Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Kurama & Kibune – The Hidden Gems in the Mountains of Kyoto

If you are ever looking for a naturally cool and refreshing spot in Kyoto City, then read on! Mt. Kurama and Kibune, located in the northernmost part of the city, are where the locals head to when they want to escape the summer heat. The best way to spend a summer day in Kyoto is to enjoy Japanese food on the platform built above a river at Kibune. This way of dining is known as Kawadoko (川床) in Japanese.

Apart from being Kyoto’s summer resort, this part of Kyoto is stunning throughout the year, especially when the landscapes radiate vibrant autumn colors as well as white snow!

Other than the sceneries, the Kurama-dera Temple and Kifune Shrine are the two spots where you can boost your luck and pray for a happy relationship (^_-)-☆.

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How to Get to Kurama and Kibuna Area

There are a few ways for you to choose from.

By Bus From Kokusaikaikan Station – The Cheapest Way with the Fewest Transfers Required

From Kyoto Station, take the Kyoto Municipal Subway (京都市営地下鉄) or a bus to get to Kokusaikaikan Station (国際会館駅). There are several routes that can achieve this. From the bus stop no. 3 in front of the station, take bus route no. 52 and get off at either Kibuneguchi (貴船口) or Kurama (鞍馬), depending on which area you want to start your day first.

You can refer to the timetable HERE to plan and note that the service marked with “貴” will terminate at Kibuneguchi and won’t be heading to Kurama.

Important: Especially on weekends and public holidays during the autumn foliage season, the bus is likely to be too crowded, and you might not even be able to get on the bus if there is a long queue.

From Kibuneguchi (貴船口), you can either walk to Kifune Shrine or change for bus route no. 33 and get off at Kibune (貴船). From the Kibune stop to Kifune Shrine, it is around a 15-minute walk. If you are trekking from Kibuneguchi, it will be around a 25-minute walk.

Tip: It is easier to walk from Kifune Shine to Kibuneguchi because the other way round is an uphill hike.

Important: The section between Kibuneguchi and Kibune is not covered by Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass (バス一日券).

By Keihan Electric Railway and Eizan Electric Railway – The Most Recommended Acces Method

From Kyoto Station, take JR Nara Line (奈良線) to get to Tōfukuji Station (東福寺駅). From there, change for Keihan Electric Railway (京阪電気鉄道) and get off at Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅).

Then change for Eizan Electric Railway (叡山電鉄) and either get off at Kibuneguchi Station (貴船口駅) or Kurama Station (鞍馬駅).

With so many transfers, why is it recommended? Because the train runs through a maple tree tunnel from Ichihara Station (市原駅) to Ninose Station (二ノ瀬駅), which is beautiful no matter the season!

You can also catch a bus from Kyoto City Bus route no. 17 to get to Demachiyanagi Station. HERE is the timetable that you can refer to for the service.

Tip: The scenery is the most stunning if you ride from Kyoto City to Kibune/Kurama. When the train approaches Ichihara Station, remember to head to the windows at the front of the train for a few minutes of a splendid view. If you can, catch the Panorama Train KIRARA (展望列車「きらら」), which has bigger windows. Please refer HERE for more information about the train.

One thing to note about transferring at Tōfukuji Station is that you might need to wait up to 15 minutes for the next Keihan train to come.

HERE is the map of the Kurama and Kibune area. Please use the Japanese characters specified below to read it as it only comes in Japanese.

Transportation Deals that Cover Kurama and Kibune Area

  • One-Day Kurama and Kibune Bus and Eiden Pass (バス&えいでん 鞍馬・貴船日帰りきっぷ)
    • 1,900 yen from October 2021 covers buses and train lines from Kyoto to Kurama and Kibune and more
    • For all valid routes and more information, please refer to HERE
  • Ee Kippu (えぇきっぷ)
    • 1,200 yen gives you unlimited rides on Eizan Electric Railway
    • For more information, please refer to Eizan Electric Railway’s website HERE
  • KYOTO-OSAKA SIGHTSEEING PASS (Greater KURAMA & KIBUNE area)
    • 1,700 yen for unlimited rides on train lines such as Keihan Main Line and Eizan Railway
    • For more information, please refer to Keihan Railway’s website HERE

The Big Tengu Statue at Kurama Station

For this article, we will start the journey from Mt. Kurama. We recommend you arrive at Kurama Station in the morning, so when you reach Kibune, it is the right time to enjoy Kawadoko Dining for lunch (=゚ω゚)ノ.

