Autumn Fire in the Mountains: The Momiji Tunnel to Kurama and Kibune
While most visitors to Kyoto in the autumn months will undoubtedly seek out the larger temples for fall foliage viewing—Kinkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Nanzen-ji, and the like—travelers shouldn’t overlook the fact that some of the smaller areas often do it best. If you're looking for trees, you need to go to the forest, and one of the most accessible forest and mountain viewing spots in Kyoto is the Eiden Momiji Tunnel in the north.
Eiden is Kyoto’s northern electric rail line (Eizan Dentetsu, unabbreviated) servicing the smaller communities of Sakyo-ku, including the villages of Kibune and Kurama, and the foot of Mt. Hiei. The station of origin is Demachiyanagi, with the Yase-Hieizan-guchi line and the Kurama line splitting at Takaragaike, terminating at Yase-Hieizan-guchi and Kurama respectively. While any time of the year is a good time to head north into the mountains on Eiden, November shines as one of the most beautiful times of year to take the trip through the maple tunnel.
For two-weeks in November, a 250 meter long stretch of maple trees along the Kurama line is lit up from sunset to around 9pm. As the train leaves Ichihara station the conductor reduces speed for riders to enjoy the red majesty of the trees at a leisurely pace. Riders lucky enough to catch a two-car Deo 900 series train (aka Kirara) will have the opportunity to swivel their seats toward the windows, which arch over the viewers’ heads and provide the widest possible view of the momiji.
While this momiji tunnel terminates at Ninose Station, there’s no need to end your night-time momiji experience there. Eiden’s Momiji Tunnel coincides with Kibune’s annual momiji lantern event, when the whole town is illuminated with lights and paper lanterns to best show off the maple trees’ stunning red foliage. Take a walk up the illuminated staircase to the 1600 year old Kifune Shrine and leave an offering to the goddess of rain and water—a nice way to offset the fiery glow of the momiji around you.
But perhaps you want to make a day trip of momiji viewing, and one train ride isn’t enough to cut it. Kibune has you covered there, too. The hiking trail between Kibune and Kurama takes about an hour and a half to complete at a slow pace. The well-maintained route takes hikers through the mountains dotted with momiji, and features a rest stop at the top and an easy climb and decent, even for those who don’t have much hiking experience. Start your hike from Kibune-guchi station and once you reach Kurama, enjoy a few hours of relaxation at Kurama Onsen. After sunset, take the train back toward Demachiyanagi and enjoy the beautiful illuminations of the momiji tunnel.
However you choose to enjoy the area, visitors should be aware that this is a popular event among locals and Eiden trains are usually only one or two cars long. As a result, cars can become very crowded very quickly, especially around Kibune and Ichihara stations. Riders who wish for a seat to view from are advised to start their trip from Demachiyanagi station, conveniently next to the Keihan line. Both the Yase-Hiezan-guchi line and the Kurama line start from this point, so be sure to get on the correct train. Electronic schedules are hung over each platform, denoting the first departure for each train in English and in Japanese.