Join us to explore Kyoto’s spectacular autumn foliage in Arashiyama, discovering hidden gems and cruising along the Hozugawa River.
This is a four-part series on experiencing autumn in Kyoto, where you’ll find my best tips on enjoying the 紅葉 (kōyō – autumn leaves) in this ancient capital of Japan.
- Autumn in Kyoto Guide
- The Best Things to Do in Arashiyama Autumn
- Day Trip To Uji Japan: A Cultural Experience
- Osaka Autumn Travel Guide
Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s most popular districts, famed for its impressive bamboo forest, picturesque mountain scenery, and a variety of shops, cafes, and restaurants. While many visitors come to Arashiyama to wander through the towering bamboo forest (also known as Arashiyama Bamboo Forest or Sagano Bamboo Forest), I want to showcase the numerous other fantastic attractions and activities available in the area. I’ll be exploring and introducing you to five spots around Arashiyama where you can marvel at the autumn leaves, including a relaxing mountain cruise and some delightful Kyoto sweets!
Table of Contents
Getting to Arashiyama
Arashiyama is easily accessible, taking just 17 minutes along the JR San-in line from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station. The area is brimming with activities, ranging from the Iwatayama Monkey Park and various temples and shrines to numerous cafes and restaurants.
If you plan to visit Arashiyama, I recommend getting up early to beat the crowds, especially if you want to explore the bamboo forest (you can find more information about it in our Kyoto Travel Guide).
You can enjoy the morning sun with a beautiful orange hue that envelops the surrounding mountains and the Togetsukyo Bridge. To the west of the bridge, the Katsura River leads you up into the mountains, while to the east, the Hozu River leads you down into the city.
As the locals prepare their shops, stalls, and boats for the upcoming busy day, there’s an air of serenity in the surroundings.
Bread, Espresso and Arashiyama Garden “ESPRESSO &”
After your early morning travels, you’ll want some breakfast. One of the few places that opens early in the morning is Bread, Espresso and Arashiyama Garden.
Tucked away in the narrow streets, the cafe offers freshly baked bread, sandwiches, and various meals.
From paninis to plate sets, there is a lot to choose from. I decided on the “An Butter toast set”. An, or red bean paste, and butter is a popular flavor combination and one of my favorites. To make it even better, the toast was an extra thick slice of shokupan (Japanese milk bread) that was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Along with a cup of coffee, it was the perfect start to the day.
The cafe is one of many branches but stands out as one of the most beautiful, surrounded by a Japanese garden.
Somekobo Yumeyusai lies along the Katsura River that runs through Arashiyama. The facility is part museum and part workshop, providing a unique Yumekorozome dyeing experience. Depending on the light, the dye changes color, earning acclaim not only in Japan but also around the world.
For 2,000 yen, you can tour the building, which offers some of the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen.
While the building offers a unique view of Arashiyama, it is heavily catered to photographers, which is not a bad thing—it’s just not a place where you can sit and relax.
The staff will guide you through the rooms, where you must wait as people take their pictures.
The first room features a mirror-like table reflecting the autumn leaves through the open terrace.
You’ll then be guided to another room with a similar setting but adorned with round windows.
Finally, the outside terrace offers seating with a view overlooking the Katsura River.
There, you can also find a table with water and pipettes to create your own scenic masterpiece.
I highly recommend making an advance reservation online. Due to long lines in autumn, entry without a reservation is unlikely. I should also note that children are not allowed in. Generally, Somekobo Yumeyusai is open throughout the year, with December and January taking on a special snowy ambiance.
Note: It’ll be closed until March 2024 for roofing repairs.
Hoguzawa River Cruise
One unique way to enjoy the autumn leaves and surrounding scenery is on the Hoguzawa River Cruise. It starts in the mountains near Kameoka Station and descends into Arashiyama, surrounded by the autumnal mountains.
I recommend booking through their website, especially if you plan to visit in autumn. You can choose your preferred time, with the one-hour cruise costing 4,500 yen for adults and 3,000 yen for children. If the water level is low, the cruise can take up to one and a half hours, so plan accordingly.
The cruise is a one-way trip from Kameoka to Arashiyama. If you plan to bring any large luggage, leave it in a coin locker at Saga-Arashiyama Station. Otherwise, after the cruise, you’ll need to return to Kameoka Station to collect your luggage.
From Saga-Arashiyama Station, board the JR San-in Line to Kameoka Station (200 yen one way). It’s a ten-minute walk from the station to the cruise boarding point.
Upon arrival at the boarding station, you will be assigned a number. Inside the waiting lobby, there is a souvenir shop and a small cafe. Alternatively, you can choose to sit and wait outside on the benches.
