Saturday, September 17, 2016
On an original mission to see the tsukimi (moon viewing, 月見) a couple days late in a nearby shrine, a friend and I set out to a small district on the outskirts of Kyoto called Arashiyama.
I didn’t know what to expect of Arashiyama before going, but looking at google maps I found a monkey park, bamboo forest, and many other nature areas within a short walking distance. But when I got there, I realized two things: Arashiyama really lives up to its name and that I’ve accidentally stumbled into a huge tourist destination.
Arashiyama, read with the kanji 嵐山, translates to “storm mountain.” And, indeed, here we were surrounded by mountains along with clouds dark and ominous looking as though a storm was brewing in the distance.
But despite the weather, Arashiyama was absolutely beautiful. And, to my lack of knowledge at the time of arriving, that Arashiyama is world renowned for the beauty and variety of the nature it houses within its small vicinity.
On our way to our first park, we were greeted by a gorgeous Shinto Shrine called Ichitanimunakata Shrine very close to the river.
After visiting the shrine, we went up to a monkey park where you can hike up to the top of a mountain and get an overview of Kyoto while watching monkeys do what they do best: monkeying around.
I was expected to be fascinated by the monkeys but instead I was blown away by the view of Kyoto and the surrounding nature.
It was a well blended mix of nature and civilization, an image of Japan I often hold in my head but haven’t seen as clearly until now.
Next, we headed down the mountain and toward the bamboo forest, but of course not without doing a bit of shopping on the street leading there. I didn’t end up buying anything, but my friend ended up buying some homemade chocolates.
Around the area we saw lots of carriages being pulled around by men with one to two passengers for a tour of the area. I thought it was a bit strange, but sure, if people want shirtless attractive Japanese men giving them a tour of the area while they get pulled on a carriage, then let it be. The guys seemed to be having fun as well despite the humidity.
Before we got to the bamboo forest, my friend realized that she had lost her Icoca card somewhere, a card that holds money you previously put on it in order to make getting on and off trains and buses a bit more convenient. So, we went back to the chocolate shop and I asked if she had seen an Icoca card. The lady said no, but she recommended that we go to the Koban, the police, to see if anyone had picked up the card and brought it there. Luckily I had seen the Koban on the way, so we headed over there.
The koban was very small, just a front room and back office. The front room was covered of papers with information of people they were searching for. The rest of the text was too small for me to read if they people they were looking for were criminals or simply just missing people.
The policeman complimented my Japanese as I was the one talking and translating for my friend (even though I made various mistakes with my Japanese). But overall the policeman was very nice and we got in and out without much of a hassle, although they didn’t have the card. We filled out some paperwork so if they ever do find it, they can contact my friend and get it back to her.
After our unplanned stop to the Koban, we continued on our way to the bamboo forest which was as beautiful as it was crowded.
But I can see why Arashiyama is such a tourist destination though. The bamboo forest itself was breathtaking. Buildings, graveyards, and shrines were also scattered throughout which made the place seem even more magical and unreal, dreamlike almost. Too bad it wasn’t sunny or else I think it would have really felt truly magical.
But because of the weather being cloudy, we didn’t end up staying for the tsukimi. Instead we stopped by a secondhand bookstore where I bought myself a Japanese novel to practice my Japanese and then went on our way home.
It was accidental that we stumbled on such a tourist attraction, but I’m glad that I got the chance to go. The mix between nature and city was truly amazing and I’d love to go back on a sunnier day.