One of Kyoto’s most iconic images—alongside Fushimi Inari’s torii tunnels and geisha-spotting in the Gion district—takes you to the west side of the city along the banks of the Hozu River in Arashiyama.
The image of strolling in a sprawling bamboo forest, perhaps even wearing a traditional yukata, as the sun sets feels other-worldly or even as if it were a dream. With this image in mind, any visit to Kyoto would not be complete without strolling in the Sagano Bamboo Forest.
As you walk along Arashiyama’s main street you will pass Tenryuji Temple, one of the finest Zen temples in Kyoto that deserves its own visit. According to Japanese tradition, bamboo is a symbol of strength and is it far from rare to find a Buddhist temple or Shinto temple without a small bamboo grove to ward off evil within its grounds.When exiting the temple’s north gate, the path leading into the bamboo forest lies just to its left.
While it is the endless bamboo’s impeccable visual beauty that draws people in, it is also one of the “100 Soundscapes of Japan” set by the Japanese Ministry of Environment. The everyday sound of rustling bamboo as it sways on the wind and the stirring of its leaves is what completes your dream among the bamboo.
Sagano Bamboo forest is quite a tricky location for photographers as capturing that perfect picture is often hindered by its very popularity. Regardless, when you are successful in your attempts to avoid any people walking in your shot, and have shuffled yourself in all kinds of angles to find the perfect lighting, it will certainly be one of your most cherished photographs among the estimated few hundred you will take during your visit in Japan.
Before exiting the bamboo forest, you may notice a sublime traditional villa at the top of the hill. The Okochi-Sanso Villa, as it is known, is the former home of Denjiro Okochi, who was famous for his roles in Japanese silent film and period drama’s (including the The Tale of Genji in 1951). The villa is a truly grand complex encompassing its own altar, study, tea house and museum devoted to Okochi. Amongst the buildings are countless gardens with a wide variety of plant life to cater to all four seasons.
Okochi-Sanso Villa is open between 9:00 and 16:00 for an admission fee of ¥1,000. Although this may seem quite hefty, it is well worth a visit to complete your experience in Arashiyama.
Access and opening hours
From Kyoto Station you can take city buses 28, 71, 72 and 73 or the train to Saga Arashiyama Station on the JR Sagano line.
From the area around Shijo Kawaramachi (central Kyoto), city buses 11 and 28 also leave for the bamboo grove. Or you can take the train from Shijo Omiya Station to Arashiyama Station on the Henkyu railway.
The bamboo grove is open 24-7, but is not illuminated throughout the route and the Arashiyama area is not as well-lit in the evening as more central parts of Kyoto. The best time to visit the bamboo grove would be an afternoon in the early summer when the weather is still pleasant and locals may be out for a stroll wearing yukata. Please also note that there is no admission fee for the bamboo grove itself, but temples or residences along the route may require a minor fee to pay a visit.