What Arashiyama Bamboo Grove actually appears to be like like
Do you recognize the photo above? It adorns walls, computer screens, and websites for psychiatrists and financial planners.
It’s also on shower curtains, tote bags, maxi dresses, neck gaiters, and ruffled swimsuits.
Although the scene seems too beautiful to be real, it shows an actual location. It is Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto, Japan.
Nice but often overcrowded
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – or Sagano Bamboo Forest, as it is also known – is located on the outskirts of Kyoto and is Japan’s most famous bamboo forest. It is believed to be one of the most photographed places in Kyoto and perhaps one of the most photographically enhanced as well.
Arashiyama bamboo grove
Chanchai Duangdoosan | EyeEm | Getty Images
The internet is full of photos of the paved walkway that runs through the 6 square mile grove. These photos are eerily similar, saturated with brilliant greens and golds – even at night – and usually contain only one person, if any. Some photos show a woman in a yukata, a casual version of a kimono, walking in complete solitude with an umbrella.
Breathtaking? Certainly. However, this is not the experience most travelers should expect.
While reviews are positive – the forest receives 4.5 out of five stars on TripAdvisor traveler ratings – Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is rarely as quiet as the photos suggest.
“Even though it was raining and there were a lot of people,” said a recent TripAdvisor report, which added that “the whole experience was very enjoyable”.
Another was more blunt and said, “Let’s be clear, it’s a beautiful place. But most of the time, you won’t enjoy a peaceful stroll in a bamboo grove and feel like you’ve traveled the old days of the samurai. Instead, you will do it.” Be surrounded by Instagram tourists taking photos … and most of the girls wearing yukata will be tourists. “
There are usually people on the forest path – even at night – but there are ways to remove them from photos.
L: Aldo Pavan | The image database | Getty Images; R: Cheng Feng Chiang | iStock | Getty Images
It’s possible to walk the forest trail in just 20 to 30 minutes, said American Constance Hsia. However, she told CNBC’s Global Traveler that those who “want to take professional photos or post glamor shots on Instagram” could easily spend an hour or more.
She has visited Arashiyama twice, both times to see Kyoto’s famous fall foliage which, along with the cherry blossoms in spring, are the busiest times to visit.
“I was told the gardens are beautiful all year round because the summer is very green and the winter snow is breathtaking too,” she said. “It is likely that Arashiyama will be crowded at any time of the year as it is on the must-see list in Kyoto.”
A photo of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove without the path.
Westend61 | Westend61 | Getty Images
According to the data company Statista, around 4.94 million tourists visited Kyoto in November 2019, the highest monthly total of the year.
About six weeks later, Japan recorded its first case of coronavirus, creating a new problem for the ever-crowded city: undertourism.
How to edit photos of the forest
The photos on Instagram of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove range from emerald green to ash gray to a pale baby blue.
A representative for the Japan National Tourism Organization told Global Traveler that the forest “is usually green all year round, including winter” and that blues and grays “could be due to other lighting or photographic filters [or] Impact. “
Editing stunning photos of the bamboo grove requires both camera and computer skills. Travel blogger and photographer Augustus Woods has posted a 42-minute tutorial on YouTube that explains how to enhance images of the forest using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
In the video, Woods explains how he uses a process called “masking” to remove people from the shot and “cloning” to add detail back.
In the video, he describes how he added a missing patch of straw, removed a “distracting” sloped bamboo stem, enhanced the color of the bamboo, and adjusted the slope of the stems. In the end, Woods turned a series of dark shots with strangers into one spectacular photo of the forest.
What Arashiyama Bamboo Grove really looks like
A pristine photo of the Arashiyama bamboo forest.
Courtesy Constance Hsia
However, these do not necessarily have to be precise.
Editing can more accurately show what the photographer saw in real life, especially for landscape photography, writes Dutch photographer Albert Dros on the PetaPixel photo website. Anyone who has tried hard to get a sunset or rainbow well knows that the camera doesn’t always capture the full extent of nature’s beauty.
Tourists visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto prefecture, December 8, 2018
Behrouz Mehri | AFP | Getty Images
Often times, websites that sell something make the most drastic changes to images.
Is it worth taking a trip to the bamboo forest?
“Definitely,” said Hsia, who plans to return to Kyoto after Japan re-opened its borders to international travelers.
“If I only had one day in Kyoto it would be a place I would definitely see,” she said. “The experience is still enchanting despite the crowd.”
An unspoiled image of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove behind the beautiful foliage that brings visitors to Kyoto in the fall.
Courtesy Constance Hsia
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is always open and tickets are not required. It is usually recommended that visitors arrive early morning or late evening on weekdays.
Japan is largely closed to travelers from a long list of countries, including the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, and India. Travelers who have access must be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival.