The fantastic sights of western Kyoto (or Rakusai), which include areas around Arashiyama and Okusaga, were a favorite of Japan's past leaders and make for an exciting tour – especially when bicycling in Kyoto.
You can reach this area via JR or private railroads like Hankyu or Keifuku. Many of the rail stations in this area have a bicycle rental shop nearby for convenience. Here, we'll share some of the area's highlights in a fun, self-guided bicycle tour, starting with the back of Arashiyama and the mountain temple of Oku-Saga.
Main image: PIXTA
Let's go rent a bike!
You can rent a bike at shops marked as bicycle rental stores, or rentacycles. Most stations will have a few rental shops nearby, making for useful synergy with bus and train transportation.
City-authorized shops provide service in English and bicycle liability insurance, so you can rest assured that your rental experience will be smooth. We recommend sticking to Kyoto City Authorized Bicycle Rental Stores.
How to rent a bike in Kyoto
First, inform a staff member at a rental shop that you wish to rent a bicycle. Better yet, tell them what kind of bicycle you'd like to rent, as there are gear-shift bicycles, power-assist electric bicycles, and gearless "city cycles" available. So long as they have it in stock, they'll help you get one. To rent, you'll have to fill out a form with your name, address, phone number, whether you're on a day trip or staying overnight in the city, and the name/address of the hotel you're staying at (some shops will have different kinds of forms).
How to pay
Some rental shops accept only cash, while others accept credit or even payment apps. We recommend bringing some Japanese yen notes, just in case. The price will depend on the shop and the type of bicycle, but a single day will cost you around 1,000 to 2,000 yen.
How to return your bicycle
Most shops will require you to return your bicycle to the same place you rented it. Some shop chains will allow you to return your bike at any of their establishments. Ask the rental shop staff to find out what they allow.
The site below has information on Kyoto's rental bicycles, including the locations of authorized rental shops.
The best bicycles for touring the Rakusai area
Rakusai is further divided into Arashiyama, Saga, Takao, Omuro, and other landmarks. Given that this area borders on mountains and their foothills, and the sightseeing spots here tend to be up on hillier terrain, you'll encounter many sloped roads here. Bicycles take stamina to move, so use gear-shift bicycles or power-assist electric bicycles to conserve your energy.
How to use your bicycle
Gear-shift bicycles will have gear controls at the handlebars.
Power-assist electric bicycles may catch you off guard, as they tend to accelerate with a jerk when you start pedaling. Take care when you begin pedaling until you're used to the assist function.
Now, let's go explore the Rakusai area by bicycle!
The Rakusai area is around 9 kilometers west of downtown Kyoto. Arashiyama here is a big draw for tourists, and it's popular nationally for its scenery in spring with cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Indeed, this natural beauty is what the imperial family and nobility constructed villas to enjoy some 1,200 years ago.
We'll introduce some sightseeing spots, as well as a mountain temple. We encourage you to experience the unique world created where the compassion of Buddhism meets the natural and untamed beauty of nature.
We’ll start our sightseeing journey with a bicycle rented near JR Saga-Arashiyama Station or Hankyu Arashiyama Station.
1.Encounter hundreds of unique saint statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji
The so-called "first stop" for a trip around the Saga area is the Sagano mountain temple of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. If you use a power-assist electric bicycle or gear-shift bicycle to get there, you'll have the energy to enjoy the trip downhill to the other spots.
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is an ancient temple in an area called Sagano, up in the mountains of Arashiyama. Founded over 1,250 years ago, the temple had been destroyed a few times by natural disasters, but people have rebuilt it each time, all the way to today. The temple grounds have hundreds of statues, including the disaster-preventing principal image, and 1,200 smaller "rakan" statues of the Buddha's pupils, who trained to reach enlightenment.
The rakan statues have been carved by past priests and parishioners, so each one looks slightly different. Some tilt their head, and smile gently. Looking over their natural expressions, one can easily lose track of time and feel spiritually centered.
The grounds have many stairs, so you'll want to leave your bicycle at the temple's parking area.
2-5 Fukaya-cho, Sagatoriimoto, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8439
Arashiyama Station （Hankyu-arashiyama Line）
15 minutes by bus
- Phone Number 075-285-1549
- Address 2-5 Fukaya-cho, Sagatoriimoto, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8439
2. See more mingling of natural beauty and Buddhism at Jōjakkō-ji Temple
Next, we'll head 10 minutes away from Otagi Nenbutsu-ji to Jōjakkō-ji. This mountain temple is halfway up Mt. Ogura, a mountain famous for autumn foliage that makes repeated appearances in classic Japanese poetry. There's a gate at the mountain's base and a place to stop bicycles on its right side. As you hike up the mountain, you'll find its Niō-mon, main hall, and tahōtō.
Surrounding you will be yama-zakura, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, bamboo thickets, other types of trees and wild grasses, and the resounding songs of birds. This is the kind of pure world you would assume a Buddha would live in, and to be there is to attain a similar peace of heart.
