Kibune to Kurama hike, Kyoto, Japan
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
The cities of Japan are all stunners, with a never-ending parade of wonders to entice a tourist. If like us though, you also like to mix a bit of nature into your holidays, then Japan has many potential day trip options which could be just the thing.
Tokyo has, amongst others, the amazing World Heritage Wonders of Nikko, or the hot springs and mountain views of the beautiful Hakone National Park. From Osaka a trip to Nara, or to the lovely Koraku-en park in Okayama (one of Japan's 'Three Great Gardens'), is well worth considering.
And as for Kyoto, there is the easy and charming Kibune to Kurama hike, just north of the city: Not only will you be escaping the city for a bit of physical activity and fresh air, you will also be leaving the tourists far behind.
And as an added bonus, the 2 villages at either end of this hike itinerary are well worth a visit in their own right, including some great off-the-beaten-track cultural highlights. But more on that in a moment.
How to get to Kibune
Getting to Kibune Village from central Kyoto is really easy, and in total we dedicated only a half-day to this trip.
Make your way to Demachiyanagi Station (near the Kyoto Imperial Palace) and take one of the frequent Eizan Main Line trains to Kurama. Around 28 minutes after departing the train arrives at Kibuneguchi station, the second-to-last stop on the line. A ticket for the journey, not included in the JR Pass, costs YEN430 each way.
On arriving at Kibuneguchi station, we made our way to the awaiting shuttle for the final quick hop into Kibune Village. Unfortunately for us, we had neglected to bring anything resembling small change for the bus ticket fare. Our efforts to pay with large notes or credit card were met with increasingly firm shakes of the driver's head, and we were left with no choice but to walk into town.
The road from the station into Kibune village follows the path of the Kibune river, and is itself a lovely and tranquil walk - beneath a canopy of trees, and surrounded by lush forest vegetation, the river running alongside all the while. It is uphill the entire way though, and takes around 15-20 minutes. There is also no real hard-shoulder, so for those opting to walk as we did - do pay attention to the infrequent cars coming by.
Kibune Village and the Kifune jinja shrine
Kibune is a charming mountain village consisting mostly of traditional ryokan and eateries. Many of the restaurants are known for their platforms spanning the river, where during the warmer summer months you can have a classic Japanese meal while the brook gurgles happily beneath you.
Perhaps most well-known in Kibune is the lovely Kifune-jinja shrine, dedicated to the god of water, rain and the sea. Its stone staircase lined with red lanterns is famously photogenic, and together with the few other visitors we stopped to take the obligatory pic. Continue up the stairs, and about a kilometer further in you will find the Okunomiya, the peaceful inner sanctum of the Kifune shrine.
At this point, we decided to treat ourselves to a quick coffee and macha ice cream in Kibune village, at the Hyoue Cafe, before making our way back to the starting point for the trail - found by crossing the red bridge in front of Kyowa's Coffee.
Having also taken the opportunity to get some smaller change, we paid the YEN300 entry and began our hike!
Kibune to Kurama trail hike and the Kurama-dera temple
The hike itself is a picturesque and easy one, and takes around 90 minutes, climbing and then descending Mount Kurama via a multitude of shrines and temples.
Towards the top of the route you'll also find one of the highlights along the way - an open area covered in protruding cedar tree roots. It is a good place for a pit stop and a photo op.
From here on the route gets easier, as you start the descent towards Kurama, passing several more small shrines on the way.
On getting closer to Kurama village, the first main building you will encounter is the Kuramayama Reihoden, a museum dedicated to the religion founded on Mount Kurama. This is another good place for a pit stop, the open area in front of the museum offering benches and some great views of the surrounding area.
Up next is the Kurama-dera Buddhist temple, a popular temple frequented by Japanese people, though far less so by foreign tourists. It sits on a small open square together with some additional temples, surrounding some cherry blossom trees.
From here the trail winds down through possibly the loveliest part of the journey, surrounded on all sides by a towering forest of magnificent cedar trees.
We pass by the awesome Yuki-jinja shrine, placed there in reverence to the power of nature, and marvel at its sacred 800-year old cedar tree.
And soon after we reach the end of our journey, passing under the entrance to the Kurama-dera temple complex - its imposing Niomon gate.
The train station at Kurama is only a couple more minutes' walk downhill from here, and we make our way there to start the journey back to Kyoto, for the remainder of our sightseeing day.
One of the benefits of doing the hike in this direction is that we find ourselves at the beginning of the railway line, assured of a seat in the train and a place to rest our weary feet on our return journey.
The Kibune-Kurama walk is one of the highlights of our holiday through Japan, a day trip we remember fondly, and an opportunity to experience something that is a little less touristy, and just maybe, a little more special.