We’d been in Arashiyama ten minutes and were lost already! Would lack of planning ruin our day?
Firstly getting off at the wrong bus stop and then heading off in the wrong direction. Now we were standing, totally unsure of where we were, with a postcard-worthy scene in front of us.
Over a bridge and back again
A few steps off what we now know to be Togetsukyo Bridge, we were transported back in time to a quaint little Japanese village. Wasen, traditional Japanese boats, lined the edge of the Hozugawa River and reflected in the still waters while an pretty hillside provided a multi-layered backdrop to the panorama before us.
With scarcely enough time to appreciate the view, I realized we were walking in the wrong direction and we backtracked across the bridge.
A bamboo forest
The reason we headed to Arashiyama was to see the bamboo grove. Photos on Google show it stunning, imposing and so, well… Japanese. As it turned out we walked into that grove along with hundreds of other tourists who’d obviously heard about this place too.
Wandering along gazing up, looking left and right, we felt a little confused. We were trying to feel something magical, but it was just bamboo! Then my husband looked at me and said “I don’t get this one.” I’d researched and organised the trip and he’d loved everything so far but this one left us both scratching our head.
By the time we got to the end of the path we were ready to notch this one up to experience; but more on this later.
An imperial garden
At the end of the bamboo grove a sign for a private Japanese garden caught our eye. Intrigued, we decided to take a look. Okochi-Sanso Villa is the former home and garden of the Japanese silent film actor, Okochi Denjiro. A tiny Shinto shrine on the land was his favourite retreat and place of solitude. He built his residence overlooking Kyoto and planted the beautiful gardens.
Signs guided us along immaculately kept pathways. The gardens framed stunning views; Kyoto city to one side and the Hozu River and beyond to stunning multi-coloured mountains on the other side.
Looking across the river we caught sight of a tiny hut nestled neatly on the side of the mountain. Buddhist prayer flags waving in the breeze suggested it wasn’t abandoned. Time stood still as we pondered “how do you get there?” We strained our eyes trying to find a road or any other signs of life for that matter but there were none; only the gorgeous changing colours of a very old forest. We walked away content with not answering our question.
The winding garden path led us past the tiny Shinto shrine, to traditional style buildings before leading us to the teahouse. Here we sought shelter from the rain and warmed our hands on the bowls of hot matcha tea served in wabi-sabi style pottery and enjoyed a delicious little Japanese sweet.
Heading out of the garden we were back at the end of the bamboo grove. Umbrellas of every colour now dotted the view. Somehow we sensed a character and charm that we hadn’t felt earlier that morning. The crowds had dispersed and the incessant chatter of the tourists was gone. The bamboo reached skyward and converged to create a natural arch towering above us; it was the crowning glory over a sea of umbrellas. In that moment, the bamboo grove was everything I’d hoped it would be.
And a romantic train ride
What next? A sign pointed to a railway station so we decided to check it out. There were little shops and food stalls so we grabbed a quick snack and an umbrella. The next Sagano Romantic Train was due in half an hour, so we bought tickets and waited.
The dimly lit carriages had wooden seats with windows that pulled open at the top. We wound our way alongside a river that flowed with aqua coloured water, through old stone tunnels, across bridges and gorges that looked like something off a film set. Stunning trees with pretty foliage lined the way and much to my delight there were more cherry blossoms.
Once at the end of the line a ten-minute walk took us to the JR station to wait for a train back to Kyoto.
Reflecting on our day, we couldn’t help but ponder that the best adventures come from loosely formulated plans. We had made our way to Arashiyama without a map, got lost and yet had the most amazing day. It was never the wrong stop, the wrong way or the wrong destination – it was three unforgettable moments and a romantic train ride all pieced together by serendipity to make a magical day.