukyo Bridge, a parade of what looked like local middle- and high-school students and workers greeted us!
After the parade passed us, we crossed the bridge and came across a sign advertising boat rides along the Hozo-gawa.
“Vreathe-taking!” We decided to get lunch first, and save the river boat ride for later, so we doubled back across the bridge and to the main street of Arashiyama, which was was so packed with other tourists walking from one omiyage shop to another, it was difficult to even walk forward. As soon as we found the first modestly priced and out-of-the-way restaurant, we ducked inside to grab a quick lunch. Although we all ordered types of donburi, the other locals eating lunch all ordered soba noodles. Guess we’ll just have to go back and try the soba there!
After lunch, we learned we were near Tenryuji Temple, so we had a wander around the grounds. There was an admission fee to see the gardens, so we decided to save that sight for another day. (I’m hoping to come back to Arashiyama soon when the fall momiji colors are in full swing!) Upon departing from Tenryuji Temple by means of backstreets to avoid the hoardes of toursits, we came across a sign advertising a cafe with espresso and siphon coffee, so we followed it until we came upon a really cute, tiny cafe called Cafe Takahashi. Cafe Takahashi seems to be run out of the first floor of an elderly couple’s home! They were so sweet and offered us fantastic service.
The private, quiet atmosphere of their backyard was so lovely, we ended up staying there for quite a while, having a chat while enjoying our coffee and cake. Being back there, it was easy to forget that just a few streets away were hundreds of tourists crowding the narrow sidewalks!
After we finally mustered up the energy to leave behind Cafe Takahashi (trust me, it was hard to leave their peaceful backyard!), we headed back towards the bridge to take the boat ride along the Hozu-gawa that we had seen earlier. By this time, the sun had disappeared behind a layer of clouds – my favorite type of weather!
Split between the four of us, our 35-minute boat ride only cost about ￥1,400 each, and it was worth it completely. Our boat guide pushed us along gently with that giant bamboo pole, expertly navigating the other boat tours and rowboat rentals while telling us about local sights along the way.
I can’t even begin to describe how lovely the boat ride was. Although there were a lot of other pleasure boats around, and other people in the blue rental rowboats pictured above, the river was so wide that it never felt very crowded. Plus, the Hozu-gawa water was so pristine, too, that you could see all the way to the bottom.
On the far shore bank, we could hear someone playing the koto. Every now and then, I have these moments where I’m struck by the thought of, “Whoa, I’m in Japan” – and this boat ride was definitely one such moment. I didn’t think I could have imagined a more peaceful and serene experience…
…Until these guys in a rowdy speedboat showed up! We watched curiously as these three workers pulled their speedboat up to another larger tour boat. Then only a moment later, we realized their speedboat was heading straight for us! Calling out to us and advertising their wares, they pulled up alongside us and hooked their boat directly to ours. Then they offered to sell us drinks, snacks, or dango! It was such a surreal and fun experience, we ended up buying some hot dango from them to enjoy during the rest of our boat ride. Those boat-store workers really have a good hustle, haha!
Enjoying the dango for our return trip back!
I think of all the things I’ve done in Japan, both this time and the time I came last year, this boat ride along the Hozu-gawa is high up there on my favorites list. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and my only complaint is that I would have liked it to be longer. An hour, two hours, three hours – I seriously could have just lived on this boat! I really want to take another boat ride again when all the trees along the Hozu-gawa have turned color!
After our boat ride, it was time to meet up with our other friends and go to Monkey Park Iwatayama! The only thing standing between us and seeing some monkeys was only a ￥500 admission fee and a 20-minute climb up stairs and switchbacks to the top of the mountain. None of us were quite sure what to expect – would the monkeys be walking around like the deer in Nara, or would they be in cages? Turns out, the monkeys were totally roaming free, and the people were in cages! Well, if you wanted to feed the monkeys, you had to go into a caged building. Otherwise, you could walk around freely with the monkeys.
You could get so close to the monkeys you could reach out and pet them – but they had several park rangers to make sure that you didn’t.
I heard one of the park rangers call the stately fellow on the log by name, but I couldn’t catch it. Hanging around the monkeys was totally awesome – not to mention that because the park is located on the top of this section of Arashiyama mountain, the view was gorgeous!
This guy was not a fan of the monkey below him, and ended up shaking the tree violently to chase the other monkey away.
These two were my favorite. This monkey-mom was so patient with her little one. She couldn’t put him down without him crying and whining for her to pick him back up. Then when she did pick him back up, he thanked her by peeing on her. Monkey-mom, you’ve got the patience of a saint! Also, although I missed it, apparently soon after I took this photo, a koi fish in the pond she’s sitting next to jumped out of the water. Spooked, she grabbed her baby and ran away! Monkey-mom, mom of the year.
After wandering around the monkey park for almost an hour, we came back down to a town well into twilight. Most of the crowds of tourists had already dissipated. We only had one last item on our agenda: to visit the famous Bamboo Grove of Arashiyama.
Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the grove, it was nearly dark so I didn’t get very many pictures. I did take some photos of a shrine in the midst of the grove where we stopped to have a short rest of a full afternoon’s worth of walking around.
The lighting in Japan is just surreal. It was a beautiful cold grey – I didn’t retouch this photo at all! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this sort of lighting anywhere else. (Oh – by the way, these are my two lovely Irish friends, Aisling and Delia. I’m sure they’ll appear in many more blog posts to come.)
For less than $5, you can get from the center of Kyoto to this beautiful place. It’s kind of hard to believe! Arashiyama is seriously mind-blowingly beautiful, and it’s quickly become my favorite place in Kyoto. You can kind of see some of the momiji just beginning in this photo – I’m definitely coming back when the entire mountain is awash in reds and oranges.
This day excursion out of the city and into the outskirts is definitely the break I needed from studying. Hopefully, I won’t have too much homework these next few weeks and I can go on some more adventures soon!