3, Sagaogurayamaoguracho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8397
Sagaarashiyama Station （JR Sagano Line / JR San-in Line）
15 minutes on foot
- Phone Number 075-861-0435
- Address 3, Sagaogurayamaoguracho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8397
3. Don't miss the dramatic sights of Okochi Sanso Garden, the creation of a historical drama actor
Our next stop is a garden five minutes away from Jōjakkō-ji. This garden is part of the legacy of Denjirō Ōkōchi, famous for his starring roles in historical dramas in the 20th century. It's on the south side of Ogurayama. Denjirō Ōkōchi spent 30 years of his life building it up such that it provides lovely views in all seasons.
At the top of its walking path, you are suddenly greeted by a wide-open view of Arashiyama. To include the fall foliage and spring cherry blossoms of the famous Arashiyama in your garden, now that's a dramatic sort of trick an entertainer would think up! As you'll be doing a bit of hiking here, don't forget to wear shoes that are easy to walk in. You can park your bicycle near the entrance to the garden.
8, Sagaogurayamatabuchiyamacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8394
Torokkoarashiyama Station （Sagano Sight-seeing Tram）
0 minute on foot
- Phone Number 075-872-2233
- Address 8, Sagaogurayamatabuchiyamacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8394
4. Enveloped in the green of Kyoto's Bamboo Forest Path
If you're near Okochi Sanso Garden, you won't want to miss the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest nearby. It's some of Arashiyama's most famous scenery, where the thicket is so dense that looking up, it's like the sky is dyed green. This orderly wall of bamboo and its path continue from Okochi Sanso Garden all the way to Tenryu-ji Temple, 400 meters away. It can be crowded at times, so be ready to get off your bicycle.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest竹林の小径
- Address Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Kyoto Shi Ukyo Ku, Kyoto Fu,616-8385,Japan
・Access: Next to Okochi Sanso Garden
・Required sightseeing time: 30 minutes
・Bicycle parking: Kyoto City Arashiyama Tourist Parking Lot
5. See the incredible dragon at the world heritage site, Tenryu-ji Temple
Exiting the bamboo forest path, the world heritage site Tenryu-ji Temple comes into view on the right side. This temple practices the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, one of the oldest and highest-ranking of its kind in Kyoto.
The entrance to its spacious grounds has a place to park your bicycle nearby. There are plenty of things to check out here, but you won't want to miss its "cloud dragon" ceiling painting. The massive dragon was drawn by a famous Japanese artist, and its impressive form looks like it could jump out of the painting at any moment! The artwork can be seen in the temple's lecture hall, or "hattō," where the main priest holds Buddhist sermons. (Public viewings every day in spring, summer, and fall; ticket required for viewing separate from entrance fee.)
Cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, autumn foliage in fall, snow in winter... Sogenchi Pond Garden here has remarkable views for every season. Spring and fall are popular, but it also looks incredible with snow. It makes for a mysterious and profound sort of world, like you've wandered into an ink wash painting.
68 Sagatenryuji Suenobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8385
Arashiyama Station （Keifuku Dentetsu-arashiyama Line）
- Phone Number 075-881-1235
- Address 68 Sagatenryuji Suenobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8385
6. Togetsu-kyo Bridge, a landmark of Arashiyama
We now leave Tenryu-ji Temple and take a 10-minute trip over to Arashiyama's famous Togetsu-kyo Bridge. The bridge crosses over the Katsura-gawa River, and was named for a poem thought up by the emperor at the time: seeing the moon's reflection, it was as though the "moon were crossing the river," and thus we have Togetsu-kyo, "crossing-moon bridge."
Togetsu-kyo connects to Route 29, where many of Arashiyama's souvenir shops and restaurants can be found. If we head east from the intersection of routes 29 and 112, close to Togetsu-kyo, we will find the Kyoto City Arashiyama Tourist Parking Lot, where we can park our bikes and talk a walk around. Take a moment here to look for souvenirs, fill up at a cafe or restaurant, and make the most of your travel memories.
Sagatenryuji Suenobaba Town, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, 616-8385
Arashiyama Station （Keifuku Dentetsu-arashiyama Line）
3 minutes on foot
- Phone Number 075-411-9990
- Address Sagatenryuji Suenobaba Town, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, 616-8385
Enjoy the same views beloved by ancient Japan's imperial family and nobility
Arashiyama is an area pretty much everyone sightseeing in Kyoto will visit. The views produced by its lush nature and historical sites and the rustic beauty of its mountain temples are moving experiences you can't have anywhere else in the world.
On a rental bicycle, you can take in the scenery at your own pace and make discoveries personal to you.
Follow traffic safety rules and have fun
The freedom and gentle pace of bicycling is a perfect fit for traveling through Kyoto. It also means taking responsibility for yourself to prevent injury and accidents. You wouldn't want to ruin your fun trip. So follow traffic safety rules, have good manners, and bicycle safely, and your trip will leave memories for a lifetime.
*This article was produced at the request of Kyoto's municipal government to promote bicycle rules and manners to Kyoto visitors.
*This article reflects information available in November 2022. For the latest information, visit official websites.
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