Japan: Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama-Sagano
In the Kyoto prefecture, about 30 minutes from Kyoto by train, lay the wonderful Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama-Sagano.
You can enjoy the story in photos at the bottom of this article.
Bamboo Forest: A Truly Special Natural Wonder
When it comes to natural enclaves that are renowned for their spectacular display of nature, I was only truly bowed once before in my life, and that was in Iguazu Falls. I wasn't equally vowed but still really impressed and very charmed by the Jacaranda in flower all over Buenos Aires.
I've been to other natural sites that are fascinating, but perhaps one factor that renders them all not so truly bowing is the proximity factor, some of these natural wonders are near and known. Not to diminish them, but they don't cause the same impact because they are "familiar".
However, the bamboo forest by Arashiyama-Sagano, in all its glory, caused that sort of mental and audible gasp to denote one is seeing something truly unique and special.
This happened twice to me in Japan, when it comes to natural wonders: The bamboo forest and the Sakura, that is, the cherry blossoms in almost full bloom I was lucky to see in Tokyo just before leaving.
Some Facts about Bamboo Plants
Bamboo is incorrectly called a tree, as in "bamboo tree", but it isn't. It's a woody perennial evergreen plant that is actually part of the grass family. Never mind that they can grow like giants, at a rate of 3 or 4 feet per day, they aren't trees.
Curiously, it's one of the tallest grasses in the world, if not the tallest. "Bamboo belongs to the family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae."
What is it about the sight of thousands of bamboo plants?
Is it the fact that we don't have them just as fully grown in Europe? Is it the light and shadow effect they create while they dance in the wind? Is it the actual dance and song they perform when the wind blows? Is it their endurance, because they bend with the wind, and thus they weather any storms and win all fights against the elements?
I'm not sure what it is, but when I saw all these bamboo plants together, thousands of them, all lined up one after the other, rising up to 150 feet high, straight like arrows aimed at the sun, lined up like hardened soldiers to face a millenary battle only known to them, I was simply mesmerized.
The elegance of the bamboo plant
The shape, color and sound of bamboo plants are not only elegant but even poetic in their essence. Just one of them is magnificent, and a forest of them is magical.
These bamboo trees are a color between green and gray, it depends both on their height and the light of the sun that shines on them. The light and shadow effect experienced when looking up to their heights is enchanting.
When fully grown, they resemble a thin lighthouse of old, they just bend a little and their peak, like a halfway Pisa tower. The bending is created by the weight of the upper and older branches, and their leaves.
The sound this plant shushes against the wind is a shhhhh zzzzzzzz shhhhh. One only needs to listen to the swing of the bamboo plants to be lulled right down to sleep. Magical.
Some facts about Arashiyama-Sagano
Arashiyama sits on the south border of the Hozugawa river, called this way on Arashiyama's side. Sagano, the actual location of the bamboo forest sits on the north side, and there the river is called Oigawa. Curiously, the river also changes name on its east and west sides, it's Hozu on the east and Katsura on the west.
Kamikaze is a word that brings all sorts of negative connotations to many a mind. However, its meaning is sacred wind, and it is said that the first time the Japanese used it in relation to battle was in the XIII Century, when severe typhoons repeatedly destroyed Mongol invasion fleets, incapacitating them to take over the Japanese coast.
In 1274, a Mongol fleet launched an invasion against Japan, aiming to set inland in the Arashiyama area, but never reached their target, as a typhoon completely destroyed all ships. In 1281, the Mongols tried again, and yet again a typhoon destroyed the whole fleet. At that time, the Japanese inlanders called such typhoons kamikaze, which means sacred wind. On their last attempt in 1333, the Mongols were beaten by the Japanese fleet, never to try again.
Arashiyama became a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would retire there to enjoy its natural setting. It's particularly spectacular during the cherry blossom in spring, as there are hundreds of trees on the river benches, and over early autumn due to the beauty of the fall colors, which tint the Arashiyama's Mount hillsides golden.
Sagano, on the other side of the river, hosts many temples, a very well preserved ancient village, and the bamboo forest, of course.
A modest selection of photos
If you visit Japan, you can't miss the spectacular bamboo forest in Sagano!
Other Incredible Sites in Japan
- Japan: Awaji Yumebutai by Tadao Ando
Awaji-Yumebutai is an out of the way complex, built almost only out of concrete and glass. It's a spatial dream; the waterfall, the pond, the botanical garden, the layered terraces with the most original garden ever are quite unique in their concepti
- Japan: Fushimi Inari Torii
Fushimi Inari Torii is probably the one shrine in the world that has left me completely humbled and full of open-eyed wonder. Spectacular doesn't even begin to describe this monument to the sight sense.