Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Ōhara – Where You Meet the Traditional Townscape of Kyoto

The ancient city of Kyoto has enchanted the hearts of many international tourists, making it one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world. But while the tourism boom has certainly brought in a fortune to the local businesses, many find their visits increasingly unpleasant, with temples and shrines over-commercialized and over-crowded.

But your visit to Kyoto doesn’t have to mean being jostled among sweltering crowds as you try to take a peek at the tourist traps. How about escaping the city center to the village of Ōhara (大原), a hidden gem in Kyoto, to enjoy what the ancient city has to offer?

Ōhara is a quiet, insular town on the outskirts of Kyoto, around 60 minutes away from Kyoto Station by bus. Situated at the foot of Mt. Hiei, the area has abundant nature and several gorgeous Japanese gardens and temples. It is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway for those who reside in Kansai. For tourists, Ōhara can add some spiritual components and balance out your otherwise bustling itinerary.

Furthermore, Ōhara is known as the indispensable training ground for the Tendai sect’s Buddhist hymn (Shōmyō, 声明). To be able to chant well, many monks in the past traveled to study at Ōhara, which resulted in many beautiful temples blooming in the village.

Table of Contents

Ōhara’s History

In 1013, Shōrin-in was erected by the monk, Jakugen (寂源). He was the 9th generation disciple of Jikaku Daishi Ennin (慈覚大師円仁). Jigaku Daishi was the person who brought back Shōmyō (Buddhist hymns) to Japan in the 9th century. Year later, Raigō-in was founded by Shō-ō Daishi Ryōnin (聖応大師良忍). Since then, Ōhara has become the center of Gyosan Shōmyō, with Shōrin-in and Raigō-in as the main halls. More and more monks thus gathered at Ōhara to learn Buddhism and Shōmyō. The temples in the area are collectively called Gyosan Taigenji (魚山大原寺).

Moreover, the Gyosan Shōmyō also has a large impact on the Japanese traditional music.

Gyosan means Mt. Yu in Shandong province in China. It is where Shōmyō originated.

About Sightseeing at Ōhara

Roughly speaking, the sightseeing area of ​​Ōhara is centered around Sanzen-in Temple (三千院). The other main attraction is Jakkō-in Temple (寂光院), located a 40-minute walk away. According to the time of your arrival and the weather on the day, it might be a good idea to quickly review your itinerary when you arrive at Ōhara.

Here is a list of attractions for you to consider adding to your Ōhara itinerary.

During the peak season in autumn, we recommend following the below sequence for a better experience in Ōhara (i.e. avoiding the crowds).

Sanzen-in (三千院) for around 60 to 90 minutes → Hōsen-in (宝泉院) for around 60 minutes → Kyoubijaya Tofu Cusine (京美茶屋) for lunch → Shōrin-in (勝林院) for around 15 to 30 minutes → Jikkō-in (実光院) for around 30 to 45 minutes → Raigō-in (来迎院) for around 30 to 45 minutes → Otonashi Falls (音無の滝) → Jakkō-in (寂光院) for around 45 to 60 minutes → Ōhara no Sato Onsen (大原温泉 大原の里) for a foot spa session to rejuvenate

The Reason for the Above Ōhara Itinerary

Sanzen-in is the most popular and, therefore, the most crowded place in Ōhara. Try to be there at 9 am when the gate opens.

Although Shōrin-in and Jikkō-in are intuitively the next two attractions (distance-wise) to visit, Hōsen-in will get crowded (especially if there are group tourists). Thus, you will want to head there first. After all, it only takes less than a 5-minute walk to return to Shōrin-in and Jikkō-in.

Dressing in the Traditional Ōharame Costume

Ōharame (大原女) costume is the traditional work clothes worn by women in Ōhara. When firewood was still an essential part of the daily necessities, the women in the village would carry heavy loads of firewood and/or charcoal on their heads and shoulders and travel to Kyoto’s city center, where many of their customers resided.

When you visit Ōhara, you can be dressed up in a Ōharame costume (female only)! Visiting the attractions in Ōhara in costume means you will get discounted admission fees or freebies from shops and restaurants.

All you need to do is to make a reservation with the Ōhara Sightseeing Center (大原観光保勝会) by filling in the webform HERE at least 3 days beforehand. You can translate it using Google Chrome’s translation function the right of the address bar.

The current cost is 2,500 yen.

Ⓒ 大原観光保勝会
Ⓒ 大原観光保勝会

Tip: If you share a photo of yourself in an Ōharame costume on social media, you can get a free Ōharame badge or Ōharame handtowel!

Important: It is best if you can speak some Japanese if you want to try the costume on. This is so you can understand the important things to note while you are in the costume when the staff explains to you.

Ōhara Sightseeing Center’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The restaurant is open from 10 am to 3 pm daily except Thursdays.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is a one-minute walk.

