Looking for a way to enjoy nature, soak up culture and get some exercise, all at the same time? Well, look no further than the Kibune – Kurama hike. This easy two hour hike covers almost 4 kilometers through the Kitayama mountains north of Kyoto, passing numerous wonderful sights along the way—most notably the Kurama dera Temple. You can start at either village; most people start from Kurama, but the hike is actually easier when starting from Kibune. Plus it has the added benefit of a relaxing hot bath once you reach Kurama! Join me as I sweat it out on this unforgettable summer hike just 1 hour from Kyoto!
Setting Out From Kibune
After exploring Kifune Shrine and enjoying some lunch by the riverbed, it was time for me to hike. From the main street in Kibune, I crossed over the Kibune River via the small red bridge below. Just around the corner lies a ticket booth, where a few hundred yen hiking fee gets you a ticket and a map outlining the sights. The map lists 42 points of interest, though I’ll only cover some, leaving the rest for you to experience!
The path immediately leads uphill via some stone steps, but eventually turns into a more natural looking path. The somen noodles from lunch were feeling heavier with each step uphill and I, along with other hikers, periodically stopped to catch my breath. Warranted in the 30 degree (85F) heat, I think.
After perhaps fifteen minutes, I reached Mao-den—the first stop. Sitting in a small clearing, this building enshrines Mao, the ‘Magic King’. As the shaded interior was hard to resist, I made my way in to sit and contemplate the rock garden. Once I had cooled down and regained some energy, I set off.
The next section of the hike does involve a little more uphill walking but, believe me, the reverse direction is much harder. You’ll see what I mean later. A quick look at my map showed that the next 500m would contain another 10 points of interest, one of the first being Fudo-do.
This sub-temple of Kurama Dera bears an image of Fudo Myoo, ‘The Immovable One’. In Buddhist belief, he is one of the ‘Five Bright Knights’ who looks frightening but purifies evil.
This area is quite pretty with its giant cedar tree and intricate paving. Make a quick prayer and continue on.
Facing the Fudo-do building, take the stone steps to your left and continue the uphill journey. You’ll soon pass by Osugi Gongen (giant sugi tree gongen) and Kinone Sando (tree root path). It was here that I heard the first of many distant bell gongs ringing out over the landscape. Turn left at the fork just before marker 35, and you’ll arrive at Sekurabe Ishi.
At Sekurabe Ishi (marker 35), legend has it that the stone inside the fence was used as a height-measuring device by 12th Century ‘young warrior’ Minamoto Yoshitsune. It really wasn’t very tall, so I’m curious about just how young this ‘young warrior’ was!
This is the highest point of the hike, so many people were stopping to catch their breath here. With water in hand and the indispensable sweat towel (it’s a thing), I was really looking forward to the onsen at the finish line. After a short break, it was time to head downhill!
After a while snaking downhill, you’ll come across the Reihoden Museum. Inside is a natural history display as well as information about the religion and history of the area. Kurama dera is very close at this point; head to the right of the building and follow the stone steps down to emerge into the main shrine complex.
As you enter the wide-open space, you’ll notice the Main Hall (honden) on your left and sweeping views ahead of you. Take your time to explore.
Kurama Dera has a history dating all the way back to the year 770; it has long been a powerful, spiritual place for locals. In 1949, it moved from the Tendai sect of Buddhism to the newly founded Kurama-Kokyo sect. Since then, people have come to worship Sonten, the supposed creator of the universe. Interestingly, Sonten is actually made up of three deities, rather than one. They say that if you stand on the triangle in the middle of the paved area above, facing the main hall, you will feel a surge of power through your body.
After the main hall it’s downhill again (aren’t you glad you’re walking this direction, now?). While there is a cable car available, it would seem I’m a glutton for punishment and chose to keep walking downhill. I’m glad I did, though; some of my favourite sights were in this section.
Yuki Jinja Shrine
Approaching Yuki Jinja, I caught the aroma of burning incense common in many shrines and temples. As the sites on the hike were so close together, the incense became an almost permanent fixture in the experience. A sudden movement on the ground broke my reverie: it was a little snake who promptly slithered off into the bushes! Coming from Australia, the land of terrifying snakes, I wasn’t too phased and continued on to explore the shrine.
The Yuki Jinja shrine was one of my highlights of the hike. This small Shinto shrine is a protector of the Kurama dera and Kurama village and features an absolutely massive cedar tree (sugi). Images certainly can’t do it justice, you’ll have to go to feel the power of the place.
Head down through this wooden structure and you’re on the home stretch!
After descending this staircase, you’ll find yourself at the end of your hike—the Nio-mon gate. Head through it and into Kurama Village.
From here, you can explore the Kurama area and enjoy an onsen at Kurama Onsen. Or, if you’re ready to call it a day, head to Kurama Station for a train back to Kyoto.
Getting to Kibune
Take the Karasuma Subway Line from Kyoto Station to Kokusaikaikan Station (around twenty minutes). From there, head up to the bus area and board #52 bound for Kurama (via Kibuneguchi). Ride the bus for 20 minutes, departing at Kibuneguchi bus stop. From this point, you can walk into town or take the #33 bus two stops (five minutes). This will bring you to the start of the hike.
Getting from Kurama to Kyoto
From Kurama Station, take the Eizan Kurama Line to Demachi-yanagi Station. Transfer to the Keihan Main Line and ride into town.
Post by Japan Journeys.