As soon as you get off the train at Kurama Station, you will notice many long-nosed red face goblins known as Tengu (天狗) in Japanese. They are a type of legendary creature found in the Japanese folk religion, and Mt. Kurama is their base.

Outside of the station at Mt. Kurama’s Daitengu (鞍馬山大天狗), an even bigger tengu is there greeting you!

The photo’s 4-meter tall, black-haired Tengu has looked after the area for the past 25 years. It retired at the end of 2019. When you get there, you will meet a white-haired one instead (^_-)-☆.

Kurama-dera Temple (鞍馬寺)

Kurama-dera Temple is the representative temple in Mt. Kurama erected in 770. The temple is well-known among the Japanese because the famous military commander – Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経) was trained in the temple when he was young.

The temple is probably the only temple in Japan (or even in the world?), with a cable car being the primary transportation method for pilgrims to get to its main worship hall from its mountain gate. Whilst you can undoubtedly hike your way up, be prepared to trek through some steep mountain trails that continue for 30 minutes.

From Kurama Station to Kurama-dera Temple

From Kurama Station to Kurama-dera’s Niōmon Gate (仁王門), it is just a 5-minute walk. The gate also serves as the ticket gate, where the entry fee of 300 yen is payable for each person as a contribution to their environmental maintenance fund.

To take the Mt. Kurama Cable Railway (鞍馬山鋼索鉄道), after passing the Niōmon Gate, make a right turn at the intersection to get to Fumyōden (普明殿), where the cable car’s Mountain Gate Station (山門駅) is located.

  • A one-way ticket is 200 yen (100 yen for pre-school children).
  • The cable car operates on a 15 – 20 minute interval from 8:40 am to 4:30 pm, but is extended for 30 minutes to 5 pm from June to August.

It takes just 2 minutes to reach Tahōtō Station (多宝塔駅). The line length is only 191 meters, but the elevation difference between the two stations is 89 meters!

Following the path from Tahōtō Station (多宝塔駅), before you reach the main worship hall – Kondō (金堂), if you have friends or family who decide to climb all the way up through the stunning Tsudzuraori-sandō (九十九折参道) approach, you should be able to meet them on the way.

Obviously, your friends and/or family won’t be able to reach the top of the hill in just 2 minutes. It will most likely take them 25 minutes or even longer if they take the scenic route. So, after you come up from Tahōtō Station (photo on the left below), you can wait for them at Senshin-tei (洗心亭), meet the Amitabha here, stroll around the gallery, and maybe even get some traditional sweets!

Kurama-dera Temple’s Main Worship Hall – Kondō

Kondō is where Kannon Bodhisattva (千手観音菩薩) and other gods who are guardian gods of Buddhism, such as Vaisravana (毘沙門天), are enshrined. However, you have to be lucky enough to actually see them because their statues are only shown to the public once every 60 years!
So on a normal day, what you want to do is stand in the middle of Kongōshō (金剛床) in front of the Kondō. It is said that if you stand on the triangle in the hexagram, you can receive the power of the universe (=゚ω゚)ノ.

So on a normal day, what you want to do is stand in the middle of Kongōshō (金剛床) in front of the Kondō. It is said that if you stand on the triangle in the hexagram, you can receive the power of the universe (=゚ω゚)ノ.

While we didn’t feel anything different (maybe there were too many clouds in the sky?), it was undoubtedly fun to join the other pilgrims doing the same thing, and perhaps you can even take some funny photos!

Another unique thing about Kurama-dera is the guardian animals that protect the main hall isn’t Komainu (狛犬). Komainu is the dog or the lion-like statue you usually find on two sides of the worship hall. Instead, Kurama-dera has tigers – Aun no Tora (阿吽の虎) because they are the messengers of Vaisravana.

Also, just in front of Kondō, an observatory deck provides a wide view of the surrounding mountains.

If you visit Kurama-dera in autumn, photos from here are something you definitely don’t want to miss out on!

