500px Photo ID: 104742241 - Photo taken at Kurama-dera, Sakyo ward, Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan.

Bong Grit / 500px


Top choice in Kansai

Located high on a thickly wooded mountain, Kurama-dera is one of the few temples in modern Japan that manages to retain an air of real spirituality. This magical place gains much of its power from its brilliant natural setting. The entrance to the temple is just up the hill from Kurama Station. A cable car runs to/from the top (¥200 each way), or you can hike up in about 30 minutes (follow the path past the tram station).

The temple also has a fascinating history: in 770 the monk Gantei left Nara’s Toshōdai-ji in search of a wilderness sanctuary in which to meditate. Wandering in the hills north of Kyoto, he came across a white horse that led him to the valley known today as Kurama. After seeing a vision of the deity Bishamon-ten, guardian of the northern quarter of the Buddhist heaven, Gantei established Kurama-dera just below the peak of Kurama-yama. Originally belonging to the Tendai school of Buddhism, Kurama has been independent since 1949, describing its own brand of Buddhism as Kurama-kyō.

It's worth walking up the trail from the main entrance (if it’s not too hot), since it winds through a forest of towering old-growth cryptomeria trees, passing by Yuki-jinja, a small Shintō shrine, on the way. Near the peak, there is a courtyard dominated by the Honden (Main Hall); behind this a trail leads off to the mountain’s peak.

At the top, you can take a brief detour across the ridge to Ōsugi-gongen, a quiet shrine in a grove of trees. Those who want to continue to Kibune can take the trail down the other side. It’s a 1.2km, 30-minute hike from the Honden to the valley floor of Kibune. On the way down are two mountain shrines, Sōjō-ga-dani Fudō-dō and Okuno-in Maō-den, which make pleasant rest stops.

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1. Yuki-jinja

0.16 MILES

This atmospheric Shintō shrine is located along the trail up to Kurama-dera. The stairs to the main hall are flanked by two enormous cryptomeria trees.

2. Ōsugi-gongen

0.25 MILES

Named for the sugi (cryptomeria) trees that surround it, this fine little shrine is a nice place to gather your thoughts after climbing to the summit of…

3. Sōjō-ga-dani Fudō-dō

0.26 MILES

This small subtemple on the descent to Kibune enshrines a figure of Fudō, one of the myōō (Buddhist Kings of Light).

4. Okuno-in Maō-den

0.37 MILES

This small hall on the trail to Kibune is a good spot to rest tired knees.

5. Kibune-jinja

0.56 MILES

This shrine, halfway up the valley-town of Kibune, is worth a quick look, particularly if you can ignore the unfortunate plastic horse statue at its…

6. Jakkō-in

2.87 MILES

Jakkō-in is a small temple on the opposite side of Ōhara from Sanzen-in. It’s reached by a pleasant 15-minute walk from the bus station through an ‘old…

7. Hōsen-in

3.58 MILES

A quiet option, this temple is just down the path west of the entry gate to Shōrin-in. The main tatami room offers a view of a bamboo garden and the…

8. Jikkō-in

3.59 MILES

Only about 50m north of Sanzen-in, this small temple is often praised for its lovely garden and fudan-zakura cherry tree, which blossoms between October…