Tucked away in the Kitayama Mountains north of Kyoto, lies the small mountain temple and onsen village Kurama. It truly is a hidden retreat for pilgrims, hikers and onsen, hot spring, enthusiasts alike and is a popular half-day trip out of Kyoto.
Photo: Kimon Berlin on Flickr
For many Kuramadera is one of the few accessible places in Japan that has maintained its spiritual atmosphere. The temple was founded around 772 by a Chinese monk to control and concentrate the strong spiritual power he saw the mountain had in his dream. The monk had left Toshodaiji in Nara on a quest to search for a place to meditate in the wilderness. And was let to Kurama by a white horse Over the century the temple was used by different Buddhist sects until after the war the abbot Kouun Shigaraki decided to split to temple away from Buddhism in favor of the mountain worship it originally upheld.
Photo: Chi King on FlickrNot all of it is gone however, as when you enter the temple grounds through the Nio gate you will see the Buddhist guardian kings still standing watch. Their statues were made by Tankei, who was a master sculptor renowned in the early 13th century.
You can access the temple from the town by taking a small tram for 100 yen or you make a 30 minute hike up to temple, which I would highly recommend to take in the full experience of your visit. The surrounding forest is a very tranquil place that is a joy to walk amidst and the trail is not very difficult, so you can take your time. Please be bring plenty to drink and perhaps some snacks during the hot summer months since although the forest might keep the area reasonably cool it is best to be prepared.
Photo: Kimon Berlin on Flickr
The temple is open to the public throughout the year from 9:00 to 16:30 for just 200 yen upon entry of the grounds. A quite unique experience is to visit the temple on October 22nd when the Kurama Fire Festival is held there attracting over 20.000 visitors.
Enjoying an Onsen
The onsen at Kurama is one of the best you will be able to find in Kansai and certainly the best near Kyoto. After the tiring hike up to Kurama-dera it is a great place to go to relax your muscles and enjoy some traditional onsen dishes, such as rice cooked in an iron pot with chicken and mountain vegetables or even wild boar. If you were to stay at the Kurama onsen’s ryokan you can use the baths for free, but even if you do not you can enjoy the baths and all its facilities for only 2.500 yen or if you just want to use the outdoor bath for 1.000 yen. Children between the age of 4 and 12 are granted a small discount of around 30%.
Photo: Richard Lee on FlickrThe outdoor bath is the most phenomenal as it offers amazing views over the valley even though there is a small fence around the bathing area to grant some more privacy. The natural water used for the baths is sulphur based, which is said to be good for a variety of ailments, including neurosis, rheumatism and diabetes.
Access, opening hours and admission fee
Photo: David McKelvey on FlickrAlthough somewhat tricky to reach Kurama is well-worth a visit. Using the Eizan Kuruma Line from Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kurama Station for 420 yen you can easily access the town in less than 30 minutes. From Kyoto Station you would have to take the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station and then transfer to the Keihan Main Line to get to Demachi-Yanagi Station. Alternatively, Kyoto City Buses 102, 203, 201 and 17 stop right next to the station.