Falling in Love with Arashiyama

Finally, a decent sleep.
After the previous 24 hours of travelling, it was sorely needed.

I woke up with the anxieties of the previous night swallowed up in the excitement of simply waking up IN JAPAN! Invigorated by thoughts of how I would spend my first free day in Kyoto, the city of my dreams (terribly cheesy I know, but true). Of course it had to be Arashiyama, the western hills of Kyoto, with the famous monkey park, Togetsukyo bridge and bamboo grove.

I got ready and took in the little traditional style house I was living in for the first time – so different and charming. Also no rain today thankfully! Cloudy but I could live with that.

I hadn’t any food just yet and hadn’t eaten for some time. I stopped off at a Family Mart store on the way to Enmachi Station, tried Chicken Mayo Onigiri and bought tropical coconut water and カレーパン (curry bread) for later. Fumbled about a fair bit with the onigiri, trying to take out the seaweed and put it round the rice. Still don’t know how it’s meant to be done but it turned out a little wonky…

I took a train from Enmachi to Sagano Arashiyama Station. From there, it’s pretty easy…just look for a group of tourists and follow them. You might get unlucky and end up following tourists, following tourists, who are now just as lost as the random, lost Chinese man who appeared to know the way.

10 minutes walk and you find yourself on the street that leads to Togetsukyo, and standing at the entrance to 天龍寺 (Tenryuuji or Sky Dragon Temple). Being my first day here and uber-excited I might have gotten just a little camera-happy… taking pictures and videos of things that weren’t really anything, simply because it was Japanesey. For all I know I was taking pictures of some old lady’s house… tourists eh?

Although twitching to see the hills of Arashiyama, I couldn’t pass by Tenryuuji and NOT go in. It was definitely worth it. Though I’ll admit I actually took a video just walking up the path ‘cos I didn’t realise I wasn’t at the temple itself until I got to the REAL entrance and paying booth…so sad.

Tenruuji is an incredibly beautiful and charming temple. Maybe it has something to do with being my first visited, but this one is up there with my absolute favourites. It was a great feeling to walk across the old wood pathways and tatami-matted rooms in my socks (somehow it’s easier to feel connected to a place without your shoes on). To sit in the tatami rooms and look out through the shoji sliding doors over the gardens; the beautiful pond and trees and flowers hanging over it…well, how else could I put it other than a dream come true?

However, despite spending quite some time there I didn’t allow that to really sink in – there was still so much I was desperate to do! After walking round the temple’s gardens I left through the back exit, buying a little bamboo bookmark for my wife’s nan.

I left this way, obediently following a piece of advice I remembered from a fellow blogger, as it leads to the bamboo grove. Arashiyama’s bamboo grove a famed out of Japan, and though it is beautiful, I wonder if it is quite deserving of its given fame. It is a pleasure to walk through, with the bamboo looming high on either side with their bright green, leafy tops. But it is a little busy, and there are other, quieter bamboo groves you can find and enjoy.

After exploring a little, I found my way to Togetsukyo bridge. I love the street leading down to it, all the little shops and restaurants. But then I get to the bridge… I thought it would be nice, but wow that place is beautiful. Standing on the bridge you can enjoy the sound of the rushing water, looking up the wide river at the hills that surround it.  Even though the place can be busy with many Chinese tourists, with your back to all the bustling, it is a wonderful, stunning place.

There are many places you can sit and peacefully enjoy the area, on either side of the river or the little island in the middle. I went across the bridge, and found the Iwatayama Monkey Park on the other side. I paid the 600 Yen fee and took the 15-20 minute walk on the winding path upwards, amused by the sign telling me to never eat food outside. It was enjoyable enough walking through the trees, seeing the odd, red-faced monkey fling itself from a branch nearby or just sitting looking at us humans pass.

Up until now I hadn’t seen any effects from jet lag, after flying 8 hours into the future, a lot of travelling and not much sleep. It was held at bay by the excitement fuelled adrenaline, that was increasingly wearing off. The uphill walk was bit of struggle, in the heat and humidity of Japanese rainy season that was so new to me having come from cold, little England. Although now only 2pm, I was really beginning to feel tired, with a stinging headache that had been developing the past few hours, but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge it.

Once at the top I soon forgot all about it again. First of all, there are the monkeys running around by your feet; baby monkeys play-fighting, and other red-faced fur balls climbing on the mesh of the hut to grab nuts from the oh-so-excited humans on the inside. Second of all, you have that view over Kyoto… and that view is stunning. The monkeys were the first to grab my attention, but that view, with the hills near and far and the city of Kyoto below, took my breath.

By now the sun began to come through the clouds, the earth now appearing orange, and the greens of the hills bright and deep. Those rolling, crumpled hills of Kyoto remained my favourite thing from then on.

This was a place I don’t think could ever be captured well enough by photograph or film (I did try but my camera lens kept steaming up from the humidity for one thing). I certainly couldn’t capture what I loved so much about those hills in my photos, and though now only 3 weeks have passed since returning home, I long to see those hills again with my own eyes; to feel the humid heat against my skin, hear the cicadas in the forests and smell the earth and the trees… But maybe not the monkeys or all the Americans you find there – cute as they are, they did smell just a little (the monkeys, not the Americans (well not most of them ;D)).

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On the way back down jet lag really started to punish me. There was a dull throbbing in my head and I felt a little queasy. My legs went a little weak too and ached a fair bit.

But I didn’t want it to beat me down, ‘cos I still had things to do!

I explored down the beautiful river down to Senkooji Temple to enjoy the peace and quiet, sitting in the temple on the hill looking out over the river and hills. Then I headed back, getting a soy bean donut and ice cream on the way which were both delicious, but the donut especially!

So, Arashiyama vs Jet Lag… Arashiyama wins.

I fell in love with Arashiyama, in person this time rather than by internet stalking.

This was my first full day in Kyoto, my first full day ever in Japan, and was a great start to my stay. I would return to Arashiyama 2 times more before going home. But tomorrow, tomorrow was time to start work.


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