May. 23, 2017 UPDATE

From JR Saga-Arashiyama Station to Gio-ji and Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temples

A day in Arashiyama: If you are tired of the crowds, try taking this route off the beaten path north of JR Saga-Arashiyama Station!
The entrance to Seiryo-ji Temple

Most people start their journey to Arashiyama from Hankyu Arashiyama Station or JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. But most people head north from Hankyu and south from JR, which is why the central area of Arashiyama can feel a bit congested during peak tourism season. But what if you would head north from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station? There is actually no shortage of sightseeing spots on the north side, even if none of them are quite as famous as the Bamboo Grove.

Seiryo-ji Temple


Now, normally, most people will head south for Torokko Train/Sagano Romantic Train ride, or Tenryu-ji Temple, or the Bamboo Grove, or at when going north they just go to Daikaku-ji Temple. And most people head to the same places from Hankyu and JR stations, which is why the central area of Arashiyama can feel a bit congested during peak tourism season. But what if you would head north from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station? There is actually no shortage of sightseeing spots on the north side, even if none of them are quite as famous as the Bamboo Grove. 




But this time we are going to start our trip by heading to Seiryu-ji Temple, a big but not that well-known as others like Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama. 




After walking for some ten minutes or so, you should get to see the huge main gate of Seiryo-ji Temple. The temple belongs to the Pure Land school of Buddhist thought, and it was founded in 937. The temple grounds are quite vast, and there is a lot to see. 




Not only is the temple big, but it is also pretty quiet for the Arashiyama area. It feels nice to walk here and just look at the all the historic temple buildings, most of which can be seen for free, though you need to pay 450 yen to enter the main hall. 





If you push and rotate this sutra tower, you are supposed to get the same benefit as from reading all the sutras. And for a few yen, who wouldn’t want that benefit? It seems like while some temples have revolving sutra towers like this, it is not normal for you to get to push the tower yourself. 


Next, a temple covered in moss


Next, it is time to head for Gio-ji Temple. As you can see from this sign, there is a lot to see in the area around Arashiyama and Sagano, although some of the signs don't have English yet.  




Gio-ji Temple is more of a moss garden than a temple, but as a moss garden, it is exceptionally beautiful. 




The entrance fee to the temple is only 300 yen so it is also easy on the wallet. The special thing about moss gardens is that they also look great when it rains, so no matter what the weather is like you can still enjoy the garden. 




Gio-ji Temple

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On toward Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple




There is a lot to see also between Gio-ji Temple and Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple, since after leaving Gio-ji Temple behind you get to the preserved street of Toriimoto. This place has a really nice, nostalgic feeling to it; this is a piece of historic Kyoto that also still has the stone pavement Kyoto is so famous for. 




Once you get to see this huge torii gate up ahead you will know that you are almost at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple. Just take the street that passes the torii gate on the right and you will be there in no time. 




The entrance fee to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple is also 300 yen, and you get to see countless Buddhist rakan-statues.




The 1200 rakan Buddha statues that are at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple are special in that they make you smile. Some of them are laughing, others hold tennis rackets, some have hair resembling Elvis… it is an endless temple visit of discovery.


Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple

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Heading back through the Bamboo Grove


Going back, if you look around you, you can also see signs marking the Kyoto trail, a trail offering two hiking options: either an 80-kilometer hike all around Kyoto or a more moderate 40 km hike in northern Kyoto. 




Back from Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple, you can either take a bus or walk, and if you walk it may be more interesting to walk all the way to Hankyu Arashiyama Station through the Bamboo Grove. 





Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

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Arashiyama is beautiful all year round; in spring you have the fresh greenery, and in autumn the autumn leaves. 




And then, finally, we have the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. What better way to end your day in Arashiyama than to cross this bridge that has become to define the area so much that Arashiyama even has a mascot that has the bridge on his back and is called Togetsukyo-kun? 





Arashiyama Togetsukyo Bridge

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Sampo[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ] STAFF DETAIL
What makes the route to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple special is that it is quiet and there are not that many people. This is a great walk off the beaten path, and the temples on the northern side of JR Saga-Arashiyama Station are also a bit cheaper to go into, as most of them have their entrance fees set around 300 or 400 yen, while closer to Hankyu Arashiyama Station many more popular temples have their entrance fees at around 500 yen. This route may not be the best one for everyone if it is your first time in Arashiyama, but for those for whom it is the second or third, I can heartily recommend taking this route to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple!
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