On Saturday 28th November I strapped my hiking shoes on once again and set off for an autumnal hike in the northern mountains of Kyoto. My plan was to take the train from Kyoto to Kurama (鞍馬), then hike to Kibune (貴船) before returning to Kyoto by train. Kyoto is a great city, but in autumn it gets very crowded with tourists – a day of escaping the maddening crowds was due! Although I did run into some tour groups and other hikers between Kurama and Kibune, it was a lot less crowded than central Kyoto would have been, and a lot more relaxing.
Kurama Station was a tiny little shrine-shaped building with a stall set up outside selling breads and snacks for hikers. There was a lovely atmosphere there of people about to set off on an adventure, and I didn’t see any other foreign tourists around.
After fuelling up on a red bean bun I set off towards the gate leading to Kurama-dera (鞍馬寺), the main temple in Kurama founded in the 8th century, around the year 796. Mount Kurama is famous as the home of the long-nosed goblins known as ‘tengu’ (天狗), and throughout my walk I came across all sorts of images of these creatures, including one giant one right by Kurama Station.
The entrance to Kurama-dera’s grounds was lovely, and just what I needed at the start of my adventure into the unknown. I wasn’t too worried about hiking to Kibune though – it couldn’t be harder than the Kumano Kodo hikes I had recently completed! It was a beautiful autumn day, so I took it nice and easy and just explored the approach to the temple.
Along the ascent to Kurama-dera stands Yuki Jinja, a shrine famous for its fire festival, Kurama no Hi Matsuri (鞍馬の火祭り), held annually on 22nd October. Yuki Shrine was established in the year 940, and it’s quite scary to think that a fire festival is held up here in the mountains next to such an old, wooden shrine!
At the shrine there are these buckets of tengu heads with fortunes inside them which you can buy as good luck charms.
After Yuki Shrine the hiking trail led up to the main buildings of Kurama-dera, which stand on a terrace on the mountain slope, overlooking the wooded valley.
Behind the temple’s main building, the hiking trail continues through the forest past several other temple structures to Kibune. It was a really pretty walk, and only took around an hour.
At the end of my hike was Kibune Shrine (貴船神社), also written as ‘Kifune Shrine’. Kibune Shrine was founded in the year 818 and moved to its current site in 1055. ‘Kibune’ literally means ‘yellow boat’, and it is the name of this town because accordingly to legend a goddess travelled in a yellow boat from Osaka all the way up the river into the mountains north of Kyoto, and Kibune Shrine was built at the site where her boat journey had come to an end. Kibune Shrine is dedicated to the god of water and rain and believed to be the protector of those at sea. Here you can buy a unique type of fortune written on paper slips that reveal their messages when dipped into water.
Kibune is a small but pretty little town, and there were lanterns set up along the river. I imagine it would have been even more pretty at night.
I rewarded myself with a big bowl of soba before heading to Kibune-guchi Station, which is a bit of a walk away from Kibune Shrine.
My visit to Kurama and Kibune was the perfect day trip from Kyoto, and I arrived back relaxed and rested in the middle of the afternoon, with plenty of time left for shopping and exploring in Kyoto. It was also to grab what I thought would be the last of the autumn whilst I was there (although actually I had plenty more autumn to come – I just didn’t know it yet!).