BLOGKyoto travel tips2019.07.12

A trip to be exposed Japanese culture in Arashiyama

ByMisako Fujita

This "Kyoto travel journal" written by a local journalist will help you to make the most of your trip to Kyoto. This time, we will present a trip to experience Japanese culture not only for Japanese tourists but also foreign tourists.
Temples and shrines are not the only attractions of Kyoto. It is fun to know the culture of the people who lived in ancient times and contemplating it while traveling around. I took a foreign friend who loves Japan and has eventually moved to Japan, with me on this Kyoto trip. We will learn the distinctive Japanese "Aesthetics" and "Spirit culture" through a trip to experience Japanese culture in Arachiyama, known as a foremost scenic spot in Japan and a popular destination for foreign tourists.

A scenic place that prospered as a cottage area for nobles during the Heian period.

Arashiyama boasts of highest popularity in Kyoto. The area has a long history as a famous spot of cherry blossoms and fall color, since the Retired Emperor Gosaga transplanted the cherry blossom trees from Yoshino mountain in Nara over 700 years ago. During the Heian period, Arashiyama prospered as a cottage area for nobles and a lot of Waka (Japanese poem) were composed by the nobles. The area is also known as a place where the Hyakunin Isshu (an anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets) was edited.
Arashiyama where natural beauty and Japanese culture are merged, is a popular destination for foreign tourists with historical buildings such as shrines and temples. Visit the attractive spots of such a world-class tourist town and enjoy the Japanese food and sweets.


Take a leisurely walk around Togetsukyo bridge that is Arashiyama's iconic landmark.

Enjoy the travel feeling with the clickety-clack tramway on the way to Arashiyama

If you go to Arashiyama in the western area of Kyoto, we recommend taking a tram ride from the center of Kyoto city to Arashiyama. The tram called "Randen" by local people, passes by Sanjo Dori, Uzumasa that is famous for the Eigamura (movie village) and Koryuji-temple that is famous for the first Nathinal treasure Miroku Bosatsu Hanka Shiyui statue, a residential area and nature. Swayed by the tram, watching the view through the window boosted the travel feeling and made our conversation lively.


Travel to Arashiyama while enjoying chatting and the view through the tram window.


The Randen Arashiyama Station is a place you can feel the taste of Kyoto.


"Randen" is a public transportation center for local people in Kyoto.

After arriving at Randen Arashiyama Station, we saw some pillars covered with Kyoyuzen fabric lined up like a bamboo forest in the station premises without a ticket barrier.This "Kimono Forrest" is gently illuminated at night and invites you to a fantastic world. The greeting by a wonderful Kyoto-like space inflates the expectations.

Hyakunin Isshu is representing the universal emotions of humans. The love poems make your heart warm.

The road extending north and south around Randen Arashiyama Station is a main street of Arashiyama. We walked a path along the Oyodogawa River to the south, before the Togetsukyo Bridge to the upstream, and we could see our first destination on that day. Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts & Culture is a museum where you can find arts and culture related to Saga Arashiyama and Kyoto. In this center, there are substantial valuable resources of Hyakunin Isshu which is born in this district.


Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts & Culture

Hyakunin Isshu is an anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets. It is said that Fujiwara noTeika, a poet who was active in the late Heian period and the early Kamakura period 800 years ago, selected poems at a mountain cottage in Arashiyama・Ogurayama. First, we visited a corner where 100 figures and 100 Waka (Japanese poems) are displayed. You can find a variety of people including the emperor, nobles and monks.


The corner filled with all 100 poets and Waka has a fantastic atmosphere.


"If you know more deeply, you will get a sense of closeness."


English translation is attached to the commentary of the poems.

"There are some poems written by men who pretended to be women to write their feelings" said Maho Nakajima, a spokesman for Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts & Culture, and then she explained about a poem by a monk named Sosei Hoshi.
"Ima ko mu to Ii shi bakari ni Nagatsuki no Ariakenotsuki wo Machiide tsuru Kana" which means "I have seen the morning moon after I waited long at night in September, simply because you said you would come and see me soon." Sympathizes with the universal emotions of humans, to say nothing of the beauty of the sophisticated poem.


The exhibitions include a handwritten Karuta (traditional Japanese playing card) made during the Edo period.


Seeing those displays creates a feeling of closeness to Hyakunin Isshu.

