I woke up in my Ryokan at around 5:30, which was the closest I had come to sleeping in so far. I went downstairs to brew my cup of Genmaicha, a tea I had gotten right out of the factory. You could really taste the freshness of this tea. It was one of the best Genmaichas I have ever had even though it was a bagged tea.
I prepared a few more cups of tea, had a quick stretch and then headed out to the still-dark city streets. Today I would be going to Arashiyama, one of the more popular spots for tourists in Kyoto. This used to be where the emperor would go to get out of the city. Here you can find beautiful views of nature and a ton of cool things to do. I was so excited!
I got off of the train at Arashiyama and started following a group of people who I assumed knew where they were going. Turns out they didn’t, and I soon found myself lost amongst a beautiful temple complex. I took a minute to take it all in, and then I wondered through what I now think was a residential neighborhood. Here you could find super traditional temples and Ryokans, no doubt meant to be exclusive perks for wealthy tourists. It was still around 7:00am so the streets here were completely quiet. I wondered through one of the more beautiful Buddhist grave sites I had seen and paused for a moment of silence. I kept walking along the path and eventually came to the river.
Here is where things got really interesting. The river was a gorgeous clear blue color and it was sandwiched in between two large hills covered in beautiful fall foliage. This was the most beautiful natural scene I had seen in Japan thus far. I noticed an older man sitting by the river sipping a coffee. I like to think that this is a morning ritual for him, a time of peaceful reflection. I think there is great beauty in that.
I noticed many people here going for runs and walking their dogs. One thing that surprised me is how many people here go for runs. When I was there, in the late fall, it still seemed like there were more runners than I see around my neighborhood in Virginia. I took a moment to enjoy the beautiful blue water, and all of the traditional Edo period boats giving small tours along the water. I headed up a narrow stone path to walk through a small park nearby.
In the park I found a small hut, and I took about 15-20 minutes to do my morning meditation. It was amazing to have this nice hut all to myself, no doubt one of the benefits of getting here early. I walked through the rest of the park and marveled at the incredible stone statues and various engravings throughout the park. One of these statues was a tribute to a Chinese poet and they had a statue of him as well as one of his poems engraved into a stone plaque. How beautiful!
After walking through this park for only about 5 minutes, I came to a pathway to get to the famous bamboo grove of Arashiyama. I’m sure you have seen pictures of this beautiful forest, and I must say it does not disappoint. The bamboo grove is one of the more beautiful things I have seen in Kyoto, and that is really saying something. Definitely get here early though, because even at 8:00am this place was crowded with social media influencers and photographers trying to get the perfect photograph. Luckily, it worked out because I was able to get one of them to take the perfect photo of me in the grove!
Unluckily, there was a commercial happening further down the path and they weren’t letting anyone through. I was pretty surprised that they just blocked off a public space for this, but I couldn’t possibly be upset in an area of such beauty.
Instead, I headed back to the river. There were two more things to do on my list. First, I wanted to walk over the famous Togetsukyo Bridge. This bridge connects the two parts of Arashiyama. One part is closer to the city and the other part is closer to the mountains. Both areas are equally amazing in their own ways.
While I was walking across the bridge, I noticed that the river looked especially dry. Some of the farmers told me the day before that it is the dry season in Japan, so many of the rivers look like this. The bridge was mostly built for pedestrians, but there are a few cars coming through so you do have to be careful, especially when the sidewalks are super crowded. Here you can see 360-degree views of Arashiyama and all of its glory.
The last thing on my list of things to do in Arashiyama was, of course, the monkey park. I made sure to check if these were wild animals and not held in captivity and turns out, yes they are! Although it seems too good to be true, Japan does have a population of wild monkeys and they frequent this area. I set my expectations super low for this place, and I was completely blown away.
The walk up to the monkey park would’ve been worth the entrance fee on its own! I was one of the first ones in the park so I enjoyed a nice silent walk through the old growth forest. The elevation of the hike became higher and higher and eventually I could see beautiful views of the entire city. When we got to the monkey park we were greeted by a pair of cute little macaques grooming each other at the entrance.
I was expecting there to be like 8 monkeys here but there must have been at least 40! I was also not expecting to see babies because I thought there wouldn’t be any in the fall but there were about a half dozen of these cute little guys! I always tell people I could just sit and watch animals for hours, but I rarely get the opportunity because I’m usually with other people. Here was my chance to really just observe their behavior for as long as I wanted. I must’ve been there watching them for at least an hour. The only thing that stopped me was my hunger. It had been close to 6 hours since I had breakfast and I was really beginning to feel it.
I sat down on the bench and started to look for places I could eat. By the way, the view of the city from up here is possibly the best in all of Kyoto. I found a Japanese food chain that had all-you-can-eat vegetables for like $10 so I became dead set on going there. It would take me an hour to get to a decent lunch place, so I would need as many vegetables as I possibly could get.