Delightful charms in Arashiyama, Kyoto.
Located at the base of the mountains on the west side of the city, the Arashiyama and Sagano area are a little outside of all the downtown chaos. Nonetheless, it is still a sightseeing area full of wonder. When you first enter into Arashiyama, Kyoto, the landscape and city views may not be that impressive. However, just like Kyoto’s numerous other sightseeing wonders, sometimes you just have to search a little harder to discover something extraordinary. It is here you can relax by the rushing waters of the Arashiyama bridge, after walking the garden grounds of Tenru-ji, whose exit literally drops you into a wondrous bamboo grove. It is there you can follow the back roads into rice fields and wide open spaces to find a poets hut nestled on the side of the street.
This bridge is the dominant landmark in Arashiyama. The original crossing, constructed in 1606, was about 100m upriver from the present bridge. A very interesting tradition occurs yearly on this bridge. On April 13th, an important rite of passage for local children aged 13 takes place. Boys and girls, many in kimono, after paying respects at a nearby shrine and receiving a blessing for wisdom, cross the bridge under strict parental order not to look back towards the temple until they’ve reached the northern side of the bridge. Not heeding to this instruction is believed to bring bad luck for life!
After a renovation in 2013, Arashiyama Station is now open for everyone to explore the station grounds for free. New shops and restaurants are open so people can visit without having to actually ride the train. But the most interesting and impressive attraction is dispersed all over the station: the “Kimono Forest.”
Known as a “forest” because the pillars are clustered like a forest and the kimono is displayed on each of the pillars. The “Kimono Forest” consists of pieces of textile dyed in the Kyo-yuzen style. Each of them are covered with acrylic fiber, shaped like 2m tall cylindrical poles installed around the station and railway tracks. There are over 600 of them all over the station grounds!! The Kyo-yuzen textile used for this exhibition was created by Kamedatomi, a long standing textile factory that dates back to Taisho period. There are a total of 32 different textile patterns displayed which were carefully selected by Yasumichi Morita. The original idea of this installation was “to give a fresh air to the station while still keeping the old tradition.” He wanted to give a new life to this station so that more people will come and enjoy their time at the Arashiyama Randen line tram Station.
Walking through the poles kind of makes you feel that you are in an art show instead of walking along train tracks! It’s a very unique experience! It is also recommended to walk through the “forest” at night when the kimono poles are illuminated. I was not able to stay long enough to see them light up the station, but they were still a charming sight during the day!
Tenryu-ji is the most important temple in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district. Translating as “Temple of the Heavenly Dragon,” this temple was ranked first among the cities five great Zen temples!
Tenryu-ji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji. Takauji dedicated the temple to Emperor Go-Daigo, who had just passed away. The two important historic figures used to be allies until Takauji turned against the emperor in a struggle for supremacy over Japan. By building the temple, Takauji intended to appease the former emperor’s spirits. Tenryu-ji’s buildings were repeatedly lost in fires and wars over the centuries, and most of the current halls, including the main hall (Hojo), drawing hall (Shoin), and temple kitchen (Kuri) with its distinctive small tower, date from the relatively recent Meiji Period (1868-1912). Unlike the temple buildings, Tenryu-ji’s stroll-around styled garden survived the centuries in its original form, since about the fourteenth century. Created by the famous garden designer, Muso Soseki, the beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees, and the forested Arashiyama mountains. Muso Soseki also served as Tenryu-ji’s first head priest.
Leave Tenryu-ji’s north exit and it drops you out directly at the entrance to Arashiyama’s famous bamboo path. A path lined with the tallest, thickest, greenest bamboo stalks. They envelope you and literally make you feel like you’ve stepped into another world (or at least as though you are no longer in Kyoto).
Rakushisha: Poets Hut.
At the end of the enchanting bamboo path, follow the back roads leading out into some rice fields and open space, there you will find the most charming little hut.
Rakushisha is the cottage of the Genroku poet Mukai Kyorai. Kyorai was one of the ten disciples of the famous haiku poet, Matsuo Basho. Basho was once referred to Kyorai in this way: “In Kyoto there is Kyorai, who is in charge of haiku in Western Japan.” Kyorai was the most important poet to continue Basho’s authentic style after the master died.
As the story goes, Kyorai had about forty persimmon trees in the garden of his hut in Saga. One autumn when they were heavy with fruit, he had arranged to sell the persimmons. But the night before they were to be picked, a great storm arose. The next morning not a single persimmon was left on the trees. Kyorai was enlightened by this experience and from then on called the hut “Rakushisha” (the cottage of the fallen persimmons).
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Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!
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