Bamboo groves rank high on the list of “must see” places for many Western visitors to Japan.
Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is among the most famous–and, as a result, most crowded–options, and while it’s definitely impressive (even more so, if you happen to visit at a time when there aren’t many other visitors), I prefer the less-known, but equally beautiful, natural bamboo forest on Mt. Inari (Fushimi Inari Shrine).
Many visitors don’t even know the grove exists, because it lies a little off the beaten path.
To get there, walk through the shrine and start up the mountain along the path of vermillion gates. After visiting the first sub-shrine (the point where many visitors turn back), continue up the path for about 50 meters, to the place where a small dirt trail curls up the mountainside, with a sign for “Fushimi Kandakara Shrine.”
(The path to Fushimi Kandakara Shrine isn’t paved, and can be slippery when wet, so if you’re not steady on your feet on unpaved trails, or not comfortable on inclines, you may want to opt for Arashiyama instead.)
Fushimi Kandakara Shrine lies about five minutes’ walk up the earthen path – and it’s definitely worth a visit. The grounds are lovely, and feature a number of dragon statues.
To get to the bamboo grove, continue along the path to the right of the shrine. The path narrows, and looks like it’s going to end, but it doesn’t. Just past the shrine, the bamboo forest opens up on both sides. Mesh fences on both sides of the path prevent visitors from leaving the path, in order to protect the bamboo canes.
If you stop and listen, you can hear the wind rustling through the massive canes. The grove is also amazing on a rainy day, when the raindrops patter on the bamboo leaves. I’m sure it’s wonderful in the snow as well – though I haven’t been lucky enough to get there on a snowy day . . . yet.
The bamboo towers high overhead. Each of these giant canes is more than six inches in diameter.
These giant forests are old and peaceful, and even if you’re not a nature lover, it’s definitely worth a trip to see one, if you can. The grove on Mt. Inari is particularly nice, because it’s generally not crowded (when I go, I’m often the only one there, even if Fushimi Inari shrine is crowded) so you can stop and savor the experience.
The color of the bamboo changes slightly through the year–I shot one of the photos above (in which the bamboo looks more yellow) in autumn, and the others in the summertime, when the grove is a vibrant green. No matter what time of year you visit, the bamboo grove is beautiful, and a great alternative to the more crowded groves in Arashiyama. It’s also nice because it saves you half a day in Kyoto, since you can combine a visit to this grove with a visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine (another “top ten must see” for Kyoto visitors) and free up the time it would have taken to visit Arashiyama to see a different destination . . . although Arashiyama is also a really neat place to see if you have the time.
Have you visited a bamboo grove? Have you seen the one on Mt. Inari?