Japan 2016 : Part 9 – Arashiyama

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

Day 5 in Kyoto and Japan!! Today we are going to Arashiyama, then after lunch we planned to visit Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion) and then end our day with dinner at Daimaru. The original plan was to visit Arashiyama on my 2nd day here, giving it priority due to its popularity. But when I wanted to buy the Sagano Romantic Train tickets in Kansai Airport (when I first touched down), all the morning tickets were sold out for the next few days. The only available ticket for morning was for today.

So I had to juggle my itinerary around in my mind (in the few seconds I was standing at the JR counter) as there are a lot of factors to consider, like Izuju being closed on Wednesdays, etc. Anyways, so today, Friday, we’re setting off on a train to Arashiyama.

Arashiyama is a district in the west of Kyoto, packed with attractions and very popular with tourists. According to Wikitravel, though:

Many Japanese couples go to Arashiyama to break up. If you are thinking of visiting the region with your significant other, be sure to plan ahead and check the status of your relationship before heading out.

Hmm, okay, at least the article says ‘Japanese couples’…

Anyway, our main reasons to visit Arashiyama was to ride the Sagano Romantic train, see the fabled bamboo grove, eat unagi, see the Togetsukyo bridge, and maybe walk around a bit. Forget about the monkey park or most of the temples, we won’t have time so we have concentrate on the important places.

First thing in the morning is to take a but down to Nijo Castle nearby our Airbnb. We walked past this historic landmark many times during our stay here, but never had the time to go in. From Nijo Castle we took 2 trains to Umahori at the extreme western end of Arashiyama. If you are boarding the Sagano train, make sure you note which station you should embark on, there are two.

At Uzumasa station where we were suppose to change trains, we actually boarded the wrong train. The express train took us one station further than Umahori (it was a limited express) so we took a regular train back 1 station in the opposite direction. Anyway, we were very early so we had some time.

(JR Umahori station)

Umahori is located in a quieter part of Arashiyama which gives a feel of the countryside. I think the other station, Saga-Arashiyama has a more urban, commercialized feel. Anyway from Umahori we stopped by Lawson (a local chain of convenience store) to use their free wifi and toilets. From there it is a short walk to Kameoka Torokko, while walking past paddy fields and houses and old folk out for a morning jog.

(this scene doesn’t really feel like we’re in Kyoto anymore)

While waiting for our 10:30 am train, we took pictures in the paddy fields and there are food stalls serving free tea. Not green tea, some weird tasting tea made of some dubious grains.

Anyway, like any other train in Japan, the Sagano came right on time. Sagano is a retro train ride that lasts about 25 minutes, cutting through a very scenic mountainside and river. The best time to visit is either cherry blossom season in spring our autumn. If possible, get the tickets at the JR office in Kansai Airport, if you wait to buy here in Arashiyama, there is a possibility the tickets will be sold out. And if possible, get the seats on left if you are going east, or right if you are going west to get the best views.

(guy with a mask providing some on board entertainment with the stoic conductor)

It was tough to take nice pics when the train is moving, but trust me, the view is spectacular.

We got off at Arashiyama station, which the next to last station, as it is the nearest one to the bamboo forest.

The bamboo forest, one of the highlights of Arashiyama, is really something everyone must experience.
Truly beautiful and serene through all seasons, it really feels like you are in an alien planet. Apparently, there is a certain sound to be appreciated, but with the throng of tourists, its quite tough to appreciate the quietness.

The bamboo forest is actually quite small, you can walk through in less than 10 minutes. At the end of the grove, you will find Okochi-Sanso and the popular Tenryu-ji temple. We skipped both and walked on straight to the shops. Upon exiting the grove, there is a cluster of food stalls, so we tried a few of them.

(Yakitori – baby octopus on a stick. Yummy)

(beef croquet and curry chicken bun)

The food here was so-so only, but at least something to fill our tummies.

Next on the itinerary – lunch. We planned to try Unagiya Hirokawa, a very famous unagi restaurant here. But the place is notorious for the extremely long queue, so we just tried to go and see the place. They normally open at 11.30am, but people starting queuing as early as 10am.

By the time we got there, it was just past 12pm and the queue was pretty long. Okay, we thought. Can’t be that bad, right? Well, all in all, our wait took almost two and a half hours, believe it or not 🙂

(the queue is much longer as some people are waiting in place of a bigger group)

The queue, while not very long, moves really slow. After getting IN to the restaurant, there is still another queue while you sit in the waiting area.

Anyway we didn’t spend the whole time waiting in line, we took turns to wait while the others walk around Arashiyama, eating ice cream and appreciating the city. At 1.30 pm, they cut off the queue for the last order.

Anyway, we FINALLY got a table, we ordered the Yanagawa (boiled loaches soup) and of course, a set of unagi and rice each.


(unagi… mmm…)

So the verdict? It is DELICIOUS. The eel is freshly prepared and sliced every morning, hence they have limited servings. It literally melts in your mouth, it is that good. Was it worth the wait? Definitely, although I would suggest calling and booking beforehand if you can. Would I go back again if I had a chance? Hmmmm… wait, let me plan my next trip back to Kyoto first…

Next – Togetsukyo Bridge and %Arabica coffee AGAIN.

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