Stepping onto the path of the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove, you find yourself shrouded by a calming shadow. Unlike most places in Kyoto, with bustling tour groups of people jostling around cameras and maps, the crowds here grow quiet as visitors take in the sights. The bamboo itself seems casts a spell on all those who enter. The harsh sun peaks its way through the tall stalks of the forest giving just enough light for a great photo, but not enough to cast heat down upon you. When the wind winds through the woods, the thousands of bamboo stalks slowly sway in a serene dance and wave weary travelers on. The concrete path of the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove climbs slowly up a hill and ends in a “T” shape at the top. Left takes you to the famous Togetsukyo Bridge and right leads on to temples, shrines, and the local neighborhoods.
Japan has a long relationship with bamboo. Bamboo appears in myths and legends as a metaphor for the strength of men, is eaten in many dishes in Japanese cuisine, and was historically used to make tools for the home and in battle. The opportunity to enjoy bamboo forests these days, however, has become rare making Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove a unique opportunity for travelers. The bamboo has attracted visitors from all over Japan as far back as the 8th century, when it became popular amongst aristocrats to vacation in natural environments. The dense forest covers about 16 square kilometers (3,950 acres) and the pathways stretch through about 300 meters (0.18 miles) of the space. Tall fences along the pathway discourage visitors from entering, but not all adhere to this.
Despite its long history, and possibly millions of visitors over the years, the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Forest has survived from suffering damage from humans until this year. From April, 2018 reports of names and initials carved into the bamboo have come out. Given that most of these names are written in non-Japanese languages it’s thought that foreign tourists are the most frequent culprits trying to commemorate their stay. Doing so, however, damages the bamboo and can disrupt another traveler’s enjoyment.
Given the sheer number of both international and Japanese people who want to visit the Bamboo Grove, it’s best to try to avoid the crowds by going in the morning on a weekday. Nighttime might also be less crowded, but there will be little to no light to see the thin trees give the illusion of thickness through their numbers, or how high they reach to the sky. The Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove also neighbors the Tenryunji Temple, dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo and famous for its Zen garden and the Sogen Pond. Many people go to Tenryuji Temple first, then follow the paths of the garden leading to the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove.
You can reach the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove from Kyoto station via the JR Sagano/Sanin Line. Board the train bound for Saga-Arashiyama Station. The ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 240 JPY, or you can use the JR Rail Pass. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from Saga-Arashiyama Station to the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove. You can either pick up a walking map from the station or follow the road signs to the Bamboo Forest.
You can also access Arashiyama in Kyoto on one of two private railways. From central Kyoto’s Omiya Station (on the corner of Shijo Street and Omiya Street) take the Keifuku Arashiyama Line to Keifuku Arashiyama Station.
From Kawaramachi or Karasuma Station, also in central Kyoto on Shijo Street, board the Hankyu Main Line to Katsura Station. The Hankyu Main Line is also accessible from Kyoto Station. Get off at Katsura Station and transfer to the Hankyu Arashiyama Line bound for Hankyu Arashiyama Station.