Sanzen-in Temple (三千院)

Since ancient times, Ōhara has been a tranquil retreat where nobles, Shugendō practitioners, and monks retired. The quiet but breathtaking township is just ideal for those seeking to spend their late lives quietly. Among all the temples in Ōhara, Sanzen-in is the village’s symbol. Not only because the chief priests of the temple have been members of the imperial family but also because the scenery on its precinct is just enchanting.

For more information, please refer to our article on Sanzen-in!

Kyoubijaya Tofu Cusine (京美茶屋)

Just in front of Sanzen-in is a restaurant specializing in tofu skin cuisine. Kyoubijaya (京美茶屋), with a history of more than 60 years, has served the monks in Sanzen-in since its establishment. While tofu skin might not sound enticing, don’t turn your nose up at it without a try. You will be surprised at how many mouthwatering dishes the restaurant can create from the humble tofu skin! But one thing to note is the sauce/broth the restaurant uses contains fish extract. Please bring your vegan sauce if you are strict with your diet.

For more information, refer to our article on Kyoubijaya!

Soba-Noodles-with-Tofu-Skin-Set-Meal-at-Kyoubijaya-Ohara-Kyoto-Japan

Jikkō-in Temple (実光院)

Jikko-in-Kyu-Rikaku-in-Garden-Ohara-Kyoto-Japan

Next to Sanzen-in, Jikkō-in (実光院) is another temple with stunning garden views in Ōhara. While the ground of the gardens of Jikkō-in is moss-covered, the flowers of around 150 different kinds of plants will catch your attention from spring to autumn. In winter, another highlight of Jikkō-in is the cherry tree that blooms in the snow! On top of the gardens, you can also admire the paintings from the Edo period when you visit the temple.

For more information, please refer to our article on Jikkō-in.

Hōsen-in Temple (宝泉院)

Just a 5-minute walk north of Sanzen-in, Hōsen-in is another temple worth your time. While the scale of Hōsen-in is smaller than Sanzen-in, think twice if you are thinking of giving it a pass. Because in addition to two gorgeous gardens, the temple also has a historical element that can be traced back to the 1600s!

For more information, please refer to our article on Hōsen-in.

Shōrin-in Temple (勝林院)

Shorin-in-Hondo-Ohara-Kyoto-Japan

Among all the Tendai sect (Buddhist) temples in Ōhara, Shōrin-in is the temple that has a deeper Pure Land sect influence. After all, it is where the biggest debate in Japanese Buddhism took place. And the tricky topics were all about the Pure Land sect’s teaching. Moreover, when Hōnen explained the teaching, it is said that the hands of the Amida Buddha in the worship hall started glowing, displaying his approval of Hōnen’s statements!

If you want to meet this miraculous statue, follow our Shōrin-in article and visit the temple next time you go to Japan (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Raigō-in Temple (来迎院) 

If you come to Ōhara and find Sanzen-in too crowded, head to Raigō-in first. The promenade leading to the temple is surrounded by rich nature, which is particularly stunning in autumn. Located at the top of a small hill away from many other temples are located, Raigō-in is the hidden gem of Ōhara.

For more information, please refer to our article on Raigō-in!

Raigo-in-Hondo-Ohara-Kyoto-Japan

Jōrenge-in (浄蓮華院)

On the way to Raigō-in, you will notice the gate of another temple. Crossing the small bridge, you can take a peek into Jōrenge-in, which is currently open as a Shukubō (宿坊) for pilgrims to stay overnight.

The same as Raigō-in, the temple was established as a place for the Yūzū Nenbutsu sect’s training by Ryōnin in 1109.

Although a fire hazard destroyed Jōrenge-in in the early Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the worship hall and the storage area were restored in 1969.

Jōrenge-in is famous for the delicious vegetarian meal prepared from vegetables sourced locally. This is offered to those who wish to stay at the temple overnight. You can also participate in the Buddhist hymn session if you speak Japanese. The cost is 8,000 yen for a one-night stay per person with two meals included.

Even if you don’t plan to stay overnight in Ōhara, you can still enjoy their Shōjin Ryōri (monk’s cuisine) if you make a reservation for lunch for 3,500 yen. To enquire, please give them a call at +81-75-744-2408.

Important: Please note that you have to be able to speak basic Japanese to dine or spend a night at Jōrenge-in.

Tips:
☛ If you are lucky that the gate isn’t closed, you can most likely take a stroll in the temple’s garden.
☛ The temple should be opened on New Year’s Eve for pilgrims to ring the New Year’s Bell.
☛ If you want to stay at Jōrenge-in, book early to avoid disappointment. It is a small but popular Shukubō.

River Side Cafe KIRIN (来隣)

Close to the Ōhara stop (大原), a popular cafe focused on vegetable dishes is quietly sitting at the side of the Takano River (高野川).

