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Saturday, October 28, 2017

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot


This walk (about 2 miles in length and packed with stuff to look at and enjoy) will take the average person about 3 hours to complete (not including lunch).

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot.

The walk leads through one of Kyoto's most popular tourist areas and is very easy to follow.

It's best to start in the morning around 11am or so. To time this trip perfectly get the exact departure times for the Torokko train (from Torokko Saga Station) that will take you to where the Hozugawakudari River run begins; the last boat usually departs around 4pm, so you will have to board the train by 3pm or so (the train and the boat schedules are linked).

To start the ramble, take a taxi to Torii no moto, the large orange shrine torii gate that marks the beginning of the Atago Mountain precinct (Atago-san is the highest peak on the western ridge and the shrine is home to a powerful fire protection deity).

This red torii marks the start of a pilgrimage route to the top of Mt. Atago. On either side of the torii are huge 400 year-old tea houses that have served pilgrims and visitors for centuries. Meals are also served at both places (about 10,000 yen; reservations necessary). But for hardly anything you can enjoy a bowl of tea inside their ancient smoke-darkened interior.

To start the walk turn your back to the torii gate. With the gate to your back, turn left up the gentle slope, until you come to the unusual temple of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji on your left. An English pamphlet is available upon request.

On the hilly grounds of this temple the visitor will find a wonderful array of carved stone figures, characterized by big smiles and joyful energy. After leaving the temple, trace your steps back to where you started (the torii gate) and follow the road past the tea houses downhill.

After about 200 meters you will come to a stone stairway on your right leading up to Adashino Nenbutsu-ji (化野念仏寺), a stunning temple that is famous for its thousands of stone Buddhist images, originally unmarked graves of the poor.

Follow the route downhill. On your left are a number of colorful shops that cater to the many tourists that come to this area (especially during maple leaf season in November). Where the shops come to an end, the road will fork. Stay right here. After about 250 meters, you will come to a pathway leading sharply off to the right. This path leads into the green grounds of two temples (Gio-ji and Takiguchi-dera).

Gio-ji Temple, Kyoto.

One of the several versions of the story behind simple yet beautifully landscaped Gio-ji Temple is special. Gio and her sister Gijo were Heian Period dancers. Gio became the mistress of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181), a famous military leader. When he became smitten with Gijo, he banished Gio from his mansion. A year later, Gijo, filled with remorse for Gio, decided to join her at this secluded retreat. They lived out their days in prayer, waiting for this transient life and its humiliations to end.

Further along this knoll lies Takiguichi-dera Temple where a young woman once is said to have written a farewell poem on a stone in her own blood after being denied for the second time by the man she loved (the priest who founded the temple). Exit the grounds of these two temples and then follow the road further to the right. After another 200 meters or so, you will come to the bucolic thatched hut known as Rakushisha on your left.

Translated to mean the Cottage of the Fallen Persimmon, this site was visited by the famous haiku poet Basho. A great number of stones in the garden are inscribed with poems (translations for some are given in the pamphlet).

A little further on a path leads sharply off to the right into the grounds of Jojakko-ji Temple, which sits on the top of mossy hill. Note the wonderfully ancient thatched-roof gate. After exiting the temple grounds, turn right again and you will soon come to a pond on your right. Walk past the pond and follow the path around to the right. Soon you will come to a gentle, forested road leading up to your right. This road leads into the five-acre, former estate of Ohkochi Denjiro, Japan's legendary silent film era star.

Known as Ohkochi Sanso, this attractive garden and teahouse complex is open to the public. The views from Mt. Ogura, where Ohkochi Sanso lies, have been celebrated in classical poetry since the 9th century. At the end of the villa tour, you will come to a place where you can have a bowl of refreshing (for the Japanese at least) whipped tea (matcha).

As you exit the ground of the villa, turn right and then left and enter a fairly large bamboo forest. After about 200 meters, you will see a gate on your right side which is the back (north) entrance to the vast grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple (天竜寺; Heavenly Dragon Temple).

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto.

Tenryu-ji, a major Rinzai Zen sect temple, built in 1339 by the first Ashikaga shogun, once ranked as the largest Zen monastery in western Japan, with 120 sub-temples. The temple's perfectly designed garden (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185); it was brilliantly re-stylized by Muso Soseki in the 13th century.

Exit the temple grounds through the main gate and you will find yourself in the center of the swirl that is Arashiyama (Storm Mountain). To your right is the pleasant river scene for which the area is well known.

For the boat ride walk to Torokko Saga Station (トロッコ嵯峨駅) adjacent to Saga Arashiyama Station.

From the station take the scenic, colorful, open-air train to Kameoka (about 30 minutes away) and then the free shuttle bus to the river where you will catch a river boat for the mild, white-water ride back down to Arashiyama.

Hozugawa River Trip, Arashiyama, Kyoto.

The train leaves Kameoka every hour at 35 minutes past. The boat leaves on the hour (except for the last one at 3.30pm). The train ride takes about 30 minutes  The boat ride takes about 90 minutes-2 hours.

The Torokko train leaves from two stations (Torokko Saga and Torokko Arashiyama).

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