I have always wondered what it would feel like to have lived during the samurai days. It’s no secret that I’m a Japanese culture aficionado, and the thought of those lavish old natural surroundings that you can only find now on postcards, simply keeps my imaginative juices rolling. I would like to think that I somehow crossed path with that time when I went to the district of Arashiyama at the province of Kyoto, Japan during spring. This area keeps its traditions alive and preserves itself as a historic site. And springtime in Arashiyama is really a sight to behold.
Arashiyama is a relatively quiet place compared to the larger areas in Japan such as Tokyo, and Osaka. Here, the old ways are still being practiced. There are many naturally grown trees and flowers. The geisha practice is still very much alive. The samurai movie village lets one travel back in time to the samurai era. The old tram line is still the main transport to and from the heart of the district.
Arashiyama has many natural parks full of trees and flowers. All throughout the year, people can see and enjoy the greenery of the bamboo groove forest. The bamboos point straight up to the sky and with a little gust of wind, their swinging back and forth is a delight to the eyes. I came to Arashiyama once in the spring time. It was so fascinating to see the fullness of the cherry blossoms lighting up the nights of the district. Cherry blossoms or sakura trees give a sense of calm and peace of mind. The Togetsukyo or Moon Crossing Bridge is the iconic landmark of the district. Just like the other wonders of nature in Arashiyama, the Togetsukyo lets one see the perfect view of the district, with the forested mountainside on the background, and the cherry blossoms on the waterfront.
Entertaining, the traditional way
The Kamishichiken entertainment district is the oldest hanamachi or geisha district, and it’s in Arashiyama. The name Kamishichiken is derived from the seven upper houses, that represent the seven teahouses, built from the leftovers of the Kitano Shrine. The buildings of the Kamishichiken establishments, known for their textiles, are made of wood.
When I entered the o-chaya or teahouse I was greeted by a geisha or a hostess. She served the food, poured the tea and conversed with the guests. The geishas are the older versions of the maids in the popular Japanese maids’ café of today. The most interesting thing about the geishas is their background of dance and music. They play with the traditional Japanese three string instrument called the shamisen and dance to the nihon buyo, a mixture of dance and pantomime to entertain guests. They’re basically all-around eating companions.
Arashiyama boasts many temples, from the small ones to the five great zen temples of Buddhism. The area around Arashiyama is so peaceful and divine because it is rarely visited by tourists. The first ranked zen temple of Buddhism, the Tenryu-ji, can be found in Arashiyama. The Tenryu-ji is considered by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Samurai Movie Village
Another site I found interesting in Arashiyama is the Toei Movie Village. It has served as the location for almost all samurai films of the past. It is known as Japan’s Hollywood, especially during the 50’ and 60’s. The village offers authentic experience in the ways of the samurai, with sword fighting and shuriken throwing schools.
Touring around the district is best achieved using the Tram. The Tram runs around the center of Arashiyama. I love how I can feel and smell the breeze and fragrance of the cherry blossoms as I ride the tram.
Arashiyama, during spring, is a great place for a lot of leisurely and relaxing activities, such as picknicking under the Sakura Trees (Cherry Blossoms) and visiting temples. The beauty of this place is so much more highlighted during this season because it’s a time that symbolizes new beginnings and new hopes.
Photo by ionushi on Flickr