The restaurant has been renovated, retaining its vintage charm but with a more modern interior. With floor-to-ceiling windows replacing most of the outer walls, ample sunlight is coming in during the day and visually enlarging the dining space in the restaurant.

The restaurant sources ingredients locally in the early morning to prepare mouthwatering food for its customers from lunchtime onward. The vegetable dishes served in the restaurant are so delicious that dining in the restaurant becomes one of the main reasons for visiting Ōhara for some!

Lunch is served in a buffet style. You get to choose five onigiri rice balls of different flavors. Afterward, head to the buffet counter for salads and other vegetable dishes!

Important: Not all dishes are vegetarian. You can utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to confirm which dish you can eat.

Kirin’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The cafe is open from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm daily except Tuesdays.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is just a 2-minute walk.

Jakkō-in Temple (寂光院)

Jakko-in-Hondo-Ohara-Kyoto-Japan

In Ōhara, other than Sanzen-in, Jakkō-in (寂光院) is another representative attraction. The temple on the village’s west side has many maple trees planted on its grounds. During the fresh spring and fall foliage seasons, the scenery in the temple attracts many tourists who are more than happy to make an effort to go and enjoy these natural masterpieces.

In addition, it is also a historical landmark relating to the Taira Clan that was destroyed in the 12th century.

For more information, please refer to our Jakkō-in Temple article!

Ōhara Sansou’s Foot Spa Cafe (大原山荘足湯カフェ)

If you have spent the whole day walking around Ōhara, how about taking a rest at the Foot Spa Cafe in Ōhara Sansou, just steps away from Jakkō-in Temple? This is the ultimate spot to relieve your tired feet and parched throat in one go!

One session is 40 minutes, just enough time to rejuvenate. With the jazz music in the background and the typical Japanese rural scenery beyond the window, you will easily lose track of time (´▽`*). The entire atmosphere is just too relaxing, especially with the heat from the hot spring warming up your entire body.

So how it works is that you pay 900 yen for a drink and a towel. While there are options such as coffee and juice, how about going after a more Japanese option such as ginger tea or perilla juice?

Ōhara Sansou’s Foot Spa Cafe’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The cafe is open from 11 am to 5 pm on weekends and public holidays.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is around a 10 to 15-minute walk.

Tip: If you are a guest of the inn, you can get 100 yen off.

Kumoi Chaya (雲井茶屋)

Kumoi Chaya is a sister restaurant to Ōhara Sansou. It is known for the miso-flavored hot pot, which is flavored with the miso from Miso-an (味噌庵) across the river. But because the hot pot has chicken, that isn’t what we will introduce here.

Tip: You can check with the restaurant to see if you can order miso-flavored hot pot with vegetables only. You can utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article for this purpose.

The most popular dessert menu of Kumoi Chaya is White Miso Ice Cream (白味噌アイス). Although the idea might sound weird, the balance between the salty miso ice cream, the sweet red bean paste, and Kinako (sweetened soybean powder) is perfect!

One thing to watch out for is not to finish the red bean paste before you finish the ice cream. We reckon the umami of the ice cream is the most delicious when paired with the sharper sweetness of the red bean paste (^_-)-☆.

Kumoi Chaya’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The restaurant is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily except Tuesdays.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is around a 10 to 15-minute walk.

Miso-an (味噌庵)

Another place where you can try the white miso ice cream is the Miso-an. And on top of the ice cream, the miso specialist also has miso candies, miso caramels, miso chocolate, and more!

If you aren’t interested in confectionery, how about tasting some miso pastes and pickles on the shelf? They have miso aged for one to three years that taste distinctly different. Furthermore, if plain miso isn’t something you are after, spice-infused miso also awaits your exploration (such as garlic or chili)!

Important:
☛ If you don’t eat eggs, remember to check with the staff for the confectionary that contains eggs.
☛ Spice-infused miso might contain fish extract. Please check with the staff before purchasing.

Miso-an’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Miso-an is open from 9 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Monday.
    • In the fall foliage season and long public holidays such as Golden and Silver Week, it will open every day.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is around a 12-minute walk.

Wappa-dō (わっぱ堂)

Wappa-dō is the restaurant where the chef creates a set menu accommodating your requirements. And yes, he will take into account the food you can’t eat, which is perfect for us vegetarians!

The popular reservation-only restaurant was renovated from a 130-year-old traditional house. Many organic ingredients come from their vast fields and, if needed, from other parts of Ōhara.

The entire dining experience is just incredible. So many thoughts have been put into preparing the lunch course and the dining area to ensure a pleasant customer visit. The restaurant aims to create dishes that bring out the rich taste of the vegetables. Not only is the food gorgeously presented on the plates, but the taste is also top-notch!

