Deep in the forest covered mountains, perched up above the river valley offering possibly the best view in Kyoto, lies the Daihikaku Zen temple. Fresh from renovations last year, the temple is ready to welcome both foreign and Japanese tourist alike, but is still an unknown tourist attraction to most. As it offers information about the concept of Zen in a number of languages and is quiet enough to allow for peaceful meditation, it is also one of the best places to learn a little about Zen while visiting Kyoto.
Arashiyama represents some of the best and worst of tourism in Kyoto. Situated in a beautiful natural setting at the entrance of the Katsura river as it flows from the mountains to the city, and featuring vast areas of forest and bamboo groves, the area is stunningly beautiful. It also boasts the World Heritage listed Tenryuji temple, one of main Rinzai Zen temples of Japan, which contains one of the most well renowned gardens in the city. However, when Arashiyama gets crowded, especially on weekends during tourist seasons, it can seem like a tourist hell. However, even on such days, there are areas, which maintain a sense of calm, especially along the river towards the mountain.
Katsura River and Getting to Daihikaku Temple:
At the centre of the Arashiyama area is the pictureque Togetsukyo bridge, which spans the expansive Katsura river. To get to Daihikaku temple, cross this bridge (going towards the mountains, not the town) and walk along the river into the mountains. This area can also be reached by bicycle, but there are a few steep climbs towards the end. As you walk along the river, you will notice some signs for a ‘GREAT VIEW’- these are signs for the temple and the superb view it offers. You will notice some boats along the river. You can hire the smaller blue boats for 1,400Y for 1 hour. This is also a fantastic way to experience the river. There are larger boats, which start their journey from the neighbouring Kameoka (you can get there by JR train) and take you down the Hozugawa and Katsura rivers. See the following page for details:
You will also find some riverside restaurants, where you can try some food and drinks (including alcohol) at surprisingly cheap prices, such as fried squid for 400Y. After about a 15-20 minute walk from the bridge you will arrive at some stone steps and official signage for the temple. These steps lead up to the temple.
The temple was established in 1614 by the merchant, trader and civil engineer Suminokura Ryoi, in memory of workers who died whilst working on river control projects. His engineering projects included the river below. The temple houses a famous life-size statue of Ryoi dressed as a monk and holding the tools of his trade. Walking up to the temple, you will pass through a gate and find a temple bell in front of you. Visitors are welcome to strike this bell three times, and send echoes up the valley. The building overlooking the valley needs little explanation, other than to say it is a great place to look at the amazing view, especially using the binoculars provided. Here you can relax and meditate on the spiritual information provided. In a separate building next to this, is a Buddhist statue worshiped by Ryoi. The temple also features a rather impression restroom! So please ask where to locate it if needed.
Getting to Arashiyama:
If traveling by train you can take a JR train to Saga-Arashiyama and walk the 10 minute walk towards the river (follow maps and signs). Alternatively you can take a Keifuku train from Shijo Omiya, or Hankyu train to Arashiyama station (change at Katsura station) – this will take you to the mountain side of the river. Also you can take buses to Arashiyama from Kyoto station (number 28).
View Daihikaku in a larger map