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Reihōden (霊宝殿)

Reihōden is Mt. Kurama’s museum where you can discover Mt. Kurama’s natural heritage, as well as cultural properties that have been handed down for generations at Kurama-dera Temple.

The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily except for Mondays and from the 12th of December to February.

Upon entry, 200 yen will be charged.

Ki no Nemichi (木の根道)

From Kondō, the promenade continues to the inner shrine – Maōden (魔王殿).

In between, you will pass through a cedar forest where the roots of the cedar trees are exposed. It is said here is where Minamoto no Yoshitsune used to be trained by the Tengus in the mountain. With that in mind, this part of the forest feels a bit more mysterious!

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The Inner Shrine – Maōden (魔王殿)

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After around a 25-minute trek from Kondō, you will reach where the spirit king of the earth – Gohōmaō no Mikoto (護法魔王尊) is enshrined.

Apparently, the god came from Venus around 6.5 million years ago to save humanity. Whether you believe it or not, many have made their way to the shrine for some power and luck from the god (^_-)-☆.

Yuki Shrine (由岐神社)

From here, after trekking for another 20 minutes, you will reach Kifune Shrine!

Another shrine on the ground of Kurama-dera is Yuki Shrine.

It was initially in Kyoto’s Imperial Palace until it was relocated to a location 5 minutes away from the Niōmon Gate (仁王門). So if you plan to trek to Kifune Shrine before you hop onto the cable car, head left instead of right at the intersection close to the gate.

On the other hand, you can always trek down from Kondō through the Tsudzuraori-sandō (九十九折参道) approach, which will lead to Yuki Shrine.

At Yuki Shrine, the gods who have the power to prevent disasters, grant childbirth, and happy marriage are enshrined here. It is also where one of Japan’s Three Biggest Fire Festivals is held. The entire ritual of Kurama no Himatsuri (鞍馬の火祭) starts at 9 am on the 22nd of October and ends in the morning on the following day.

The festival is also known as one of Kyoto’s Three Strangest Festivals. It ranked highly because the men who only cover their important parts and hold a large fire torch weighing 80 kgs are part of the parade touring Kurama’s township. While it might not seem like a big deal to us now, it must be a rare sight in a city like Kyoto because everyone takes how they present themselves so seriously, but these men then parade through the town without being fully dressed.

The Sacred Great Cedar Tree

At Yuki Shrine, you will also find a gigantic 53-meter tall cedar tree. The tree over 800 years old has been treated as an object of worship. So, if you pray to it, your wishes will be granted (=゚ω゚)ノ.

The tiny shrine for the tree in front of it is extra cute compared to the big tree at the back!

Yōshūji (雍州路)

Just in front of Niōmon Gate of Kurama-dera Temple, there is a restaurant called Yōshūji that serves vegan cuisine – Shōjin Ryōri (精進料理). Their Kurama-dera traditional sesame tofu part of the set menu is a must-try when you come to Mt. Kurama.

Depending on how much you can eat, you can enjoy the traditional Japanese cuisine that typically includes seafood and meat, starting from 2,200 yen!

The restaurant also has traditional dessert menus for you to enjoy after lunch or for afternoon tea (*´ω`).

The restaurant is open from 10 am to 6 pm except for Tuesdays.

Kifune Shrine (貴船神社)

From Kurama-dera’s Kondō to Kifune Shrine, it is around a 60 – 90-minute trek. If that sounds too difficult, head back to Kurama Station and take bus route no. 33, and get off at Kifune (貴船). More walking is involved in exploring Kifune Shrine fully. So if you aren’t confident with your physical stamina, taking a bus is the best choice.

Kifune Shrine’s history is even richer than Kurama-dera Temple. Located upstream of Kyoto’s famous Kamo River (鴨川), it already appeared in the Japanese historical documents 1,600 years ago. The shrine consists of three shrines – Hongū (本宮), Yuinoyashiro (結社), and Okumiya (奥宮).

The shrine has been worshiped as a god who protects the water sources of Kyoto since ancient times.

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The bus stop – Kibune (貴船), is around a 5-minute walk to the staircases leading to Hongū. This set of staircases is one of the best photo spots at Kifune Shrine, especially in autumn and winter.

