There are many awesome sightseeing opportunities in Kyoto and one of those is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. We decided to add this to our itinerary after seeing the beautiful pictures, but, as we quickly found out, expectations do not always match reality — if you will not arrive there VERY early.
We were supposed to arrive in the early morning, but due to a certain toddler who refuses to sleep at normal times, we didn’t arrive until closer to noon. Much to our surprise, the bamboo grove was actually a relatively small part of a much larger forest park. This small size wouldn’t have been an issue, if not for the ridiculous amount of people walking through the grove at the same time.
How to Get to Bamboo Grove
There are several train stations around the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove so you should take the one that is covered by your train pass (if you have one). Otherwise, just take the cheapest train. Depending on where you are coming from, the best way to determine which train line you should use is by checking the Hyperdia app (Google Maps is kinda wonky with train schedules in Kyoto).
By Train. There are 3 train stations around the Bamboo Grove. The closest is the Keifuku Arashiyama Station via Keifuku Line, and Saga-Arashiyama Station via JR Line. From there the Bamboo Grove Forest is only a 5-10 minute walk. Unfortunately, these stations are only convenient for travelers arriving from Omiya Station (for Keifuku Arashiyama Station) or Kyoto Station (for Saga-Arashiyama Station).
If you are coming from Hankyu station (like we were), the cheapest and shortest ride is to Arashiyama Station via the Hankyu Line, however, it is about a 20-minute walk to the Bamboo Grove Forest.
By Bus. From Kyoto Station, you can take the Kyoto City Bus #28, #71, #72, or #73.
From downtown Kyoto, you can take City Bus #28 or #11. However, taking a bus to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is not recommended due to traffic congestion. Although cheap and covered by your ticket (if you have one), travel time may range from 30-40 minutes normally, and even up to an hour peak season (or rush hour). Driving there with a car is also not recommended because of limited parking and traffic.
Walking to the Bamboo Grove
We arrived at Hankyu Arashiyama Station and was able to get a small map directing us to the bamboo grove. The map says it’s the “recommended walking course” in exploring the Arashiyama area and it gives you a direction to walk, but the landmarks shown are not very accurate.
Following this path made our trip take much longer than it should and this actually messed up our schedule. The original plan was to spend around an hour and a half in the Arashiyama area, only visiting the highlights of it, which are the bamboo grove, the UNESCO Heritage site Tenryu-Ji Temple, and then visiting the Fushimi Inari after. But what actually happened was a nearly half day trek through slow-moving crowds, all while taking the longest possible path to the grove we could have taken because we made the mistake of following the map rather than walking straight to the grove.
On the bright side, the walk was quite peaceful and had some nice views. and we realized that it was an off-the-beaten-path since there were not many tourists along the way, despite the tourist map.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Expectation vs Reality
So, you know all those beautiful pictures of the bamboo grove you’ve seen? The ones of the person standing alone in the pathway, bamboo on each side extending for hundreds of yards? Yeah, I’ve no clue how those people managed to take those pictures. Perhaps they were just there REALLY early in the morning. The main reason we were here far longer than expected wasn’t just the roundabout path we took to get to the entrance, but because of the absolute crush of people who were there, each trying to get a selfie in the grove.
The crowd of people aside, the grove was still quite beautiful. I would love to walk through it on a day without the noise and jostling from a thousand other people one day.
The path isn’t overly long, and there’s an entrance to the Tenryuji Garden (garden only), as well as being near the Tenryuji UNESCO World Heritage site. This, to me, was a far better experience than the Bamboo Grove, although it was a bit expensive. Particularly since the ticket doesn’t include entrance to Dharma Hall, where the Cloud Dragon painting is.
You can buy tickets to enter the various pavilions and gardens together or simply the gardens alone. I would suggest the pavilion myself, as it’s a great chance to see traditional Japanese architecture up close. It also helps you get pictures of the gardens since you’ll be above the crowds of folk walking through them.
The centerpiece of the site is Dai-Hojo (Large Hojo), the Abbot’s quarters. This is the largest building on the site and overlooks the pond in the garden. It also contains a number of important pieces inside, including a painting of a large cloud dragon (not the one I mentioned earlier) on sliding doors, and an altar to Shakyamuni Buddha, which is believed to date back to the Heian period (794-1185).
Once again, the best piece of advice I can give to anyone visiting Arashiyama is to arrive VERY early if you want to properly experience the Bamboo Grove but spend more time in the Tenryuji Heritage Sites. You may also have heard of the monkey’s at the Kameyama-Koen or Kameyama Park. Not many tourists visit this area, and we simply couldn’t find it park because of the inaccuracy of the map. So if you did manage to find it and have any input, we’d love to hear from you!