Day 20 — 17 August 2010
On our twentieth day in Japan, we ventured back to the district of Arashiyama, to visit the famous bamboo forest and explore a little bit further into the mountains.
Sadly, the beautiful photographs of the ‘forest’ oversell the reality a little. I’d never discourage anyone from visiting — as there’s really nothing like seeing enormous stems of bamboo arching into the sky, swaying improbably in the wind and almost audibly growing before your very eyes (and ears) — but it’s a rather small plot of land, in extremely close proximity of the surrounding roads and houses. Not exactly the remote, serene retreat one imagines before visiting.
In the spirit of adventure, we jumped on the crowded Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道, also known as the ‘Romantic Train’) that winds out of Arashiyama and into the hills in a big loop, before returning to the town. While most people tend to sit on the train for the loop, taking lots of photos, we decided to throw caution to the wind and be the only people who got off at one of the two stops it makes on its route.
Everyone looked at us like we’d just jumped out of Apollo 11 with no space-suit on.
Undeterred by puzzled looks from the train-passengers and the surprised couple manning a small concession stand the other side of a precipitous bridge, we bought some water and ventured into the mountains.
On reflection, four years later, I’m amazed this little sojourn wasn’t an utter disaster. We encountered some rather large and brightly coloured spiders, heard the rustle of snakes more than once, didn’t take anywhere near enough water to keep properly hydrated in the 45 degree summer heat and had no map. Yet somehow, we forged a path through an enormous and quite ancient looking mountain forest and ended up not where we began, but right next to another station where a train could take us back into Arashiyama.
If I were poetically inclined, I’d talk about being guided by a Miyazakian woodland spirit, protecting and guiding a pair of weary gaijin as we made our way through the forest.
But I’m not, so I’ll just say we got lucky.