Arashiyama#4 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
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Arashiyama is a quaint neighborhood surrounded by trees and mountains on the western edge of Kyoto. The neighborhood's most iconic landmark is the wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge, which has spanned the Katsura River since 1934. It makes a great spot for admiring cherry blossoms or changing fall foliage, depending on the season, though some visitors seem less than impressed with the bridge. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds that congregate on the bridge, consider renting a paddle boat to enjoy the scenery from the water. On either end of the bridge are a number of shops, restaurants, temples and gardens to explore. Some recent visitors enjoy walking around and taking in the sites, but others suggest renting a bike. You can get one for the day for around 1,000 yen (about $9) near train stations in Kyoto.
A visit to Arashiyama can be overwhelming, as there is so much to do and see here. It's best to arrive with a plan of action, and to not try to fit too many activities into one day. For example, you won't want to miss a stroll through the area's lush, peaceful bamboo groves, which recent visitors highly recommend. Once you're through the bamboo, you'll find yourself at Okochi Sanso Villa, a beautifully landscaped former residence of Japanese actor Okochi Denjiro. You can tour Denjiro's mossy, manicured gardens daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and the admission price of 1,000 yen (about $9) includes matcha green tea and cake (make sure you keep your admission ticket to enjoy this).
Another must-see attraction in Arashiyama is the Monkey Park Iwatayama. A troupe of 130 wild Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys) calls the park home. You can visit them any day of the week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the spring and summer, or until 4 p.m. in the winter. Admission is 550 yen (about $5) for adults and 250 yen (about $2) for children ages 4 to 15. Children younger than 4 can monkey-watch for free. For more information about Monkey Park Iwatayama, visit the park's website.
To reach Arashiyama, you can take a taxi or use public transportation. To reach the area via bus, hop on Kyoto City Bus No. 28 at Kyoto Station and get off at the Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae station. You can also take the subway, though you'll have to do a couple of transfers to reach Arashiyama.
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#1 Fushimi Inari Shrine
As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.
It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and torii gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.
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