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

If you ever wonder whether there is a spot that is naturally cool in Kyoto, then read on! Mt. Kurama and Kibune located at the northernmost part of Kyoto are where the locals head to when they want to escape the summer heat. Having the Kawadoko (川床) dining at Kibune on the platform built above the river after wandering around the area is the best way to spend a summer day in Kyoto!

Apart from being Kyoto’s summer resort, this part of Kyoto is actually stunning throughout the year especially when the landscapes are covered by vibrant autumn colour and white snow as well! 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 (^_-)-☆.

Photo from photo-ac.com

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 ahead and just 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 packed 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 choose to 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 minutes’ walk. If you are trekking from Kibuneguchi, it will be around a 25 minutes’ walk.

Tips: It will be easier to walk from Kifune Shine to Kibuneguchi because if it is the other way round you will be hiking uphill.

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 will run through a maple tree tunnel from Ichihara Station (市原駅) to Ninose Station (二ノ瀬駅) which is just beautiful no matter which season it is!

Note that you can also catch a bus from Kyoto City Bus route 17 to get to Demachiyanagi Station. HERE is the timetable that you can refer to for the service.

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

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

HERE is the map of the Kurama and Kibune area. As it only comes in Japanese, please use the Japanese characters that we have specified below to read it.

The Big Tengu Statue at Kurama Station

For the purpose of this article, we will start the journey from Mt. Kurama. And we recommend you to arrive at Kurama Station in the morning so by the time you reach Kibune, it is just 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, which are 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, Mt. Kurama’s Daitengu (鞍馬山大天狗), an even bigger tengu is there greeting you!

Note that because the 4 metres tall black-haired Tengu in the photo has retired at the end of 2019 after looking after the area for the past 25 years, you will meet a white-haired one instead (^_-)-☆.

Kurama-dera Temple (鞍馬寺)

Kurama-dera Temple is the representative temple in Mt. Kurama that was built in 770. Part of the reason that the temple is well-known among the Japanese is that 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?) that has a cable car being the major transportation method for pilgrims to get to its main worship hall from its mountain gate. Whilst you can certainly hike your way up, be prepared to undergo 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 minutes’ walk. The gate is also served as the ticket gate where 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), which is where the cable car’s Mountain Gate Station (山門駅).

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

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

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 families who choose 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 families won’t be able to reach the top of the hill in 2 minutes as it will most likely take them 25 minutes or even longer if they are wandering through the scenic route. So after you came up from Tahōtō Station (photo on the left below), you can wait for them at Senshin-tei (洗心亭) and meet the Amitabha here and stroll around the gallery and maybe even getting some traditional sweets!

Kurama-dera Temple’s Main Worship Hall – Kondō

Photo from photo-ac.com

Kondō is where Kannon Bodhisattva (千手観音菩薩) and other gods who guardian god of Buddhism such as Vaisravana (毘沙門天) are enshrined at. But 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.

Whilst we didn’t feel anything different (maybe there was too much cloud in the sky?), it was certainly fun to join the other pilgrims doing the same thing and maybe even some funny photos!

Another thing the is special to Kurama-dera is the guardian animals that protect the main hall isn’t Komainu (狛犬), the dog or lion-like statues that you normally will find at 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, there is an observatory deck that has a wide view of the surrounding mountains. If you visit Kurama-dera in autumn, photos from here are something that you definitely don’t want to miss out on!

Photo from photo-ac.com

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 handing down for generations at Kurama-dera Temple.

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

200 yen will be charged upon entry.

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 in a section 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 just feels a bit more mysterious!

Photo from photo-ac.com

The Inner Shrine – Maōden (魔王殿)

Photo from photo-ac.com

Around a 25 minutes’ trek from Kondō, you will be at 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 to get some power and luck from the god (^_-)-☆.

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

Yuki Shrine (由岐神社)

Another shrine on the ground of Kurama-dera is Yuki Shrine. It was originally in Kyoto’s Imperial Palace until it was relocated to 5 minutes away from the Niōmon Gate (仁王門). So if you plan to trek all the way to Kifune Shrine, then before you hop onto the cable car. At the intersection close to the gate, head left instead of right.

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 and granting 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 from 9 am on the 22nd of October and ends in the morning on the following day.

