One of the most photographed places in Kyoto, Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a fantastical sight to behold. As you walk through the grove along the designated path, lines of bamboo stretch out and then up as tall as the surrounding trees, giving onlookers that same sort of awed feeling as looking up at the tall trees of Endor (only with an even more unique spin). More than a half-mile-long path cuts through the natural forest of Giant Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis). The bamboo is mainly located behind fences along the trail, which helps to preserve the grove despite the busy tourist season.

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The Giant Bamboo reaches up to 82 feet with a diameter of 33 inches. The trunks contain some foliage at the top as well so the bamboo will clack into each other slightly when a breeze blows, giving the forest a strange and peaceful sort of symphony. The sound from this forest has actually been classified as one of the 100 Japanese Soundscapes.

The middle of the forest contains the Nonomiya Shrine, a small shrine that was once used by Imperial Princesses in preparation for becoming shrine maidens at the great shrine at Ise Jingu. December brings about a particularly magical time of year for the grove where thousands of lanterns are lit up in the Arashiyama area at temples, shrines, around the town center, and along the river.

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The grove can be accessed through various entrances and exits to the pathway, including one at Tenryuji Temple, which is the head temple of the Tenryu sect of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It’s been ranked among Kyoto’s top five Zen temples. Because of the large crowds that can form, visit the grove in the early hours of the morning. This lends itself to the most peaceful and photogenic experience.

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