On the second floor, there is a hall of approx. 220㎡. This big hall has the Tatami mat floor and holds a planning exhibition focusing on Japanese paintings. Even if you do not know much about Japanese art, you will enjoy it with easy-to-understand commentary which has English translation.
Also, "65th Meijin match and 63rd Queen match" the tournament competition Karuta to decide a Grand champion was held at the center in November 2018. Challengers fight hard to get a right to challenge to the Meijin and Queen with full of tension and the 150 spectators watched the skill and strategy that the players play out with breathless interest.


Occasionally, there is a heated battle of the Karuta tournament and the Karuta courses in the 220㎡Tatami hall.


Normally, you can enjoy Japanese paintings in a calm atmosphere at the Tatami hall.


"Let's take a memorial photo at the end of the visit to leave a good memory!"


Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts & Culture

11 Sagatenryuji- Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 10:00 ~17:00(Last entry16:30)
Closed: Every Tuesday (If Tuesday is public holiday, following Wednesday will be closed), New Year's holiday and display replacement period
Admission fee: Adults, University students: \900, High school students: \500, Elementary and Junior high school students: \300

The origin of "Togetsukyo" is romantic!


Walk down along with the gentle flow of the Oyodogawa River and take a photo at Togetsukyo Brige, a landmark of Arashiyama. Listening to the sound of flowing water makes you feel refreshed.
By the way, do you know the origin of "Togetsukyo"? In Kamakura period, Emperor Kameyama enjoyed boating in a harvest moon night and he composed a poem "It looks as if the clear moon were walking over the bridge," therefor it was named "Togetsukyo (the bridge of the passing moon). Feels like that you can compose a nice poem when you look at the scenic scenery while thinking of the romantic history.


Togetsukyo Bridge has been popular as a famous place for the cherry blossoms and autumn leaves since the Heian period.

An advanced tour guide found at Randen Arashiyama Station was foreigners friendly!

On the main street of Arashiyama, there are many shops that offer Japanese sweets, Japanese miscellaneous goods and Kyoto souvenirs. While taking a leisurely walk and considering where to go next, we went back to Randen Arashiyama Station. Got lured in by smell of food and entered into the station yard, then we found a big smartphone like panel. The station staff told us it is a signage for checking the Arashiyama sightseeing spots, events and travel information and talking with concierge through its video phone.That's popular sightseeing spot Arashiyama! They have cutting edge facilities.


A concierge will appear on the display to answer to your questions.

We asked the concierge if there any places where we can experience Japanese culture which is suitable for foreigners and he introduced us to some famous shrine temples, temples and several popular spots. As the service will be available in English and Chinese languages, foreign tourists feel comfortable.Among the recommended places, we decided to visit the Okochi-sanso villa which has wonderful 2 hectares garden and Rakushisha where Matsuo Basho visited.


Travel support is available in Japanese, English and Chinese. Arashiyama's distinctive hospitality for foreign tourists.

We encounter wonderful scenery in the garden funded by a historical drama film star.

Okochi-sanso garden is a 2 hectares stroll garden with a central pond built by a famous actor Okochi Denjiro who was active in the early Showa era. The bamboo forest near the garden is busy with a lot of tourists but once you enter the garden, you will be lapped in the silence and time will flow slowly.
As you go up the gentle slope, you can see Chumon (middle gate). The small gate with a cypress bark roof that is placed on a bow-shaped rafter has a taste of Kyoto. I walked one by one on the stepping stones laid there.


Go to the garden through the Chumon with the quaint cypress bark roof.


The see through like lush maple leaves are beautiful.


The lanterns and stone pagodas located throughout the garden create a wonderful atmosphere.

The narrow swirling path surrounded by trees is like a maze. It needed more physical strength than I thought because it has undulations as expected of a mountain cottage. Suddenly, the Daijokaku where Denjiro spent his late years came into view. Even from the outside, the complex and unique design incorporating the style of Shoin, Sukiya, Shinden and various architectur are very impressive. There is a lush lawn area in front of the building and trees such as maple trees and pine trees are planted around it to create a beautiful view of Japan's four seasons. It is an open and comfortable space surrounded by the scenery with gentle breeze.


The Daijokaku is the main building of the garden. Its design was given a lot of thought.


The blue sky, the gentle breeze and the lushly green garden makes us feel at peace.


The landscape which is full of magnificent the nature of Arashiyama is breathtakingly wonderful.

After passing through the Jibutsu-do that was built very first by Denjiro and tea room Tekisui-an, we arrived at Gekatei which is located near the summit. From the highest point in the garden, you can overlook Kyoto city. The view includes Hieizan in the distance is wonderful and feels like I received an unexpected reward. Being able to encounter such beautiful nature landscapes, gardens and a quaint building are the biggest attraction of Okochi Sanso.