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In early to late November, the staircases are lit up from sunset to 8:30 pm, so leaving the shrine till the end of the day is definitely recommended.

In winter, however, if you are after the fantastic Kifune Shrine nighttime snow scenery, you have to be either lucky or be checking Kifune Shrine’s website or social media posts diligently.

The winter light-up event is only on a Saturday when the snow accumulates on the staircases. Kifune Shrine will only announce whether the event is on at 3 pm on the day. Note that the light won’t be on for the entire night. So if you are keen, be here between 6 to 8 pm.

The Origin of Ema (Ema Hasshō no Furusato, 絵馬発祥の社)

Also known as the birthplace of “ema” (those wooden plates at Japanese shrines with pilgrims’ wishes written on the back), you will see statues of two beautiful horses on the ground of Hongū. Why two? Because since ancient times, horses played the messenger role in the ritual of praying for rain by successive Japanese emperors. Black horses were used when the land was too dry and rain was needed. When people were after sunny days, white horses were used to deliver the prayers.

Eventually, instead of an actual horse, a picture of the horse was drawn on a wooden plaque, which became the prototype of the “ema” that we have today, helping us convey our wishes to god.

Immediately next to the horse statues, there is a resting area. From there, you can enjoy the scenery of the Kibune River (貴船川) and the surrounding nature. From mid to late November, the view is extra gorgeous because the leaves are colored in yellow and red (=゚ω゚)ノ.

There will even be lanterns set up along the river praying for prosperity!

Kifune Shrine’s Main Worship Hall – Hongū (本宮)

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Hongū enshrines the god Takaokami no Kami (高龗神), who controls the supply of water. The worship hall was only rebuilt in 2005, so it seems new compared to the other buildings at the shrine.

Having the god who looks after water, you can also source some special goods such as purifying lotion from the shrine’s office, as well as the normal omamori charms.

Water Fortune Slip (水占いみくじ) at Kifune Shrine

Another thing that you want to get for 200 yen is the shrine’s Water Fortune Slip. Even if you are like us and don’t normally draw fortune slips at shrines, this one is more fun to experience.

After getting your slip, head to Mizu-urayuniwa (水占齋庭), a pond dedicated to water fortune-telling. And float the fortune slip on the pond. Your fortune will soon show up!

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And if you don’t read Japanese, don’t worry. Take out your phone and scan one of the QR codes on the slip and you will be able to read your fortune in English (^_-)-☆.

Next to the worship hall, there is a fountain. While you will generally use the fountain to gargle and wash your hands, the spring coming out of this fountain is drinkable and is said to be the spring from the god (since the god – Takaokami no Kami controls the supply of water!).

If you don’t have a water bottle, you can buy Kifune Shrine’s original water container from the shrine’s office for 500 yen (nothing fancy though). The water is deemed safe to drink. If you are worried, you can always boil it before drinking (^_-)-☆.

Kibune Shrine Yuinoyashiro (結社)

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After around a 5-minute walk from Hongū, you will find Yuinoyashiro. It is a popular shrine to pray at for a great relationship with your partners and others in your life.

If you walk too fast or pay too much attention to the river at your right, you can easily miss the staircases leading to Yuinoyashiro. You will only see the shrine’s torii gate after climbing up the stairs.

If you are planning to make a wish at Yuinoyashiro, don’t forget to grab one of the Musubibumi (結び文) from Hongū’s shrine office. The same place where you get your water fortune slip.

Then with your wishes written on the green Musubibumi slip, tie it to the designated area next to the worship hall after you pay your respects and say what you come here for to the god.

Kibune Shrine Okumiya (奥宮)

From Yuinoyashiro, if you hike for another 5 – 10 minutes, you will see the Okumiya of Kifune Shrine. This is where the main worship hall was located originally.

The other thing that is worth mentioning is that Okumiya is the Divine Tree (相生の杉) at the left of the worship hall.

The two trees that are said to be 1,000 years old have their lower trunk merged into one. Normally, only trees of the same species become one, but here at Kifune Shrine Okumiya is a combination of cedar and maple!

This is why people come here to pray for a good relationship. Because if cedar and maple can grow together peacefully here, it is believed that they have some spiritual power that can improve your relationship with your partner (^_-)-☆.

