Translated by MATCHA
Kurama And Kibune - Two Spiritual Places North Of Kyoto
Written by Atsuko Yagura
Mt. Kurama, located north of Kyoto City, is home to Kurama Temple and Kifune Shrine, two spiritual sites with a rich history. Mt. Kurama and Kibune are the ideal destination for a summer hike as the area is full of shade and significantly cooler than the city.
Kyoto's Mountainside - The Ideal Summer Destination
Mt. Kurama, located north of Kyoto City, is home to Kurama Temple, a spiritual place and major center for the syncretic Shugendo (*1) religious practices. Kibune is a small town west of Mt. Kurama, where Kifune Shrine, dedicated to the guardian deities of water, is located.
Kurama and Kibune are the ideal destinations for nature lovers who wish to learn more about the ancient spiritual traditions of Kyoto. A mountainous area with plenty of shade, this area is cooler in the summer and perfect to escape the heat of the city.
*1 Shugendo: a religious sect that combines Buddhist and Shinto ascetic practices.
Hiking to Mt. Kurama
In order to reach Mt. Kurama, take the Eizan Line and get off at Kurama Station. If you visit in the summer, you'll be able to enjoy the refreshing shade of the vibrant green maple trees along the way.
Once you arrive, you'll find yourself facing two large tengu masks. Tengus are legendary creatures from Japanese folklore. They are considered to be the guardians of Shugendo ascetics.
Mt. Kurama is one of the spiritual places in Japan that are thought to be inhabited by tengu creatures. Mt. Takao and Mt. Mitake in Tokyo, Mt. Yoshino in Nara or Mt. Haguro in Tsuruoka are other famous locations deeply connected to tengu folklore.
Kurama Temple, a Buddhist site of historical importance, is also famous for its connection to the hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) who lived at the end of the Heian period (794-1185). According to The Tale of the Heike, an epic account of the Genpei War (1180–1185) that changed Japanese history, Yoshitsune lived for a while at Kurama Temple. Legend has it that the hero was trained here as a warrior by a powerful tengu.
You'll know you've reached Kurama Temple when you see the majestic Niomon Gate. After passing through this gate, you'll be standing on the sacred grounds of Kurama Temple. Many visitors feel that the air, the atmosphere of the place, seems to change once they've arrived here.
Walk toward the main hall for about ten minutes and you'll arrive at Yuki Shrine. Just behind the shrine, about 50 m away, three large sacred trees are standing side by side.
After paying your respects to Yuki Shrine, head up the stone steps to reach the main hall of Kurama Temple.
Kurama Temple Highlights
The main hall at Kurama Temple has the mountain in the background, symbolizing the mountain worship practices within Shugendo.
On the ground, right in front of the main hall, is a six-sided figure within a large circle made from flagstones. This figure, called Kondosho, is a symbol of the power of the universe held within humanity, a part of the universe itself. This is the core principle of the Shugendo doctrine taught at Kurama Temple.
The Kondosho is considered to be the most powerful spiritual spot within Kurama Temple. It's said it is good luck to stand for a few seconds in the center of the Kondosho while facing the main temple hall.
Many visitors say that the air on Mt. Kurama is cooler in comparison to the hot summer in the city.
After taking in positive energy by visiting the main hall of Kurama Temple, take a few minutes to visit the temple grounds.
There is a small temple hall dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshitsune located further into the grounds. His story is a combination of Japanese history and folklore, so it's no wonder that Kurama Temple, his childhood home, is so popular with Japanese culture fans.
This spring, although dried up now, is famous for being the water that the hero himself drank.
Having traveled this far, you are only a short distance away from Kibune. The trees and their tangled roots are said to be the symbol of Mt. Kurama. It's easy to find yourself wandering around and taking in the mystical atmosphere of this place.
Once you hear the sounds of the river, you'll know you've arrived at Kibune.
Kifune Shrine - The Place to Pray for Rain
Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the deities of water and rain. It also enshrines the deities of marriage. This makes it a popular location for the summer Tanabata festival.
These paper streamers, called tanzaku, are part of the Tanabata festival. Visitors to the shrine write their wishes on a tanzaku and attach it to a bamboo stalk.
At Kifune Shrine, you can experience a unique type of fortune-telling. The omikuji fortune-telling slips seem to blank but if you place them into the water, your fortune will appear written on them as if by magic.
With its peaceful atmosphere and beautiful sights, Kifune Shrine is a charming place to visit at any time of the year, especially in summer.
When in Kyoto, Hike to Mt. Kurama and Kibune
If you're visiting Kyoto in the summer and want to escape the heat, take a short hike to Mt. Kurama and Kibune. This mountainous area of Kyoto is not only cool and full of nature but also rich in history and Japanese culture.
This is an updated version of an article originally published in September 2014.