The festival is also known as Kyoto’s Three Strangest Festivals. The reason that it got ranked in is apparently that men who only got their important parts covered will be holding a large fire torch that weighs 80 kgs are part of the parade touring Kurama’s township. Whilst it might not seem to be a big deal to us now, it must be a rare scene to see in a city like Kyoto, where everyone takes how they present themselves so seriously to parade through the town without fully dressed.

The Sacred Great Cedar Tree

At Yuki Shrine, you will also find a gigantic 53 metres tall cedar tree. The tree that is more than 800 years old has been treated as an object of worship that if you pray to it, it will grant your wishes (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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

Yōshūji (雍州路)

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

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

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

Yōshūji’s Opening Hours and Access Information

The restaurant is opened 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 minutes trekking. If that sounds too difficult, then head back to Kurama Station and take bus route no. 33 and get off at Kifune (貴船). To fully explore Kifune Shrine, there are more walking involves, so if you aren’t confident with your physical stamina, taking a bus is the best choice.

Kifune Shrine’s history is even longer than Kurama-dera Temple. Located upstream of Kyoto’s famous Kamo River (鴨川), it already appeared on 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.

Photo from photo-ac.com

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

Photo from photo-ac.com

From early to late November, the staircases will be 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 checking Kifune Shrine’s website or social media posts diligently.

The winter light-up event is only on a Saturday when the snow accumulated along the staircases. Kifune Shrine will only announce if 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 with pilgrims’ wishes writing on the back that you see at Japanese shrines), you will see statues of two beautiful horses in the ground of Hongū. Why two? Because since ancient times, horses were playing the messenger role in the ritual of praying for rain by successive Japanese emperors. When the land is too dry and rain is needed, black horses were used. And when people are after some sunny days, white horses were used to deliver the prayers.

Eventually, instead of a 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 to conveys 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 just extra gorgeous with the leaves coloured in yellow and red.

There will even be lanterns set up on the river prayer for prosperity!

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

Photo from photo-ac.com

Hongū enshrines the god Takaokami no Kami (高龗神) who controls the supply of water. The worship hall was only rebuilt in 2005 which is why 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 apart from 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 who 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), which is a pond dedicated to water fortune-telling, and float the fortune slip on the pond. Your fortune will soon show up!

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

Photo from photo-ac.com

Next to the worship hall, there is a fountain. Whilst you will normally use the fountain to gargle and wash your hands, the spring coming out in 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 with you, you can buy Kifune Shrine’s original water container from the shrine’s office for 500 yen (nothing fancy though). Whilst it is deemed safe to drink, if you are worried, you can always boil it before drinking (^_-)-☆.

Kibune Shrine Yuinoyashiro (結社)

Photo from photo-ac.com

Around a 5 minutes’ walk from Hongū, you will find Yuinoyashiro that is a popular shrine to pray for a great relationship not only with your partners but also with those who are in your life.

Note that if you walk too fast or paying too much attention to the river at your right, you can easily miss the staircases leading to Yuinoyashiro as you will only see the shrine’s torii gate after you climb 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 at the designated area next to the worship hall after you pay your respect 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 worthwhile to mention about 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, it 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 make your relationship with your partner better.

Photo from photo-ac.com

Kifune Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Kifune Shrine is opened from 6 am to 8 pm from May to November and closed later at 8:30 pm from the 6th to the 28th of November
  • It is a 5 mins 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 might have noticed there are around 10 restaurants waiting for customers along the river. In summer, most of them will set up a platform above the river with Goza mats (woven reed mats) are placed above 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 is 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 to enjoy 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 of the pipe to catch with their chopsticks. The noodles are then dipped into a cup of flavourful sauce before putting into 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 one 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 centre. On a hot summer day, sitting on the tatami mat 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 actually quite reasonable at 1,500 yen per person. With the Kaiseki cuisine costing from 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 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 term.

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

The restaurant does take into account the time required for you to chew and swallow the sōmen, so you will have enough time to prepare to catch your next batch of noodles. When the colour of the noodles changed from white to pink, it is the restaurant telling you it is the end of your session and time to enjoy the little plate of dessert.

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

When Can You Enjoy Kawadoko Cuisine at Hirobun

In 2021, Kawadoko Cuisine is served from the 1st of May to the 11th of 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 own vegan sauce if you are strict with your vegetarian diet

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 that 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 that 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 that gives you unlimited rides on train lines such as Keihan Main Line and Eizan Railway
    • For more information, please refer to Keihan Railway’s website HERE

Autumn Foliage Season at Kurama and Kibune

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

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