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Kifune Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Kifune Shrine is open from 6 am to 8 pm from May to November and closes later at 8:30 pm from the 6th to the 28th of November
  • It is a 5-minute hike from the bus stop – Kibune (貴船)

Nagashi-sōmen at Hirobun (京都貴船 料理旅館 ひろ文)

You might be wondering where you can experience Kawadoko (川床) Dining (since we mentioned it at the beginning of the article).

As you walk from the bus stop – Kibune (貴船), or even from Kibuneguchi Station (貴船口駅), you may notice around ten restaurants are waiting for customers along the river.

In summer, most of them set up platforms above the river with Goza mats (woven reed mats) to create a dining area that is called Kawadoko.

When Kaiseki Ryōri (会席料理), which is a luxurious Japanese set lunch or dinner course, is served on Kawadoko, it is called Kawadoko Ryōri.

But since Kawadoko Ryōri is quite expensive, and we haven’t been able to find a restaurant that serves vegetarian Kawadoko Ryōri at Kibune, it is the Nagashi-sōmen (流しそうめん), which are flowing sōmen noodles that we want to share with you!

So What is Nagashi-sōmen?

Normally, noodles are served in a bowl or a plate. But in the hot summer, the Japanese have a special way of enjoying the season. A bamboo pipe is set up with water flowing through it. The sōmen noodles are dropped at the top of the pipe for people at the other end to catch with their chopsticks. The noodles are then dipped into a cup of flavourful sauce before being put in the mouth.

Hirobun is an authentic Kaiseki Ryōri restaurant at Kibune that is around a 10-minutes walk away from the Kibune bus stop. The restaurant has two Kawadoko areas, one for Kaiseki Ryōri and another for Nagashi-sōmen.

As the entrance for each type of cuisine is different, check with the staff at the entrance to make sure you head down to the correct section.

As Kibune is located up in the mountain, the average temperature is usually 10 degrees less than Kyoto City center. On a hot summer day, sitting on the Goza mats with a small waterfall in front of you while listening to the sound of the river, the temperature around you seems to just get even cooler!

Getting Your Number Plate

The cost of Nagashi-sōmen is quite reasonable at 1,500 yen per person. With the Kaiseki cuisine costing around 9,000 yen on average, it is not hard to understand why the waiting time on weekends and public holidays can be more than 2 hours, even if you arrive around 11 am.

Although Hirobun doesn’t take reservations, you will be given a round fan with a number written on it. The staff will let you know approximately how long you need to wait so that if your waiting time is more than an hour, you can go ahead and explore Kifune Shrine before enjoying the noodles!

When your number is called, it is time to head down!

The group before you may still be catching their noodles, which is a great chance for you to learn what you should be doing when it is finally your turn.

Basically, each person is assigned a “lane”. So only try to catch the noodle flowing in your lane. Otherwise, you will be stealing others people’s noodles!

When the color of the noodles changes from white to pink, it is the sign of the end of your session and time to enjoy the little plate of dessert.

If you taste some sourness in that pink sōmen, it is the taste of perilla or plum. It isn’t because the noodles aren’t fresh (´▽`*).

If you taste some sourness in that pink sōmen, it is the taste of perilla or plum. It isn’t because the noodles aren’t fresh (´▽`*).

When Can You Enjoy Kawadoko Cuisine at Hirobun

In 2022, Kawadoko Cuisine will be served from the 1st of May to late October.

Important:
☛ Nagashi-sōmen may not be available if it is rainy at 10 am
☛ The dipping sauce provided by the Hirobun contains seafood extract. You can bring your vegan sauce if you are strict with your vegetarian diet

Autumn Foliage Season at Kurama and Kibune

The season starts in early November and usually peaks in mid to late November.

Discover Kameoka City, which is just a Train Ride away from Aarashiyama

Sakura-Park-Kameoka-Kyoto-Japan
Click the photo to find out more about this stunning spot!

Arashiyama in Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations in the prefecture. You might have even heard of Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道). But it would be a shame if you head straight back once you reach the last stop – Torroko Kameoka!

Kameoka City’s scenery is as amazing as what you can get in Arashiyama, if not better. And the best thing is the amount of crowd around you will be halved!

For more information about the city, please refer to our Kameoka City article (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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