Saturday, November 20, 2010


For those who have seen more than ten pictures of Japan or seen the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, Arashiyama is the place that conjures up those images of an other worldly bamboo grove, rustling and clacking in the winds that pass through. I had the absolute privilege of living there and visiting again brought a wide mix of emotions. There were changes in the community needless to say and despite the changes to the roster of local businesses those tweaks paled in comparison to the constant beauty of the place. People had warned me or asked me how I would deal with any changes that would occur there and I assured them that there would not be anything I could not handle. Arashiyama is one of those places that ought to be preserved and maintained and the people who know that or at the very least stand to benefit from its long-standing beauty would not allow too much to change. The macaques will always amuse and enchant with their surreal take on humanity. The photographers will always cluster on the side of the river to shoot the boats as they pass under the maples. Tenryuji will always communicate the passing of the seasons with haiku evocation.

The bamboo grove, of course is as it always was. Unfortunately that also means that there are countless taxi drivers who feel they can drive through the grove with impunity and I had to call out "Car" more often than a 12-year old play street hockey for an entire Saturday afternoon. Hopefully someone will get it into their heads that it is a place best appreciated by foot and that if one cannot make their way through there on their own two feet they ought to just go without.

The other key component of the beauty of Arashiyama is Tenryuji, the temple that is embraced by the grove. The temple's garden is one of the most spectacular examples of Japanese gardens and after spending another 2 hours roaming through and taking it in in its autumnal glory, I am still tempted to squeeze another visit in before my all too brief visit here concludes.

Not all of the changes were as easy to take as I had imagined. Friends whom I haven't seen in the last 7 years are a little older and far more frail than they were when I was last here. Time etches its tyranny on us all, but it is far more obvious to the eye when we are reuniting after a long time away. I'm sad and glad to have come.