I’d done my research and I knew about the 17 UNESCO Heritage sites in Kyoto, the 1,500 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, the ancient traditions that still inform the daily lives of the people, the tea ceremony, the flower arranging, and of course, the geishas, that in Kyoto showcase the heart and soul of traditional Japan. All of that I saw and wondered at, but nothing prepared me for the beauty of the green bamboo glade through which we walked on our second day in the city, the tranquillity, the sighing of the leaves and the faint sounds of birds hidden in the branches.
If you’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you will have gained some idea of what this place is about: I found it totally magical. Higashiyama is the main tourist area with the best shopping, the major artisan shops and the top heritage temples and shrines to visit, but because of this, it is mostly bustling and busy. So a short bus ride to Western Kyoto to Arashiyama to experience the wonder of this bamboo forest is the perfect antidote to the crowds.
Infinite stalks of thick, green, bamboo stretch endlessly ahead, a forest of trees unlike any other forest you will see. There is a sense of otherworldliness in the place and a strange quality to the light which is impossible to capture in photographs.
Everyone I spoke to was disappointed with the images they produced from their cameras, but it’s just impossible to capture something so intangible.
Japan has many natural beauties, the cherry blossom in spring, the dazzling palette of red and gold leaves in the autumn, and the scenic splendour of the snow-covered Japanese Alps, but the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, a city that moves to an entirely different rhythm from the rest of Japan, is my choice for top attraction in that land of much beauty.