Just beside the zen Temple of the Heavenly Dragon (Tenryū-ji) in Kyoto, is the Sagano Bamboo Forest. If you’ve ever seen a list of “places to see before you die”, this forest might have been on it. Walking through the leaves rustling in the wind feels a bit like you’re a Lilliputian in a giant’s land. It’s beautiful. The rustling sound of the leaves has even been listed by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment as a “top 100 soundscape of Japan” and the sounds worthy of a visit in themselves.
It’s a great, free, thing to do with kids (and adults!), and is a wee break from temples.
The path is busy, lots of visitors make their way along it with cameras and tripods or clad in brightly-coloured kimonos for photo opportunities, but at the edge of the temple gardens where the bamboo starts and in the warren of little streets around the forest it’s a lot more peaceful.
Bamboo is really incredible. Some kinds can grow 90cm in 24 HOURS! It’s constructive strength can beat concrete and wood (the weight it can support) and its tensile strength can beat steel (how bendy is can be without breaking) – which is why it can grow so tall and still be the same thickness near the top. It can be used for insulation and is a staple food. It produces 35% more oxygen from carbon dioxide than trees. They’ve started making racing bikes out if it. It was my favourite washable nappy material in my nappy changing days because it’s super absorbent, soft, and quick drying. Gee! You can’t get much more useful than that.
Miyoko, the lovely lovely local lady who was with us, showed us round the back streets of the forest, where the bamboo is still harvested to produce building material or be carved into spoons or cups or tofu scoops.
The word bamboo, Miyoko told us, comes from Malay and represents the sound of cracking or burning bamboo. Bam – boo. We heard it bam-boo-ing on the fires in the yards behind the forest.
We visited the forest on a Wednesday – it was recommended that we avoid the weekend. Because the forest paths are open 24/7 it would be nice to visit in the dark and listen to the rustling. It’s free to walk through the grove.
To get there:
We caught the bus from the city centre out to the west of Kyoto, saw the Togetsukyo bridge and visited the Tenryū-Ji temple before we wandered round the bamboo forest. The whole trip takes half a day.
The bus in Kyoto is easy: hop on, and on the way past the driver for the first time buy a day pass (500¥ adult and 250¥ child under 12) and validate it by passing it through the machine in front of the driver. Then each time you catch a bus, show the card on your way out.