Let’s skip ahead a day and recount my family’s trip to Japan’s ancient capital on a glorious Saturday morning, with the sun high in the sky and the hills ablaze with the fiery colours of autumn.
The day began at Ōsaka Station, where we queued up to board JR West’s Thunderbird 5 limited express service bound for Kanazawa and Wakura-Onsen. I didn’t get a good look at the train’s front car (which would have made identifying today’s ride somewhat easier), but based on internal features it appeared to be a 681 series EMU.
About half an hour later, with just one brief stop (Shin-Ōsaka Station) along the way…
…we arrived at the soaring, airy composition of glass and steel that was Kyōto Station, the ultra-modern gateway to Japan’s former imperial capital. I’ve passed through its grand entrance hall countless times over the years, but the sight of this remarkable piece of architecture never fails to impress.
We tarried at the station for a few moments before hopping onto a Sagano Line train, which brought us to Saga-Arashiyama Station in the western part of the city. This was the starting point of our excursion across Kyōto’s Arashiyama district, an area bounded by thickly wooded hills and famed for its splendid autumn foliage. Though I’m no stranger to this area, having come here years ago and having visited the same spots we’ll see shortly, it was the first time for everyone else in my family and I was quite grateful for the opportunity to share one of my favourite corners of Japan with them.
The walk to our first stop took us through several blocks of residential neighbourhoods – a featureless trek to some, but to others, a great opportunity to see the ordinary, everyday side of Japan, something that’s not likely to show up in your typical guidebook.
We soon arrived at Tenryū-ji, a temple founded in the 14th century and famed for its stately architecture…
…but probably even more renowned for its glorious autumn foliage: a riot of reds, oranges, and yellows that, despite their beauty, seem to recall the many destructive fires that have ravaged this compound through the ages. (Indeed, although the temple itself was founded in the 1300s, many of the buildings we see today are replacements erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)
Tenryū-ji’s central pond was a particularly great place from which to appreciate the fall colours, not just of the trees in the temple’s own garden but of those growing upon the neighbouring hillsides as well. One might see in this a reflection of the concept of shakkei (“borrowed scenery”), in which the beauty of a Japanese garden rests not only upon what is compassed within its boundaries, but also on what lies beyond.
Needless to say, this prime vantage point proved to be quite popular with the leaf-chasing masses, and the edges of the pond were packed to bursting with tourists. Time to beat a retreat into Tenryū-ji’s splendid garden, where the crowds were a bit thinner – though still much in evidence – and the foliage just as stunning.
Having had our fill of the temple, we left through the back gate and stepped into another of the area’s most iconic attractions: the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
From here, we continued to the next stop in our Arashiyama excursion – but let’s save that for another post.