The easy hike from Kurama to Kibune, in the hills north of Kyoto, is our favorite half-day trip out of Kyoto City. It’s the perfect combination of nature and culture.
Kurama-dera Main Hall with Cherries – image © Chris Rowthorn
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Start point: Kurama Station on the Eizan Train Line
Finish point: Kibune-guchi Station on the Eizan Train Line
Kurama and Kibune are two picturesque little villages in the Kitayama Mountains, a 30-minute scenic train trip out of Kyoto. On this hike, you walk from Kurama to Kibune via Kurama-dera Temple, a temple located atop the mountain between the two villages. If you want to get out of the city for a while and enjoy some beautiful hiking in the woods, this is the perfect trip.
The ease of getting to/from the hike is one of its main attractions. To get to the start of the hike, take the Eizan Line train that leaves from Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto (which is, in turn, at the northern end of the Keihan Line, the line that runs along the Kamo-gawa River in Kyoto). Be sure to get on a Kurama-bound train and ride it all the way to the last stop, Kurama. At the end of the hike, you’ll board the same train line at Kibune-guchi Station and take it back to Demachiyanagi Station. Easy, peasy.
Here’s the route:
Get off the train and exit Kurama Station. You’ll immediately see the bright red statue of a Tengu in the parking lot. Tengu are Japanese mythical creatures that play big parts in many folk stories, including several that take place in Kurama. Continue past the Tengu and out of the parking lot and down to the main street of Kurama. Take a left and walk up the hill.
Tengu at Kurama Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
As soon as you turn onto the main street of Kurama, you’ll see the temple gate above you. Climb the steps, go through the gate and pay your admission to enter the temple (Y300).
Main Gate of Kurama-dera Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
The hike is very easy to follow. You’ll pass two small waterfalls soon after starting. You can take short detours to the right to check them out, or continue up the main path. You’ll also notice a building that houses the base station of the short funicular railway that lifts visitors to just below the main hall. At the time of writing, it was under reconstruction. Even when it reopens, you’ll probably just want to walk up, since the climb is very easy.
Start of Kurama Hike – image © Chris Rowthorn
About 100m after starting, you’ll come to a wooden gatehouse structure with steps leading up through it. This is the gate of Yuki-jinja Shrine, the protector shrine of the village and temple. As you ascend the steps, you’ll catch a view of an enormous Kitayama sugi (pine) tree just in front of the shrine.
Kitayama Sugi at Yuki-jinja Shrine – image © Chris Rowthorn
After the passing the giant sugi tree, you’ll find yourself in front of the main hall of Yuki-jinja. Make a wish and continue up the main trail.
Yuki-jinja Shrine – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly after leaving Yuki-jinja, you’ll come to an odd sculpture/statue on your left. This is the Inochi Statue. “Inochi” means life in Japanese. The statue represents the three aspects of the god of Kurama Buddhism: light, love and power. The sculpture is not nearly as beautiful as the idea it represents.
Inochi Statue – image © Chris Rowthorn
After climbing past the Inochi Statue, you’ll come to a large wooden gate. Climb through this and go right, up the hill.
Gate on Hike – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly after passing through the wooden gate, there are several extremely attractive flights of steps lined with beautiful vermillion lanterns.
Steps on Hike – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll soon come to a flat open area where paths lead off in two directions. The one that goes off to the right leads to the top funicular station. Don’t take this path.
Path to Funicular Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
Instead, take a hard left and take the path that climbs gently to another open area.
Path to Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Climb the steep flights of steps from this open area up to the main hall of Kurama-dera.
Steps to Main Hall – image © Chris Rowthorn
At the top of the steps, you’ll come out into the broad plaza in front of the main hall of Kurama-dera. Take a rest and then go into the temple to make a wish. Note that there is a mark in front of the temple where the god of the temple is thought to descend. Locals like to stand here and make a wish since it’s a “power spot.”
Main Hall of Kurama-dera Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
To continue the hike, start facing the main hall and walk to the left of the hall. You’ll see a walkway that leads through a vermillion and white building, leading immediately to some steps. Go through this.
Start of the Upper Hike – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly after starting the upper hike, there is a path on the right that leads to a bell tower. You can ring the bell ONCE gently to make a wish.
Bell Above the Main Hall – image © Chris Rowthorn
Soon after passing the bell, you will pass the unfortunately designed Reihoden Museum, which holds fossils thought to be miraculous by believers of Kurama Buddhism. Unless you have a keen interest in fossils, you can safely skip this.
Reihoden Museum – image © Chris Rowthorn
After the museum, the trail climbs through another wooden gate and then continues up several sections of steps to the summit of the ridge. This is the top of the hike. Well done! Take a well-earned rest. As you sit on the bench to rest, you will notice a standing stone with a fence around it. This is the Yoshitsune Sekurabe Ishi (Yoshitsune Height-Comparing Rock) that the young 12th century warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune used to measure his height while he was at Kurama being instructed here in swordsmanship by a kindly Tengu (or so the story goes).
Seikurabe Ishi – image © Chris Rowthorn
After resting, instead of heading right down the stairs on the opposite side, walk along the ridge and away from the Sekurabe Ishi. This trail is known as the Kinone Sando (Tree Root Pilgrim Path), so named for all the visible tree roots on the trail.
Kinone Sando – image © Chris Rowthorn
An easy 50m walk brings you to the Osugi Gongen (Giant Sugi Tree Gongen). Gongen are beings in syncretic Buddhism that are said to be both Buddhas and kami (Shinto gods).
Osugi Gongen – image © Chris Rowthorn
Now, to continue on down to Kibune, turn your back to the Osugi Gongen and take the path of the left, that starts out basically flat then gradually goes downhill.
Trail Junction at Osugi Gongen – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll soon intersect the main trail down to Kibune, which at first is a nice flight of stone steps.
Start of Trail Down to Kibune – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll soon arrive at the Sojo-ga-Dani Fudo-do, a subtemple of Kurama-dera that houses an image of Fudo Myoo, the Immovable King of Light from the Buddhist cosmology.
Sojo-ga-Dani Fudo-do – image © Chris Rowthorn
After leaving the Fudo-do, you’ll traverse some really atmospheric trail down to the next subtemple, which is called the Oku-no-In Mao Den. This hall enshrines the being Mao (Magic King being).
Oku-no-In Mao-den – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you’re lucky, you might spot a glimpse of a deer or two along the way, some of which are remarkably tame.
Deer on Trail – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly before arriving at the bottom of the valley, you will pass a wonderful gnarled and twisted wisteria tree next to the trail.
Wisteria Tree – image © Chris Rowthorn
At the bottom of the trail, you will cross a bridge over the Kibune-gawa River.
Bridge over Kibune-gawa River – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you turn right and walk up the road, you will enter the main part of the village of Kibune, which is really just a row of ryokan and restaurants. About mid-way up the village on the left (as you go up) you will pass the lantern-lined steps that lead up to Kibune-jinja Shrine. Near the shrine you will find Kibune Club café, a good place for a drink or a light meal or sweet. If you’re in Kibune in the hot summer months, you can have a meal suspended on a platform over the river.
To get back to Kyoto, walk 2km down the road to Kibune-guchi Station, on the Eizan Line, from which it’s a 30-minute trip back to Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto.
Village of Kibune – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is a Google Map of the hiking route. Note that there was no signal near the top of Mt Kurama, so the route is missing two sections. But, the trail is very easy to follow.
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