Kurama and Kifune
Situated about an hour outside of central Kyoto are several small towns with beautiful gardens, temples and hot springs, ideal for a daytrip to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Most of them are situated on the Eizan Railway Line, and if you want to visit this area, you can access most places easily by the Keihan Railway, Eizan Railway and selected Kyoto buses.
Start your day off at Demachiyanagi Station which connects Osaka and Kyoto. Make your way to the end of the line to Yase-Hieizanguchi Station where you can transfer to a Kyoto bus headed for Ohara. Upon alighting, walk up the incline for 10 minutes where you’ll pass a range of small stores and restaurants, until you reach the entrance to Sanzen-in Temple.
Sanzen-in Temple was founded by Saicho, the revered monk who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan. Given its importance, it is only one of a handful of temples which have head priests that used to be part of the Imperial Family.
The temple grounds require an admission fee of 700 yen but are quite large, with the main attractions being its various Japanese gardens. One of these can only be viewed from the main hall, where you’ll look out onto a well-kept garden of shrubs, trees, ponds, rocks and autumn colours. It is extremely tranquil and they also serve matcha green tea in the viewing area for visitors to relax and enjoy.
Upon venturing further into the temple grounds, you’ll stumble across their moss gardens featuring blankets of fluffy green moss, with a few trees protruding through. There are also a number of small stone statues with faces which peek out through the moss. These statues stole all the visitors’ attention when I was there, and are really cute in appearance, surrounded by moss.
Aside from the gardens, there are several halls and temple buildings, along with an area featuring rows of miniature Kannon status. I would recommend spending about an hour to explore the temple grounds in depth.
Kurama Area and Surrounds
After Sanzen-in Temple, head back on the bus in the reverse direction and alight at Takaragaike Station. Transfer back onto the Eizan Railway to the other end of the line, straight to Kurama Station.
Kurama is a small town located in the mountains and is best known for its hot springs and temples. From the station, it is a direct path straight to Kurama-dera, a Buddhist temple located in the mountainside. Entrance into the temple grounds is ¥300 and from there it is a continuous upwards climb of about 45 minutes to reach the main temple hall. To make the journey easier, there is also a cable car (¥200) which goes halfway up the mountain, however I found that it wasn’t much quicker than walking given the wait time for the cable car.
Throughout the mountainous temple grounds are various autumn leaf viewing spots, along with small shrines which provide a beautiful backdrop. From Kurama-dera’s main building, there is a viewing platform that provides panoramic mountain views, overlooking the forested mountainside. Beyond the main building, you can continue hiking upwards through the mountain which will eventually lead to the Kibune area in about an hour.
Kifune Area and the Surroundings
Although Kifune is connected through the mountainside to Kurama, it is also easily accessible by railway and is only one stop from Kurama Station. From Kifune Station, transfer to the shuttle bus which travels in between the Kifune Shrine area and the station; alternatively it is also accessible by foot up the road in about 20 minutes.
Kifune town is located in a forested valley in the same mountains as Kurama. The road leading through the town is narrow and windy, containing a few shops and restaurants. It is surrounded mostly by greenery, and combined with the river that flows alongside the town, there is a real quiet and calm atmosphere to this area.
Upon walking up the road, you’ll reach the main attraction which is Kifune Shrine. The entrance stairway to the shrine is lined with bright red lamps which also light up from sunset. Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the god of water who is said to protect those at sea. At the shrine, be sure to pick up an omikuji (paper fortune) which is unique from other omikuji in that these ones only reveal their messages after dipped in water. The shrine grounds aren’t particularly large and can be fully explored within an hour.
Fuel up on Ramen
On your way back into central Kyoto, be sure to stop by Ichijoji which is also on the Eizan Railway line. Ichijoji is a suburb home to various highly acclaimed ramen restaurants which can all be found on the western side of the station. One local favourite is Takayasu, a specialist in “chuuka soba”, which is a Chinese style ramen. The popularity extends into crowds which formed a long line when I visited, even on a Sunday afternoon, when there was a good 30 people lining up. Thankfully ramen turnover is relatively quick, with the wait time totaling just an hour.
Be sure to try their “chuuka soba” which consists of chewy ramen noodles in a fatty pork based broth, served with chaashuu (sliced pork) and bamboo shoots. The broth is rich and full of umami flavour which lingers in your mouth, complementing the al-dente noodles. Don’t forget to slurp away while eating which in Japan symbolises a sign of approval to the chef.
Daniel is a Tokyo-based Australian food and travel blogger who has resided in Japan since 2015. He enjoys trying new foods in addition to exploring Japan’s natural treasures. He has particularly enjoyed Kansai’s autumn colours and temples and hopes to visit again in the future.