Natural Attractions in Kyoto Japan: Gardens, River, Villa

Two of the things that inspire me the most about Japan are the respect of the Japanese people for nature and, of course, their nature! I always admire how Japan was able to progress without desecrating forests as their cities grow. In fact, Japan was hailed so many times in history as a country with the cleanest cities.

Kyoto is one of the many cities in Japan that has manifested growth while keeping nature by its side. That’s why it has never been out of the “top” and “must-visit” city destinations in Japan in round-ups done by many websites.

Sagano Scenic Railway, Kyoto, Japan

For these reasons, I am motivated to create a blog post about Kyoto’s natural attractions. Also, our family is planning to travel to Japan soon after CoViD-19 travel restrictions are lifted, with Kyoto as one of the decided destinations. That makes it more reasonable for me to research these places and create a blog post for them.

Hopefully, this post can help you choose which place in Kyoto’s natural attractions to visit and see. I’m including all the unique things you can experience for each nature destination to help you even further decide what suits your wants and needs. There is also the recommended time to visit to know where to slot these destinations in your itinerary.

If you need Kyoto photo travel inspiration, I have a blog post for you. 🙂

Sagano Bamboo Forest

Let’s start with the most unique and the most photograph Kyoto’s natural attraction, the Arashiyama’s Sagano Bamboo forest. It is a nice nature destination 30 minutes away to the west of downtown Kyoto.

I mentioned unique because, unlike other destinations included in this list, Sagano Bamboo Forest is the only forest where grasses make up the forest rather than trees. It’s kinda mind-blowing, right?

What to Expect in Sagano Bamboo Forest

Sagano Bamboo Forest is one of 100 Soundscapes of Japan, where you can hear meditative natural noise. It has two separate parts, both in between the JR Sagano-Saiin line train tracks and Tenryu-Ji Temple grounds.

Arashiyama's Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan
Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest

Here, we can walk along walkways paved through the dense thickets of bamboo stalks. The bamboo stalks create a calming sound as they bump each other when the wind blows. They say the creaking and rustling of these towering bamboo trees plus the magnificent view of the forest canopy makes strolling inside the forest an incredible experience.

By the way, Bamboo Forest is just one of the natural wonders of Japan that you must see. You can discover other natural wonders in my post about Japan’s Natural Wonders for Every Region.

Arashimaya Bamboo Forest, Kyoto
Arashimaya Bamboo Forest

Suggested time to Visit Sagano Bamboo Forest

Most people from the reviews suggest not to visit during peak hours because you can be disappointed with the boorish visitors leveling off the supposedly tranquil experience of in the bamboo forest.

According to insidekyoto.com, the Arashimaya bamboo forest is open 24 hours. Thus, you can visit the spot earlier in the morning for a better experience of the groove. 

Okochi Sanso Villa Garden

Another nature-themed attraction you can visit in Arashimaya aside from the Bamboo Forest is the Okochi Sanso Villa. It is a peaceful villa with vast surrounding gardens that were designed by famous actor Okochi Denjiro.

There is a Y1000 entrance fee to the villa, though. But I think it is worth it because it includes a meal of a cup of Japanese hot matcha and a chewy Japanese sweet pastry. The meal is available in the tea house inside the villa, where you can sit under the garden trees with a view of the bamboo forest. Also, the Y1000 entrance includes a beautiful postcard as a souvenir.

What to expect in Okochi Sanso Villa Garden

Daijokaku, Okochi’s main house, is the first thing we can see once we enter the villa. The actor’s house incorporates several styles of Japanese residential architecture like the Shinden, Shoin, and Sukiya styles.

Okochi Sanso Garden, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Okochi Sanso Garden, Arashiyama

Okochi Sanso Villa has an open lawn area with a borrowed landscape. The pine trees, cherries, and Japanese maple trees surrounding the house create a vibrant atmosphere for tourists, especially during the fall season.

The villa has multi-level gardens paved with curvy cobblestone steps leading to some breathtaking views in the area. When we arrive at the highest point of the Okochi Sanso Villa, we can find a resting spot, which is for me, seems to be more of a viewing deck. There we can see the Arashimaya skyline with the Higashimaya mountain range at the backdrop in the east.

