You have to get up early if you want to experience Arashiyama’s famous bamboo grove in quiet contemplation. We set out from our hotel in the centre of Kyoto at 5:30 and did not regret it. The surrounding town still sleeping, at 6am we were almost alone but for a handful of photographers and an elderly Japanese lady with deep smile lines, out for her morning power-walk, who expressed delighted approval at my attire.
The majesty of the towering bamboo is quite something to behold. At that time in the morning, the only sound was the hushed rustle and creak of the lofty stems. The early morning sunlight, softly diffused and filtered through the green canopy above, engenders a quiet calm. It’s easy to see why Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” emerged as a Japanese national pastime and wellness pursuit.
How to have the best experience at Arashiyama’s bamboo forest
While it’s possible to photograph the bamboo forest without people at any time of day by just angling the camera upwards, if you want to get pictures of the empty path you’ll need to set off at dawn. This is not an exaggeration; we visited Japan outside of any peak holiday period (not during the cherry blossom season, and shortly after the early May “golden week” of peak domestic travel), and by 7:00 it was already starting to get busy (when we passed through later at about 11:00 it was standing room only). As Arashiyama is some way outside Kyoto, this also means you’ll either need to stay in the area overnight, or arrange private transport out of Kyoto centre. It was about a 20 minute taxi ride from our ryokan near the Gion historic district, which cost about 2,500 Yen.
Public transport will have started operating by the time you’re ready to head back into Kyoto; a couple of hundred yards from the bamboo grove is the Randen (tramline) terminal, which will take you back towards the city centre. Don’t forget to get a bamboo and sakura ice cream before you leave Arashiyama though!