Japan, June 2014, Day Eighteen

We actually got up! After yesterday’s exhausting trek, we actually managed to get our asses up and out the door before 7:00am.

The walk to Kyoto Station seems to get shorter every day and we were soon on a local train heading to the western edge of the city. Like the toraii gates of Inari, another over photographed landmark is the bamboo forest of Arashiyama. As it was officially rated #8 in the top 349 things to do, we had expectations as high as the top of the bamboo trees.

However, expectations could have been set lower, much lower; like bamboo shoot in your chow mein low. Yes it was quite interesting to see just how tall bamboo grows in the wild, but the guidebook photos of dense forests have been greatly exaggerated. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of bamboo trees, it just wasn’t how it had been depicted.

One might imagine the tranquil surroundings would add an air of serenity, transporting you to a place of calmness amongst nature. However, at the time we arrived, the guys with leaf blowers we out in force, cleaning the paths of the dead and dying foliage that prevents you getting near the bamboo itself.

What with the leaf blowers and the thinned number of trees, this had all the peace and tranquility of an Amazonian rain forest, not Arashiyama. Ok, maybe I’m being harsh as of course they have to use the leaf blowers to keep it nice and tidy, so you may think that if you go later in the day you wouldn’t see the behind the scenes action. You would of course be correct, but you would still have to tolerate one other ‘feature’ of the “Bamboo Walk”.

Despite being called a “Walk” and the path being around 8′ (or 2.5 metres) wide, the local taxi drivers use it to ferry people up and down between the station and the end of the walk. Trying to take photos on anything other than a smartphone requires eyes in the back of your head to avoid being run down by a Toyota Crown.

So what with the leaf blowers, the speeding taxis and the trains… Yes, it’s trackside too – the 10 minute walk doesn’t deserve it’s high ranking in any way.

Once at the end of the walk, we needed the loo and noticed a sign next to the parked line of taxis. It said there was a station extremely close and although it didn’t appear on our JR map, we thought they’d at least have a toilet.

As we walked into the station yard, ladies were setting up stalls and the station master was opening the gates. We poked our heads in to discover this was a stop en route for the Romantic Train. This is a private train that runs from Arashiyama to Hozuky┼Ź – a 25 minute journey along a spectacular canyon. We purchased two tickets and waited for the the train to arrive whist sitting in front of a model, showing the train and route. This was weird for one very important reason; the model was dated 7 years earlier than the train line claimed to have been running – as if the railroad was some kind of tribute to someone’s childhood play set.

The train arrived and we boarded our open carriage. Just a few metal bars and a clear roof separated us from the elements. The scenery was indeed spectacular and the whole experience was awesome. It was far from romantic, unless your idea of an intimate environment is being in one of those animal transporter trucks heading to market, but it was fun all the same – and definitely deserves a higher honour than the bamboo lined taxi rank.

Arriving back in Kyoto, we’d completed 4 train journeys before 10:30 and deserved a break. We wanted to return to Shijo (the market/shopping area) as there was a model we were searching for. We bought him and headed deeper into the shops.

By this time, we were tired and ached, so rather than continue, we headed back to the hotel to do washing and recover. We’ve missed out a lot of Kyoto, but that means we have an excuse to return. Back to Tokyo tomorrow, so best get packing.