Sagano Bamboo Forest is located in Arashiyama Japan, just on the outskirts of the famous Kyoto. A boxy and bumpy train car carried me past the blinking lights and lowered gates across the main streets we’d pass along the way. The whole trip felt rustic, and I suppose that’s intentional as the Japanese government has designated it as an official “place of scenic beauty” and has taken steps to preserve this atmosphere. The tiny scenic village is nestled in a hamlet between a mountain, which is said to be a jewel of autumn color, and a broad river spanned by the “Moon Crossing Bridge,” which helps to facilitate viewing the cherry blossoms on its banks in the spring. The bamboo grove is tucked away behind the UNESCO World Hertiage Tenryuji Temple and so while its hardly the gem of Arashiyama, I would say if you’re there, it’s not to be missed.
As you pass the perfectly organized and manicured gardens of the temple, alongside the gently running streams and trickling waterfalls, the trail begins to wind up the mountain and the tops of the grove first come into view. I looked up at the towering stalks, the wind whipping through the tops and I was struck how much it reminded me of a green summer’s field. That way the breeze surfs through grass like a wave on the sea. I thought it was quite funny actually because bamboo is in the same plant family as grass. However once you immerse yourself in the thick steep trunks of the wood, it seems almost nothing like a summer’s field. The towering stalks rise straight and high, the multitude of leaves block out the sun, and all that reaches the forest floor is a pale and spotted spackle of light. Above the winds tickle the branches but below the air is absolutely still. The path stretches out in front of you and the symmetry of the grove make the lines seem endless. Endlessly tall and long. A slight winter chill still hangs in the brisk air and as the sun sets, light comes at you horizontally from in between the trunks. The coldness becomes sharp and it was here, during the fading day, that I came upon an old and frozen cemetery. Lifeless and still, hidden somewhere between the ground and the trees and the sky. The silent and gated graveyard seemed not out of place but as much a part of the grove as the trees themselves. As the sun sank deeper the trail wound around and through scores of pliable and swaying trunks, bringing me back to the tracks of the old rickety rural train that brought me here in the first place. Just another trick of this ghostly grove.