Solo in Arashiyama
The deliciousness of any good experience in life is the savoring of it, before, during and after. Beforehand is the time of eager anticipation. The actual journey is always made better by being mindful and present to moments as they happen. Afterwards come the memories.
The memories are a comforting gift you give yourself, for such times such as the bleak Michigan midwinter grey tunnel. Remembering my day wandering solo in Arashiyama, Japan, now makes me smile all over again.
“Planning” for this self-guided tour began in my Kyoto hotel when I discovered an uncharted day ahead. What to do? The Lonely Planet website guided me toward Arashiyama on the west side of the city with promises of a superb bamboo forest accessible by a short walk to public transportation. Using situational awareness and a map (in Japanese, but showing the main intersections), I found the entrance to the quaint Randen tram/train, fumbled with my yen coins, exchanged them for a ticket, and got aboard for the 15-minute ride.
Arrival at the tram’s terminus in Arashiyama poured me into a relatively sincere flow of Sunday-in-autumn crowds thronging the touristy center near the station, so I consulted my map and headed for the bamboo forest. The functional illiteracy of not reading Japanese resulted initially in some wrong turns, but it finally occurred to me to follow the crowd. We trended uphill, took a left turn, and there it was: a huge, beautiful bamboo forest.
I’ve always admired the lithe gracefulness of bamboo. The trees were immense, many a foot in diameter that towered a hundred feet high or more. The mono-culture meant little else would grow in the understory. If you tuned out the crowd, the quiet was interrupted by just a faint rustle of the high leaves in the light breeze. Later, from further up the mountain, I could see the treetops ripple and sway like a giant living creature.
Because I always seek the top of an incline I eventually escaped much of the crowd, and came across an unanticipated treasure: the mountain villa and gardens of Japan’s samurai sword-fighting film star Denjirō Ōkōchi (1898-1964). Who wouldn’t want to explore a place with a sign like this?
The green tea and sweet confection were indeed delectable where I savored them, under the autumn maples.
I did feel like I found Japan on Ōkōchi’s estate. Being on my own time meant no group to keep up with and nowhere I had to be, opening up the freedom to stroll at my own pace along the mossy walkway. At the top was a splendid view eastward across the Kyoto valley. It was meditative and peaceful.
On the way back down, I was rewarded with another unanticipated discovery: Myohkohan was a structure built in honor of a person who cared for these gardens for 35 years, in honor the 50th anniversary of the actor’s death. I wondered: who was this person, to be so reverently remembered? I sat for a very long time on the deck, pondering the three-pronged tree with moss at its feet.
If you ever get to Kyoto, be sure to build in time enough to visit Arashiyama.