The Best of Kyoto: The Bamboo Forest
The second most unforgettable site in Kyoto is another atmospheric place and that is the Bamboo Forest, also known as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
It’s not a temple, and it’s not a shrine. It’s just a forest of bamboo trees.
Traditionally, the Japanese believed that bamboo could ward off evil spirits, so it was often planted outside of temples and shrines.
In Japanese culture, bamboo is seen as auspicious and symbolizes strength and prosperity.
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The Bamboo Forest
Type of landmark: Just a forest
Main features: A path going through a bamboo grove
Location: On the western outskirts of the city in the Arashiyama District
Best time for photos: Before 8:00ish to avoid the crowds
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Why should you go?
Otherworldly. Beautiful. Sublime. A one-of-a-kind experience. Need I say more? You’ve seen the iconic pictures, right? If you visit at the right time, you can hear the bamboo stalks moving and the leaves rustling as the wind blows. And if you go at the wrong time, you’ll be mobbed by selfie-stick carrying tourists.
When should you visit?
Early, early, early. You should get there at 7:00ish or 7:30ish. I have a confession to make. I had planned to get to the Bamboo Forest at 7:00 am. However, I set my alarm wrong and didn’t wake up until 7:00. I also decided to see Tenryu-Ji Temple first before the Bamboo Forest. So, by the time I got to the forest, it was packed with hordes or tourists. All my pictures include bamboo with people’s heads.
How do you get there?
This tourist attraction takes the longest to get to of all the sites. The best thing to do is to download the Navitime app to your phone. It has the schedule for all the buses, trains, and subway lines in Kyoto.
What are you going to see?
Bamboo, bamboo, and bamboo. There’s NO temple at the Bamboo Forest. It’s just a path with incredibly tall bamboo trees on each side going as far as the eyes can see.
The path will lead gradually uphill to Okochi Sanso, a beautiful garden with amazing views of Kyoto.
There’s also a charming teahouse where you can drink tea while looking at some more bamboo.
The tea and little sweet that you get are part of the ticket price.
Once you’ve seen Okochi Sanso, you can either turn back to where you just came from to catch your bus or visit Tenryu-ji Temple, or you can go right and walk to five more temples. It’ll take you a few hours to get to the last of the five temples.
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How long should you spend there?
If you go early and you’ve brought a tripod, you can spend an hour taking photo after photo. Or you could go later and spend like 30 minutes depending on how many pictures you take and how many tourists you need to weave through. It’s your pick. The perfect photo or sleep?
Where to eat near the Bamboo Forest
There are lots of restaurants near the Bamboo Forest serving Japanese kaiseki food. This might be a good chance to try it.
These are the restaurants that repeatedly turned up on lists of recommended restaurants in Arashiyama. I’ve marked them on the map above.
- Shigetsu – They serve Kyoto temple food (vegetarian). The restaurant is inside the grounds of Tenryu-Ji Temple. It’s a bit hard to find. A set meal is between 3,000 and 7,000 yen (US$27-$63).
- Yudofu Sagano – They serve kaiseki food. Check out a review here.
- Arashiyama Yoshimura – They serve soba noodles.
- Arashiyama Udon Ozuru – This is where I ate. They serve udon noodles. I had a set meal for 1430 yen (US$13). It was ok. Nothing special.
Have you visited the Bamboo Forest? Did it meet your expectations? What time did you go? If you haven’t been to Kyoto yet, what site are you most looking forward to seeing?
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