Okochi Sanso Garden, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan (2)
Okochi Sanso Garden, Arashiyama

Tekusui-an tea house also awaits us in Okochi Sanso Villa. The ground around the tea house is covered with moss carpet, and it somehow makes the whole scene wondrously ancient.

Suggested Time To Visit Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa is open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. In the videos I watched on Youtube, it seems it does not get crowded like the bamboo forest. There are also no reviews telling about the villa getting crowded. So I can say we can go any time of the day to the place as long as the weather is fine. Lastly, according to Tokyocreative it is best to visit the villa every Autumn.

Katsura Imperial Villa

It was only now I’m writing this blog that I get to know how Japanese imperial properties could look like. I learned they are a nice nature destination in Kyoto too.

Today, I also learned that if I can go inside one of them, especially Katsura Rikyu Imperial Palace, I can hit three birds in one shot. I can have a refreshing nature stroll, an encounter with the culmination of Japanese architecture, and an experience to see the crafty traditional Japanese landscaping technique called the Chisen Kaiyu-Shiki gardens.

Well, actually, I think it’s four. I will also be able to behold a flashback of history to the life of the 1600s Japanese aristocrats.

What to expect in Katsura Imperial Villa

The main structures of the villa are located in the middle of the estate, surrounded by lush trees that bloom beautifully during some seasons. The villa has a beautiful garden and ponds in the middle, which architecture referenced to the Japanese classic “Tale of the Genji.”

Katsura Imperial Villa's Japanese Garden, Kyoto, Japan
Katsura Imperial Villa

There, we can see a wide range of decorative features like stepping stone paths, Japanese garden fences, stone lanterns, and hand washing basins. We can also spot arched wooden bridges and short stone bridges that connect pond islets in the villa.

Aside from the main building of Katsura Imperial Villa, we can also find tea houses in the compound, which also reflects the bests manifestation of both Japanese carpentry and architecture.

Katsura Imperial Villa's Japanese Garden, Kyoto, Japan (2)
Arched bridge in Katsura Imperial Villa

Many in the reviews admire the picturesque scenes inside the villa and the serene setting of the whole compound. Some even say that it was the highlight of their visit to Japan and the 1000 Yen entrance fee was definitely worth it.

Almost every review about Katsura Imperial Villa I found has a perfect score. The only thing that they say is a bummer is the detracting requirements before you can enter inside. First, you need to apply for permission to visit, and second, if you will be allowed or given a chance, you have no choice but to join the group tour.

Suggested time to visit Katsura Imperial Villa

It’s sad to know that we cannot enter the villa anytime. Either we apply for a permit online (Imperial Household Agency) or go very early in the morning to Imperial Household Agency Office (Kunaicho) to catch a tour slot. 

You can find Kunaicho after a short walk from the Karasuma subway line’s Imadegawa Station. The application to enter the villa is easy. You just have to show your passport and fill out some forms. Just take note that Katsura Imperial Villa is usually closed every weekend and on national holidays. Each tour lasts for 40 minutes and is conducted every 10 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM, and 3 PM.

Tetsugaku No Michi (Philosopher’s Walk)

Next on the list of Kyoto’s nature destinations is the Philosopher’s Walk. 

For many moments in my life, the Japanese meditative attitude has inspired me to find my inner peace and stress relief. I recalled that I’m loving it because I just now discovered Philosopher’s walk and the story behind its name.

The name of this stone path along a canal in Kyoto came from a 20th-century philosopher Nishida Kitaro. It is here, where he meditated every day on his way to Kyoto University and found enlightenment. Since then, many scholars and other people have tried the same to replicate his spiritual quest.

Through the years, because of its iconic name, it became a tourist attraction alongside the Silver Pavilion and Nanzenji Temple, with which Tetsugaku No Michi connects.

What to expect in Tetsugaku No Michi

Personally, I could not say so much about Philosopher’s Path’s physical appearance. I see it as an ordinary paved walkway with trees all around.