Tip: Reserve as early as possible. The restaurant only has a capacity of 10 guests. With its popularity, their calendar is filled out quickly.

Wappa-dō’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Wappa-dō is open from 12 pm to 2 pm from Tuesday to Friday.
  • On weekends, it has two lunch sessions that you can reserve.
    • 11:30 am to 1 pm
    • 1:30 pm to 3 pm
  • To reserve, please fill out their online form HERE. You can translate the webpage to English using Google’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is around an 8-minute walk.

Roadside Station Ōhara (里の駅大原)

Apart from the temples, Ōhara is also known for its fresh produce.

If you are interested in procuring some fresh fruits and vegetables or locally made food such as pickles or freshly made mochi rice cakes, head to Roadside Station Ōhara. Locating just around a 15-minute walk from the bus stop, Ōhara, the roadside station, is a popular place among the locals.

If you plan to stay overnight in Ōhara on a Saturday, get up early for the farmer’s market starting at 6 am. While the market officially concludes at 9 am, most fresh produces are usually gone by 8 am.

Furthermore, on weekends and public holidays, freshly made plain mochi rice cakes will be sold with some add-ons such as soybean powder (Kinako) or ground radish! On other days of the week, you can try their perilla mochi!

The roadside station also has a restaurant where menu items are cooked from ingredients harvested in Ōhara.

Important: The vegetable curry and other vegetable dishes contain meat or fish extract.

Roadside Station Ōhara’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The roadside station is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily except Mondays.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on Tuesday.
  • The restaurant is open from
    • 9 am to 3:30 pm
    • 7:30 am to around 3:30 pm on Sundays
  • The farmer’s market is open from 6 am to 9 am on Sundays.
  • From Ōhara stop (大原), it is around a 10 to 15-minute walk.
  • From Nomura Wakare stop (野村別れ), it is just a 5-minute walk.

The Cherry Blossom and Fall Foliage Season in Ōhara

Ⓒ 大原観光保勝会

Another good thing about Ōhara is its delayed cherry blossom season which usually peaks from early to mid-April.

As the season is staggered from the city center, you can avoid most international tourists. Or, if the cherry blossom season starts too early for your visit, come to Ōhara. It won’t disappoint.

However, the same doesn’t apply to the fall foliage season.

A bit earlier than Kyoto’s city center, the fall color usually peaks in mid-November and can last until early December.

Tip: The best cherry blossom spot in Ōhara is at the Otoide Bridge (元井出橋) for the cherry blossom planted along the Takano River (高野川).

How to Get to Ōhara by Public Transportation

Without a train station in the village, taking the red Kyoto Bus (京都バス) is the cheapest way to get to Ōhara. As Kyoto Bus isn’t the only bus company operating in Kyoto, please refer to our article on How to Get Around in Kyoto if you find Kyoto’s transportation confusing.

The bus trip will take around an hour. So unless you don’t mind standing, try to board the bus from the terminal stop. If you are coming from Shijō, you can also get on the bus from Shijō Kawaramachi (四条河原町). It will take around 45 minutes from there.

For the service’s timetable, please refer to below.

Important: Please note that Ōhara is located outside the Kyoto Bus One-Day Ticket and the Kyoto Bus and Subway One-Day Ticket’s flat-fare zone. You will need to pay the difference between Hanazonobashi (花園橋) and Ōhara (大原), most likely in cash (currently 330 yen).

Driving to Ōhara

If you plan to drive to Ōhara during the fall foliage season, keep in mind that there aren’t many parking lots around Sanzen-in. You should be able to get a parking space if you arrive early. If all car parks are full, consider starting your day from Jakkō-in Temple, where more parking is available.

Important: The roads near Sanzen-in are narrow. Please drive carefully so you don’t accidentally knock down pedestrians.

Where to Spend a Night in Ōhara

Ōhara is one of our favorite destinations in Kyoto. If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle in the city center, spending a night in the rural village is a good idea. But because most restaurants are closed at night, if Wappa-dō is fully booked out, it means you have nowhere to go for dinner. Fortunately, the ryokan, Ōhara no Sato Onsen (味噌と大原温泉 民宿 大原の里), is vegan-friendly. It is also a perfect choice for those who have a tighter budget.

For more information, refer to our Ōhara no Sato Onsen article!

Ohara no Sato Onsen Guestroom Ohara Kyoto Japan

Discover Other Hidden Gems in Kyoto

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Click the photo for more hidden gems in Kyoto!

Kyoto, a city filled with Buddhist temples, palaces, and Shinto shrines, is Japan’s cultural capital and has become a major tourist destination worldwide. But did you know that in addition to the capital city of Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture has a plethora of hidden gems off the beaten path?

Refer to our Top Hidden Gems in Kyoto article for more off-the-beaten-path destinations in Kyoto!

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