Each boat accommodates around 20 people and is operated by three staff members.
As you journey through the mountains and descend into Arashiyama, the staff will share information about the area’s history and highlight some unique spots along the way.
There are rapids at different points, and despite their rocky nature, I never felt in danger. The staff did an excellent job of helping everyone feel at ease.
They even pointed out a tree that resembled a silhouette of Totoro from Studio Ghibli!
If you’re fortunate, you might also catch the Sagano Romantic Train passing by! The train is another scenic way to enjoy the autumn landscape, but it is highly popular, so make sure to book early if you plan to ride it.
Wild monkeys and other animals roam the river and mountains, so be on the lookout!
You’ll also pass Hoshino Kyoto, a luxury hotel in the style of a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), which you can only access by the hotel’s boat.
Near the end of the cruise, you’ll be greeted by a boat selling various foods and drinks, from Mitarashi Dango to grilled squid.
I was a bit early (on November 24, 2023), so the trees hadn’t turned the vivid colors yet, as I had hoped. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic cruise and a unique experience. I highly recommend adding it to your Kyoto itinerary.
The first and most popular temple in Arashiyama is Tenryu-Ji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) in honor of the recently deceased Emperor Go-Daigo, the original structures of the temple were unfortunately destroyed in fires and wars that plagued the city. The sole surviving area is the temple’s garden. For an entrance fee of 500 yen, you can explore the garden, and for an additional 300 yen, you gain access to the main hall.
Created by the famous garden designer Muso Soseki, the garden features a pond surrounded by the mountains of Arashiyama, emblazoned with a colorful display of autumn leaves.
You can stroll around the garden grounds, enjoying the different sceneries of the temple and nature.
Inside the main hall, you can explore the traditional Japanese interior architecture and gardens from an inside perspective.
In the Hattō (Dharma Hall), you can view the famous Cloud-Dragon Painting for an admission fee of 500 yen. Historically, the Hatto was the space where the master delivered sermons, teaching the Buddha Dharma to the assembled monks.
Jojakko-Ji Temple is about a 15-minute walk from JR-Saga Arashiyama Station. Despite its proximity to the main Arashiyama area, it feels like an oasis away from the bustling center.
The temple was founded by a monk called Nisshin (1561-1617), who used it as a retreat for his retirement. There is a 400 yen entrance fee.
The main entrance is an impressive thatched Niomon Gate, with a steep staircase leading towards the main hall and gardens.
The main hall displays a depiction of Myoken, a Bodhisattva, and the deification of the North Star.
Around the temple grounds, you’ll find a moss garden, a small bamboo forest, and a 12-meter pagoda, classified as an Important Cultural Property.
Wander around the garden and enjoy its tranquility and beautiful scenery.
Just a few minutes north is Nisoin-in Temple. Its entrance is marked by a wooden gate built in 1613, framing a pathway lined with maple trees. To enter the temple, there is a 500 yen admission fee.
Situated at the base of Mount Ogura, the temple dates back to the 9th century. Nison-in, which translates to ‘two revered images’ in Japanese, refers to the twin Heian Period Buddhist statues in the main temple hall – Shaka Nyorai and Amitabha Tathagata.
Shaka Nyorai guides those who have passed away from this life to the afterlife, while Amitabha Tathagata welcomes them into Buddhist heaven.
You can also enjoy the small stone garden from the main hall terrace.
Around the grounds, you can find Benten-do, a temple for the goddess Benzaiten, a Mausoleum of Priest Tanku, and a small tea room.
It was surprising how close Jojakko-Ji and Nison-in were to the bamboo forest, yet they were so quiet and offered incredible views of Arashiyama’s nature!
eX cafe Kyoto Arashiyama
Along the main street of Arashiyama, you’ll find countless restaurants and cafes to choose from. The only caveat is that there are often long lines. So I tried to find something off the main road and came across eX cafe Kyoto Arashiyama, known for its sweets.
One of their most famous dishes is the dango set, which you can grill over a charcoal burner. It comes with three sticks of normal dango and three sticks of matcha dango.
Accompanying it is a side of red bean paste and mitarashi sauce to dip in and eat as you like.
There’s an earthy and subtly sweet bowl of matcha to wash everything down.
The cafe’s interior was spacious yet felt homely at the same time, making it a fantastic spot to relax.
So, that’s it for Arashiyama in this guide. While the bamboo forest is the main attraction, I hope this inspires you to go off and explore the smaller streets, temples, and shrines, which offer views as beautiful as the main attractions. Next, I’ll be exploring Uji, the area of all things matcha, with the most stunning temple I have ever visited. Stay tuned!