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Japan: Kurama to Kibune

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Kurama to Kibune | Japan | Asia

[Visited: October 2014]

The train ride from Kyoto to Kurama is a treat in itself, riding a small line into the hillside north of the city. There is a surprising number of stations on the way, and at one point, the train rides through a tunnel of trees. The train has a forward window, so it is easy for passengers to enjoy this ride. Arriving in Kurama, the train is almost empty, and I walk up to the beginning of the trail I want to hike. After walking through the Nio-mon, or Gate of the Guardians, I buy an entrance ticket, and am greeted by a small, delicate statue. Stone stairs and a path lead me up the hill, with small shrines on the sides. I also see a small pond with stone lanterns. As is so often the case in Japan, it only takes a few items places in a well-thought way to create an atmosphere of tranquillity.

Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Side view of the Main Hall, or Honden, of the Kurama-dera temple complex

The stone stairs continue up, past some tall trees and small shrines, to Yuki shrine. I find a group of men dressed in traditional clothes, standing in a semi-circle. A man in a red robe, whom I assume to be the priest, makes preparations and walks in and out of the main shrine here. I just stand and watch, trying to grasp the meaning of what I am seeing. I have just read that the day before, October 22, was the Fire Festival - and I feel bad for not having read that earlier, so I could have been here. Perhaps I am seeing the aftermath? I hike further up, past a modern sculpture called Life - Love, Light, and Power. The stairs are partly flanked by orange, wooden lanterns. The trail snakes its way up the mountain, until it reaches Honden, the Main Hall of Kurama-dera temple, halfway the mountain.

Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Golden Buddha statue inside the Honden, or Main Hall, of Kurama-dera

The temple sits on a terrace with great views into the valley below. The surrounding mountains are all covered by trees, and I can see that the leaves have started to turn brown-red here and there. People pray in front of the temple, bow their heads, and approach the main hall. The history of Kurama-dera goes back to 770CE, when Gantei climbed up the hill with his white horse and built the temple and various shrines on the hill. Unfortunately, the original temple and various shrines on the hillside have been destroyed by fire, and the current building dates from 1971. It is the headquarters of the Kurama-Kokyo sect of Buddhism. There is a group of kids, and as always the case in Japan, they behave surprisingly disciplined. I make sure to let them go ahead, and find them again at the top of the mountain, having a pick-nick. From here, it is a small walk over the roots of cedar trees called Kinone Michi, to the Osugi-gongen shrine, small and peaceful under tall trees. The walk down is easy, and has a few more shrines before I arrive in Kibune, on the Kibune-gawa river. Walking down the valley brings me to the second-last station, and from there, the train takes me back to Kyoto.

Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): The Main Hall, or Honden, of the Kurama-dera temple complex
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Stone lantern at the beginning of the trail at Kurama
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Stone stairs leading up the mountain between Kurama and Kibune
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): The Kurama-dera temple complex halfway up the mountain
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Priest wearing a traditional red robe at Yuki shrine
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Small statue greeting visitors at the beginning of the trail up the mountain above Kurama
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Tall tree dominating the stairs leading up to Yuki shrine
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Stairs leading up to Yuki shrine, with stone lantern
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): The modern Life statue, symbolizing Love, Light, and Strength
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Stairs with orange lanterns leading up to Kurama-dera temple
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): The Kurama-dera temple complex with a stone lantern
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): The Yuki-jinja shrine above Kurama
Picture of Kurama to Kibune (Japan): Lantern inside the Osugi-gongen shrine, the highest temple in this area

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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