The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the top sights in Kyoto, Japan, with its dense pathway of bamboo that stretches as far as the eye can see. This post features serene photos of the Kyoto’s bamboo forest and tips for visiting this bucket list destination.
In terms of basic background, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is part of the Sagano Bamboo Forest (the names are used interchangeably, but Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is actually a subset of the forest), which is located near the outskirts of Kyoto, just below the Arashiyama mountains. If you daydream of bucket-list travel locales, you’ve probably seen eye-catching photos of it on Pinterest, Reddit, or other sites that compile ‘places to visit before you die.’
I wouldn’t go as far as to this is one of the top places to visit in the world, but it does have a simple yet ethereal beauty. As pretty as the photos you’ve seen of it are, they do not do justice to the experience. It’s really something else to be standing in the midst of a sea of bamboo, seeing and hearing the stalks rustle, and light flitter in through the dense forest. With that said, it’s not always such a beautiful experience…
If you visit during the middle of the day during a peak travel season, you will encounter a veritable sea of humanity, and the most prominent thing you’ll see rustling in the air will be dozens of tour group flags and selfie sticks. As we’ve spent more time in Kyoto, we’ve returned to Arashiyama and the Bamboo Grove many times. Every time that we have failed to arrive prior to 10 a.m., we have found the crowds in the Bamboo Grove to nearly spoil the experience.
Below is a look at normal crowds in the regular season. On weekends during peak season, it’s even worse (if you can imagine that!). If the idea of these crowds is off-putting and would spoil the experience for you, read our Secret Bamboo Forest at Fushimi Inari post. That details how to find a hidden bamboo grove at the popular Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is our favorite place in all of Japan!
While the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is incredibly popular, it can also be a little difficult to locate. Our first time visiting, it took us a bit of wandering to find. You’re probably going to take the JR Sagano line to the Saga Arashiyama Station to get here, and the station is a short walk (maybe 8-10 minutes) from the Bamboo Grove…if you don’t get lost. While everything else in the area is clearly marked on tourist maps outside the Arashiyama Station, the Bamboo Grove isn’t on most of these maps of Kyoto–or at least the ones we saw.
To get here, just pretend you’re heading to Tenryu-ji Temple and follow the directions there. Since this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, you likely won’t need to pretend at all, since you’ll probably be going there, too. If you’re not interested in the temple (as we share in our post about Tenryu-ji Temple, we think it’s overrated), simply head north of its main entrance from the street just a bit, and then turn west into a path that leads into the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
The path isn’t clearly marked as leading into the grove and the grove doesn’t start immediately at the street, but if you head back this way just outside the temple walls, you’ll run into it. Alternatively, visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove after leaving Tenryu-ji Temple through its north entrance/exit (near the rear of the temple) and you’ll find a path that leads directly and immediately into the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
This is really the easiest way to do it, but my hesitation in recommending this course of action is that the Tenryu-ji Temple opens at 8:30 am, whereas the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is open 24 hours a day. If you consult our 1-Day Western Kyoto Itinerary, you’ll notice we recommend doing the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove first, and that’s precisely for this reason–it’s worth the bit of extra walking and arriving early for no crowds.
We cannot reiterate enough that Arashiyama Bamboo Grove gets very busy. Free and photogenic are a dangerous combo for any sights in Japan, meaning that the best time to go is as early in the morning as possible. For most of the photos in this post, we went before going into Tenryu-ji Temple at around 7:45 am and there were very few others. By 8:30 a.m., photos like the ones in this post won’t be possible.
Also in the vicinity of the Sagano Bamboo Forest is Okochi Sanso Villa, which is a garden and the former residence of Denjirō Ōkōchi, a famous Japanese actor. We really love Okochi Sanso Villa, and highly recommend it. Our Western Kyoto Itinerary also includes the villa as a stop–along with a number of other nearby spots in the area. Most of these don’t get nearly as crowded as the bamboo grove, so at least that’s good news.
As for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, I view early morning as the absolute perfect time of day to go, as the combination of warm morning sunlight peaking through the Sagano Bamboo Forest and the lack of crowds is a powerful experience.
On our first trip, we didn’t get enough of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove our first time through, so we returned after going to Tenryu-ji Temple at around 9:30 am. By that time, it was swarming with people, including bikes and taxis. Definitely not as serene and contemplative of an experience when a taxi is honking at you to move.
I’m not entirely sure why taxis go through here, but I assume it’s because people are too lazy or unable to walk the slight incline of the grove as it goes uphill. It’s an easy to moderate walk, so if you’re in good-enough shape to walk around Kyoto, this will be no issue.
In total, the Bamboo path is maybe a half mile long (this is a total estimate) with the best sections of the grove being nearer the back. You might be a bit underwhelmed with the Bamboo Grove at first because it’s not quite as dense as photos depict it, but this is just the front of the Bamboo Grove.
Keep going past the break in the path where a small road intersects it, head uphill, and you’ll be rewarded with the truly picturesque portion of the walk. There are also some little shrines and stops along the way, none of which are standouts compared to those elsewhere in Kyoto, but they are certainly nice little nuggets of culture to explore as you walk, and the setting certainly cannot be beat.
One final tip: if you’re in Kyoto the second week of December, you’ll want to return to Arashiyama late in the night to see the special evening illumination in the bamboo grove. This is for a special free event called Arashiyama Hanatoro, and it’s absolutely stunning. (Just check out our Hanatoro photos to see it!) Unfortunately, this only occurs one week per year.
Overall, the Kyoto Bamboo Grove is an absolute must-do. It’s located by other popular sights, it’s free, and it’s stunning. It’s also a great change of pace from the many temples you will otherwise do in Kyoto (nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park is another highly recommended change of pace option). Each temple on its own is beautiful and moving, but after you’ve done 10 or so of them in a row, each sort of loses impact. This gives you an opportunity to mix things up a bit. Doing this is an absolute no-brainer, and should be high on anyone’s priorities for a visit to Kyoto, Japan. Just make sure to go at an off-hour so you can really soak in the serenity of the place.
If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Does visiting Japan’s Sagano Bamboo Forest interest you? Like the simple experiences of natural beauty like this? Have you been to the Kyoto Bamboo Grove? Any questions about including this in your itinerary for Kyoto? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!