Tetsugaku No Michi, Pathway, Kyoto, Japan
Tetsugaku No Michi, Pathway

However, I think it is the seasons that play a big part in turning this simple walkway into something that makes the best 30-minute walk of your life. Philosopher’s path, especially during the spring season, is full of cherry blossoms that probably could glue your sight branches and flowers of the trees.

What I liked the most about Philosopher’s path it shows tranquility in simplicity. The water in the canal flows so calmly that it seems like helping you relax and clear your mind. No wonder why Nishida Kitaro has been able to have a successful spiritual journey in his life.

Cherry Blossoms, Tetsugaku No Michi, Kyoto, Japan
Cherry Blossoms, Tetsugaku No Michi

It is just we need to come to Tetsugaku No Michi at the perfect time when the crowd is nonexistent. I’ve read a comprehensive blog post about Philosopher’s walk that totally explains everything about it and gives tips on how you can experience the best of this spot in Kyoto.

By the way, in case that you’ll be visiting Tokyo, you can find several places like Philosopher’s Walk. Check it out on my post about Tokyo’s Parks and Gardens. I hope that post help you as well. 🙂

When is the best time to visit Tetsugaku No Michi?

Head to the Tetsugaku No Michi before 9 AM or around late afternoon if you want to have a very charming walk down the pathway. You may not know it might be your chance to finally reconnect with yourself too.

Ryoan-ji’s Zen Rock Garden

What’s really cool about Japan is the endless heritage to see in every corner of it like, the Zen Rock Garden in Ryoan-Ji. It is actually a villa built during the Heian period and was converted into a temple in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto, a warlord in Ashikaga Shogunate. Then in 1994, it was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

I’ve read many comments about Zen Rock Garden, and they kinda say something similar. They said, at first impression, the garden looks like just an ordinary garden. But when they start staring at the rocks that seem to make ripple to the pool of white pebble, it seemed it positively affected their inner being. It’s peaceful and calming at the same time, most say.

What to expect in Ryoan-Ji’s Zen Rock Garden?

Inside the garden, we can see 15 rocks spread out on a pool-like area containing white pebbles. The fifteen rocks are carefully positioned so that no matter what angle you look at, there is still at least one rock that cannot be seen. Many have tried to figure out what the garden portrays. A tiger holding her baby cubs through the water is one theory they made to explain what the Ryoan-Ji’s Zen Rock Garden depicts.

Ryoan Ji, Kyoto, Japan
Ryoan Ji, Kyoto, Japan

There is also a philosophical stone water basin in Ryoan Ji, opposite the stone garden. They call it Tsukubai Water Basin, and it interests me so much because of the characters written on it. There we can see the characters that say “ware tada taru wo shiru,” meaning, “I am content with what I am.”

It’s just the kind of thing that I really want to see in Japan, together with the tranquil temples and nature. Not only because it makes a soothing sound as the water drops to the basin, but it is actually the artifact that could improve spirituality and self-awareness.

Kyoyochi Pond Water Garden, Ryoan Ji, Kyoto, Japan
Kyoyochi Pond Water Garden

Lastly, outside the main structure, we can find a spacious “stroll-style” garden with a pond called Kyoyochi pond. The garden a lovely place for a stroll, particularly in the autumn season when the nearby trees turn red, yellow, and orange. These should complete your nature experience in Ryoan-Ji Zen Rock Garden.

You know what, you must also check Japanese countryside. One of the towns in the Japanese countryside will make your fantasy a reality.

What is the best time to visit The Zen Rock Garden?

Of course, the best time to visit is during off-peak hours. So far, I realized that it applies to every tourist destination in Kyoto, especially if we want to experience some kind of tranquility.

Ryoan-Ji Zen Rock Garden is open all year round with a different time during winter. From March to November, it welcomes visitors from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. Then in winter, from December to February, from 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon.

Note that there is also an entrance fee in the Zen Rock Garden, Y500 for adults and Y300 for junior high school and elementary school students.

Kyoto Botanical Gardens

Do you know that even if we don’t leave Kyoto, we can see different flowers from different parts of the world? Because Kyoto Botanical Gardens is the most inclusive botanical garden in Japan. It is one of the nice Kyoto nature destinations to visit.

