Hozu-gawa River Trip
The Hozu-gawa river trip is a great way to enjoy the beauty of Kyoto’s western mountains without any strain on the legs. With long bamboo poles, boatmen steer flat-bottom boats down the Hozu-gawa from Kameoka, 30km west of Kyoto Station, through steep, forested mountain canyons, before arriving at Arashiyama.
Between 10 March and 30 November there are seven trips daily leaving on the hour from 9am to 2pm, with the last trip at 3.30pm. During winter the number of trips is reduced to four per day (10am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm) and the boats are heated.
The ride lasts two hours and covers 16km through occasional sections of choppy water – a scenic jaunt with minimal danger. The scenery is especially breathtaking during cherry-blossom season in April and maple-foliage season in autumn.
The boats depart from a dock that is eight minutes’ walk from Kameoka Station. Kameoka is accessible by rail from Kyoto Station or Nijō Station on the JR Sagano (San-in) line. The Kyoto Tourist Information Center provides an English-language leaflet and timetable for rail connections. The fare from Kyoto to Kameoka is ¥410 one way by regular train (don’t spend the extra for the express; it makes little difference in travel time).
Worth a Trip: Outlying Sights
There are a few excellent sights in the southwest corner of Kyoto, lying to the south of the Arashiyama and Sagano area. A couple of them require advance planning, but as long as you're organised you could tack them onto a visit to Arashiyama, making it a full-day trip to the area.
Katsura Rikyū, one of Kyoto’s imperial properties, is widely considered to be the pinnacle of Japanese traditional architecture and garden design. Set amid an otherwise drab neighbourhood, it is (very literally) an island of incredible beauty. The villa was built in 1624 for the emperor’s brother, Prince Toshihito. Every conceivable detail of the villa – the teahouses, the large pond with islets and the surrounding garden – has been given meticulous attention.
Book in advance online through the Imperial Household Agency for one-hour English guided tours (¥1000). You must be over 18 years and you will need to bring your passport for ID. You can also book tickets at the Imperial Household Agency office inside the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park.
It also runs tours in Japanese with English audio guides free of charge; tours depart on the hour from 9am to 4pm and places are on a first-come, first-served basis until capacity is sold
It's a 15-minute walk from Katsura Station, on the Hankyū line. A taxi from the station to the villa will cost around ¥600. Alternatively, Kyoto bus 33 stops at Katsura Rikyū-mae stop, which is a five-minute walk from the villa.
Saihō-ji temple has one of Kyoto's best-known gardens and is famed for its superb moss garden, hence the temple's nickname: Koke-dera (Moss Temple). The heart-shaped garden, laid out in 1339 by Musō Kokushi, surrounds a tranquil pond and is simply stunning. In order to limit the number of visitors, you must apply to visit at least one week in advance, though the earlier the better to avoid disappointment.
To make a reservation to visit, you need to send a postcard and include your name, number of visitors, occupation, age (you must be over 18) and desired date (choice of alternative dates preferred), along with a self-addressed postcard for a reply to your address (in Japan or overseas). The address to send it to is: Saihō-ji, 56 Matsuo Jingatanichō, Nishikyō-ku, Kyoto-shi 615-8286, JAPAN. Your return postcard will let you know the date and time of your visit.
When you arrive at Saiho-ji, visitors are required to copy a sutra with an ink brush. Foreigners are generally just required to write their name, address and a prayer, rather than attempt to copy the sutra. Once in the garden, you are free to explore on your own and at your own pace. The whole visit usually takes around one hour.
While the process might seem a little over-the-top, it's certainly worth the small effort to organise, particularly if you have a fondness for Japanese gardens. It's about a 30-minute walk from Katsura Rikyū, otherwise a taxi is the best option.
Jizō-in is a delightful little temple. It doesn't boast any spectacular buildings or treasures, but it has a lovely moss garden and is almost completely ignored by tourists, making it a great place to sit and contemplate. It's a five-minute walk from the car park and bus station near Saihō-ji; there is a stone staircase that climbs to the road leading to Jizō-in (it helps to ask someone to point the way, as it’s not entirely clear).