Scenery like a Japanese painting put in a picture frame


The dynamic view includes Hieizan in a distance stretching out from the vicinity of the summit.

When you go down the mountain, you will see the Okochi Denjiro Memorial Hall, where you can see the activities of Denjiro who took the world by storm as "Tange Sazen (name of samurai character)". Instead of the things like old film which were difficult to store for a long time, he pursued a beauty that will last forever, and began to build the garden at the age of 34. Until he passed away at the age of 64, he spent most of his performance fee on the mountain cottage and built it with a great deal of effort. At the end of our visit, we had a green tea and sweets in the tea room while feeling the passion of Denjiro who put heart into this place and worked on it all of his life.


■ Okochi-Sanso Villa

8-3 Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours:9:00〜17:00
Open throughout the year
Admission fee:¥1000(include a Japanese sweet and a cup of hot matcha tea)

Enjoy the world of Haiku poetry at a small thatched hut where Basho (Haiku master) visited.


Rakushisha sits quietly in a rural landscape which is full of nature.

I found a thatched hut in the idyllic rural landscape after 5 minutes' walk from Okochi Sanso. The Rakushisha was created by an Edo-era haiku poet Mukaikyorai, a disciple of Matsuo Basho before 1687 and he spent his later years here. It is also known as a place where Basho visited and stayed for a long time for 3 times and wrote the "Saga diary."


"Motoan" makes us feel nostalgic and remember original scenery of Japan.

The"Motoan" has a thatched roof that was seen from the outside was rebuilt in 1770 after the death of Kyorai. We can feel Japan's unique view of the world "Wabi Sabi" from the small and simple building. There is a 300 years old oak tree which was the origin of the name of the house near the Honan.
At the time, Kyorai sold all the fruits of 40 persimmon trees to the merchant, but nearly all of the persimmon had been fallen from the trees by gusty wind that night. At this moment he decided to call his hut Rakushisha (The House of Fallen Persimmon) and wrote a Haiku which has a meaning of "Oh persimmon, it is no surprise that your fruit were fallen because the Arashiyama that the name has a meaning of storm is near your treetops.


You can feel the taste in the garden that you can see from the Japanese-style room


A firefly wall with a spot like the firefly light.


There are 4 types of Goshuin (red ink stamp), including the Kyorai's haiku.

We cannot enter "Motoan". However, "Jian" was made next to "Motoan" 50 years ago and they held haiku gathering for the haiku lovers. 100 varieties of plants for four seasons are planted in the garden and still the number is increasing. Mr. Hiroshi Sakurai who is a butler at Rakushisha says, "The pink colour Kyouganoko flower is now in full bloom. Gardening is very important in making haiku."


"At the edge of verandah, everyone can write a haiku as they wish."


You can feel the sense of elegance everywhere, including Shishi-Odoshi which breaks the quietness with the sound of a bamboo rocker arm hitting a rock.

In Rakushisha, they set up a haiku box and the selected works are published in the quarterly magazine. "Please try to write a haiku in commemoration of your visit." Mr. Sakurai said. You may be able to see the scenery that Kyorai had seen 300 years ago by sitting at the edge of verandah.


"I composed a haiku at the edge of verandah of Motoan!"

This trip started with an ancient Hyakunin Isshu, then a Japanese garden built by a great actor over his lifetime and wrote a haiku in the hut which was loved by a poet. It was a trip to experience Japanese culture through "words" and "vision".

Those distinctive Japanese "sense of beauty" and "spirit culture" that we encountered in Arashiyama were not only shrine temples, temples, Buddha statues and paintings, and that would be wonderful if we can convey the attraction of Kyoto and Japan to many people around the world. Why don't you cross the Togetsukyo Bridge to experience the Arashiyama charm? You must surely find a new face of Kyoto.


■ Rakushisha

20 Hinomyojin-cho, Sagaogurayama, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours:9:00~17:00 ※ January and February
Closed:31 December ~ 1 January
Admission fee:¥250

"Japanese Culture Experience in Arashiyama" Recommended Japanese Food and Japanese Sweets.

Enjoy the Shojin Ryori (Zen Vegetarian Cuisine) with gratitude in the garden which is registered World Heritage Site.

Tenryuji is the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. The Zen temple is related to both Takauji Ashikaga shogun family and Emperor Godaigo, also it is registered World heritage site. This famous fountain pond garden has Sogenchi (pond) in the centre and a dynamic view landscape incorporating Arashiyama scenery.


