The sublime Zen visit north of Kyoto
Mount Kurama is a sacred mountain in the north of Kyoto, also famous for its hiking trails. Kurama village is nested on the mountainside and is essentially composed of the mystical Buddhist temple Kurama-dera, of Yuki-jinja shrine, where a Fire festival is held each year in October, and an onsen, a natural thermal hot spring.
The wonderful Eizan train 🚅 line meanders between trees in the mountains to reach Kurama. Kyoto is forgotten in a couple of minutes with the surrounding nature. The landscapes are wonderful in any season, and this half-hour train trip is without a doubt already a part of the outing in Kurama.
Inari and Arashiyama are often mentioned when looking for beautiful outings around Kyoto, but Kurama is also a place to discover.
Once in Kurama station, the master of the place, Tengu 👺, welcomes visitors among a handful of modest shops. In January 2017, Tengu’s nose (see picture) split up under the weight of snow. It was since repaired and in October 2019, a new mustache Tengu appeared, then two months later the older Tengu was taken away.
The purpose of the trip is the ascension to Kurama-dera, a temple hiding in the mountain, at roughly a one-hour climb.
The hike is a bit hard, but not as much as Mount Fuji 🗻’s for example. Sporty ones can follow the hiking trail to Kibune, offering beautiful scenery to admire while walking. On the opposite side, those looking for relaxation can halt at the onsen ♨️-spa.
Except for the numerous mosquitos, the visit is quite enjoyable in summer as temperature is cooler than in Kyoto. But feel free to go to Kurama any time during the year, to admire snow in winter, sakura 🌸 in spring or the maple trees red leaves in autumn 🍁.
Kurama-dera is a Buddhist temple located in the mountains in the north of Kyoto. Its secluded, lush environment, accessible either via a cable car 🚙 or a hiking trail, gives the place an additional mystical aura. It houses several National Treasures of Japan.
A stone’s throw away from the little Kurama station, the majestic Niomon gate stands in front of visitors. It is the starting point of the ascension to Kurama-dera, hidden halfway to the mountain summit.
Funded in 770, the temple channeled various religious thinking before creating its own vision of Buddhism. Despite being repeatedly burnt over the centuries, it succeeded in preserving its treasures, nowadays officially recognized.
Kurama-dera’s atmosphere is heavily spiritual, if not mystical, a feeling reinforced by the secluded location of this temple laden with history. Japanese people like to think that the spirits of the forest live here, under the supervision of a Tengu, whose giant head welcomes travelers.
The forest hike is not very long but quite steep. A cable car is available to ascend to halfway, but if you can walk, it would be a pity to use it. Walking among the huge pine trees is quite doable, and the progressive discovery of the temple constitutes a journey and a reward all at once.
Along the ascending hike, typical red lanterns adorned trails and stairways lead to the unveiling of Kurama-dera’s main pavilion, on a plateau arranged on the mountainside. It forms an observatory from which to admire a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and the forests.
From there, it is possible to continue the hike down to Kibune, on a trail under great cedar trees. It takes about one hour to reach the other side of Mount Kurama and go down to the village to visit Kifune-jinja shrine or take a rest on the shore of the river.
On the path to Kurama temple, a lovely Shinto shrine awaits visitors: This is Yuki-jinja. Built in 940, it is famous nowadays for "Kurama no Hi matsuri," the fire festival held each year on October 22.
On this day, about 20,000 visitors come to attend a torchlight procession from the shrine to the village below.