Find your zen at these special hideaways.

With international tourists now returning to Japan, the nation’s most popular tourist sites are bustling with visitors once again. Down in Kyoto, though, that can be a problem, as the influx of visitors can lead to overcrowding, which puts a strain on the local system and results in a less-than-ideal situation for both residents and tourists.

Local railway operators Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) are now working to highlight some off-the-beaten path places in Kyoto, in an attempt to thin the crowds and spread the love around to some equally beautiful sights that might not be on everyone’s itinerary.

Anticipating a large number of visitors this summer, JR Central recently started up its “Lets Go To Kyoto!” promotion, and our reporter Egawa Tasuku was invited to try one of the self-guided tour plans to see what it was like.

Egawa decided to head out to Arashiyama, a place he’s only ever visited once before in his life, and back then the place was covered with snow, making the scenery look like an ink painting.

Egawa was keen to find out what Arashiyama would look like in summer, so he hopped on the train and when he arrived at Arashiyama, he first stopped by the famous Togetsukyo bridge to see what the crowds were like.

▼ From a distance, Egawa could see the bridge was busy with foot traffic.

▼ And the riverside was lined with throngs of people too.

Once he got to the sidewalk by the river, Egawa felt it was as crowded as the Yamanote Line platform at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest train station. Egawa assumed this meant the area had bounced back to its pre-pandemic popularity, but according to the JR Central guide he was with, it was still less crowded than usual.

▼ If it’s this crowded now, Egawa would hate to think what it would be like during a peak travel period.

Egawa had only been there a few minutes, and he was already looking forward to some peace and quiet away from the crowds. Thankfully for him, that peace and quiet wasn’t far away, located west along the river at a place called Arashiyama Yusaitei.

Originally a restaurant-inn, this some-150-year-old wooden building is located in an area that’s believed to have been a setting for The Tale of Genji, a classical work of Japanese literature that dates back to the early 11th century. Japanese novelist and Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) also stayed and wrote a novel here, and now it’s the art gallery of Yusai Okuda, a dyeing artist.

Yusai Okuda

Image: JR Central

Some rooms are designed to be places where visitors can immerse themselves in  the beauty of space, and one of the most stunning spaces is the one below, where visitors can enjoy a gorgeous vista that changes throughout the seasons.

It was exactly the quiet, meditative experience Egawa had wanted to find in Kyoto, and the location is especially ideal in summer as it overlooks the Oi river, giving you refreshing breezes out on the beautiful terrace.

▼Rainbow-dyed textiles blow on the breeze, enhancing your sense of calm.

▼ You won’t want to miss this cool view, where the trees are reflected on the surface of water.

This is the room where Yasunari Kawabata stayed, and it’s also where he wrote his novel, Yama no Oto (The Sound of the Mountain).

The place was absolutely stunning, and just begging to be photographed and shared on social media, but it was surprisingly quiet. That could be due to the fact that it costs 2,000 yen (US$13.91) to visit the gallery, but if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy a quiet zen-like experience in Kyoto, it’s well worth the entrance fee.

Egawa’s next stop was a luxury restaurant called Kyo-Suiran. One of the reasons why this place flies under most people’s radar is because the majority of tourists who visit Arashiyama follow the sightseeing route along the river (pictured left, below).

▼ However, if you want to escape the crowds and enjoy some of Kyoto’s famous cuisine, you’ll want to take the route on the right, with the restaurant marked by the arrow below.

The restaurant is located inside a hotel named “Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto“. You don’t have to stay here to eat here, though, as the Kyo-Suiran restaurant welcomes anyone to its beautiful building, which was built in 1899 as a summer residence.

If you’re willing to splurge on a meal to remember, this is the real deal, with amazing food served in front of an equally amazing garden.

Image: JR Central

The setting was like a secret hideaway, and nestled in so much nature that at one stage, a white eye momentarily flew into the building.

▼ Alas, once lunch was over, Egawa had to return to the busy streets of Arashiyama again.

▼ And now, the river itself had filled up with visitors too.

After enjoying a few hours of calm in the ancient capital, Egawa now had a new appreciation for the beauty that exists in spots hidden off the beaten track. If you know where to go, you really can find some zen-like quiet in this ancient town, and there are places where you can meditate and make your own incense too.

Related: Lets Go To Kyoto!Arashiyama YusaiteiSuiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto
Featured image: JR Tokai
Insert images: JR Tokai, ©SoraNews24
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