Sougenchi garden includes Arashiyama in the background. The whole garden is about 99 ㎢.

The restaurant which provide the Shojin (Zen vegetarian) cuisine at the beautiful site is Tenryuji Shigetsu. Shojin cuisine was introduced from China during the Kamakura period. The seasonal ingredients such as vegetables, mountain herbs, wild plants, seaweeds and the other fresh ingredients every season except any animal products are used for Shojin cuisine. Originally it is a meal for the Buddist priests but Shigetsu offers the Shojin cusine (one cup of soup, a bowl of rice and five vegetables dishes) for entertaining customers.First, I put my hands together to pray "Itadakimasu" (I will receive the life of mother earth with gratitude) with gratitude.


"Shigetsu" is a real Zen vegetarian cuisine operated under the direct management of Tenryuji Temple.


Shigetsu is offering the Shojin cuisine in the traditional tableware to the public for the better understanding of Shojin cusine.

"There is variation in taste, such as rich sesame tastes home-made sesame tofu and hot grilled eggplant with sweet miso past, the quality and quantity are very satisfactory. What was particularly impressive was the pureed soup of green soybeans. It is a cold soup made by smashing the valued green soybeans and combine its soup with miso soup. With its sweetness and richness, it ever-popular menu in hot summer season" said manager of Shigetsu Mr. Takuo Koyama. The Shojin dishes based on "five methods, five tastes, five colors" that values five recipes, seasoning, and balance of colors hav beauty, delicateness and heart of hospitality. It may be the ultimate Japanese cuisine that will not waste any ingredients, with a lot of love of the chef.


"The pureed soup of green soybeans has beautiful taste with sweetness and thick texture"


"With gratitude, we will receive the life of the earth"

We will see the food in a calm high-quality space while enjoying the nature-rich garden of Tenryuji temple. We deeply appreciate receiving the life of the earth. I balanced my mind and body while tasting each dish firmly and received great power.


Zen Vegetarian Cuisine "Shigetsu" (Shigetsu is operated under the direct management of Tenryu-ji)

68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours:11:00~14:00
Open throughout the year
※additional fee applies for the garden visit: ¥500

Enjoy the freshly-made Warabimochi (a traditional Japanese dessert made from bracken starch, soybean flour and topped off with syrup) in an unordinary space.

Oimatsu is a Japanese sweets shop that has been established for over 100 years. As Arashiyama is a tourist destination, they wanted tourists to taste the real Japanese sweets and opened the Arashiyama store with a tea room in 1976. The Arashiyama shop exclusive sweet Warabimochi is the most popular among their menu. It made with 100% warabi-ko (Japan made bracken starch) and they start making Warabimochi after receiving orders.


An old long-established store on the main street of Arashiyama.

The black colored double decker food box is a symbol of the container used to present sweets to palace. When you open the lid, the smell of Kinako flour came wafting in, the big ice cube and the Warabimochi floating in a water in the lower box seems cool. 'People ask me 'Why are they black?' but that color is evidence of we are using real Warabi powder" said Ms. Keiko Iwai of Oimatsu Arashiyama store.


The Warabimochi are made after receiving orders.

First, pick up a piece with chopsticks and eat it without sauce. The surface is sluggish, chewy and warm on the inside. Because of its elasticity, it is filling more than I thought. And it goes down the throat well. The excellent taste of Warabimochi is totally different from which I have eaten before. When combined with Kinako flour and rich black honey, gentle sweetness spreads in the mouth and we cannot help smiling.


It's soft but stretches well. Its unique texture is very nice.

A luxurious space where you can spend your time away from your daily life looking out the Japanese garden from the large windows of the teahouse. Understanding the background such as the history and ingredients of Japanese sweets, the cooking method, and meaning of the container, deepens understanding and taste. I would like to give the Kyoto sweets as a souvenir and to talk about it to many people.


■ Oimatsu Arashiyam

20 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours:Shop 9:00~17:00 Teahouse:9:30~17:00(Last order: 16:30)
Open throughout the year

Misako Fujita

After moving to Kyoto city more than 10 years ago, I cover various sports, stores, companies and touch the nature and history of Kyoto, food and the charm of people every day. On the weekend, I run around Arashiyama and participated in the Kyoto marathon for 2 consecutive years to train my mind and body.

Yuki Kimura

A photographer living in Kyoto who likes pottery, plants, food, comedy and sleeping. The photographer especially loves delicious foods, so he feels happy when he buys fresh vegetables at Ohara morning market on weekends and eats egg over rice at his favorite restaurant.