The lush grounds of Kyoto Botanical Garden contain approximately 12,000 plant species photosynthesizing all over its wide 240,000 square meters area. Sights all over the garden should be interesting for plant and flower lovers and Instagrammers.

The Gardens are ever-changing and can be enjoyed all year round, thanks to seasonal flora and numerous conservatories. Over 450 cherry blossom trees bloom remarkably in the spring. Then deciduous trees’ leaves, such as maple, blush beautifully in the fall.

What to expect in Kyoto Botanical Garden?

Kyoto Botanical Garden is further divided into sections to help the visitors find the kind of plants and flowers they are looking for. The conservatory is one of these sections, and it is further divided into even more.

Pond in Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan
Pond in Kyoto Botanical Garden

The conservatory is divided into eight parts. Visitors can see plants from the tropical region to the dry tropics, from plains to mountains, and temperate alpine areas. This conservatory also has sets of valuable native trees, orchids, and bromeliads.

Another part of the Botanical Garden that we must check out is the themed garden. Within that, we can find a Bonsai exhibit. It is an area full of small trees manifesting the artistic talents of the Japanese in gardening. There is also a European-style garden inside. It can be an excellent place to get a different vibe quickly in the botanical garden.

Cherry Blossoms, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan
Cherry Blossoms, Kyoto Botanical Garden

And if we will like to see some unique-looking plants, we can then proceed to the Special Plant Garden. There we can find tiny sections, each filled with one single species of plant. There are bamboos, lotuses, native Japanese plants, perennial and medicinal plants to see.

By the way, are you looking for things to do in Kyoto that is not about temples?

Best time to visit Kyoto Botanical Garden

We must expect that the garden is a popular tourist destination and crowds could fill the park fast, especially during peak hours and weekends.

However, if we will be talking about the season, the best season would be Autumn. It is when we can see the beautiful foliage of the Uma and Sakura trees and the blooming daisy flowers, Japanese anemones, and dahlias.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride

Last but not least is the Hozugawa River Boat Ride. I think this will be the best nature experience that I can ever have in Kyoto! I just cannot wait to ride on the boat and sail along the river to see the breathtaking natural sceneries of Kyoto.

What makes the Hozugawa River more exciting is the traces of history embedded in the river used by traders and merchants hundreds of years ago. In fact, the Hozugawa river has been used for transporting goods as early as the 8th century!

Even now, we can still see the remnants of the river paths used by the boatmen that once trekked here every day to draw their vessels back upstream by rope.

What to expect in the Hozugawa River Boat Ride?

The whole boat ride shall take up two hours, sailing over a 16-kilometer section of the Hozugawa river between the Arashiyama sightseeing area and Kameoka.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride, Kyoto, Japan
Autumn at Hozugawa River Boat Ride

Cruising along with the river gives awe-inspiring sceneries of the forest filled with vibrant colors during spring and fall, lush green in summer, and snow in winter.

While a big part of the boat ride is smooth and calm, there are a few rapids that will surely bring some excitement and thrill along the way.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride, Kyoto, Japan (2)
Hozugawa River Boat Ride

The skillful boatmen that accompany the tourists throughout the boat ride spontaneously reveal secrets of the river, historical spots, and techniques for finer boat steerage. They will surely make your trip more than just a cruise but a learning opportunity as well.

If you like seeing nature, I suggest that you see my post about the most beautiful mountains in Japan. I never thought that they could rival the beauty of European Alps. 

Another thing that you must see is the lakes in Japan. THEY ARE SURREAL! With the Mount Fuji at the background they look more fantastic.

Best time to have Hozugawa River Boat Ride

We can visit anytime we want, as the river can’t get very crowded. I think it will only be just a matter of preference. However, there are just a few things to take note of. Opening hours vary in winter.

From March 10 to December 13, the Hozugawa River Boat Ride is open from 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, with hourly boat departures. Then from December 14 to March 9, it is only welcoming visitors from 10 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, with boats leaving every 90 minutes.

There is a Y4100 admission fee, by the way. And the boat rides are canceled if there is bad weather. Lastly, the boat ride departure interval may also vary depending on the number of tourists wanting a riverboat ride.

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