The hike from the hamlet of Takao down through the mountains west of Kyoto to the train station at Hozukyo is one of the best day hikes near Kyoto. It includes two superb temples, a crystal-clear river and a magical waterfall.
Lunch Spot on River – image © Chris Rowthorn
- Time: about 6 hours
- Distance: about 11km
- Difficulty: moderate
- Start point: Takao village in the mountains northwest of Kyoto
- Finish point: JR Hozukyo Station in the mountains west of Kyoto
If you have the time and energy for a full day hike near Kyoto but also want to see some cultural sights, this hike is for you. The hike starts in Takao, a village in the mountains northwest of Kyoto, 45 minutes from Kyoto Station by bus.
At the start of the hike, in the village of Takao, you visit two superb temples, then you descend to the banks of the beautiful Kiyotaki-gawa River and follow it to the village of Kiyotaki, just before which you can take a detour to the wonderful Kuya-no-taki Watefall. You then continue down the Kiyotaki-gawa to JR Hozukyo Station, where you catch a train back to Kyoto.
Here are the transport details and the full hiking route:
Start from Kyoto Station. Go to the “JR3” bus boarding point outside the north/central gate of the station. Take a bus bound for Toganoo (栂の尾) or Shuzan (周山). Buses bound for Ritsumeikan University (立命) do not reach Takao so do not board them. Here is a picture of the boarding point.
Bus Boarding Point at Kyoto Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is a picture of the timetable at the boarding point. Blue is weekdays, red is Saturday/Sunday/holidays, yellow is Obon and New Years. Be sure to take a paper “seiriken” ticket when you board the bus. You give this to the bus driver with the appropriate fare when you get off the bus. Be sure to bring Y1,000 notes or plenty of coins. The bus has a machine that will change Y1,000 notes into coins.
JR Bus Timetable – image © Chris Rowthorn
The ride to Takao takes about 45 minutes. Get off at the Yamashirotakao stop. You might want to tell the bus driver when you board that this is where you plan to get off, so that he will not let you miss it.
Yamashiro Takao Bus Stop – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you’re here in April, you might see some mountain azaleas blooming on the hillside across from the bus stop.
Azaleas in April in Takao – image © Chris Rowthorn
Backtrack just slightly from the bus stop toward the shops and vending machines. You will see a flight of steps marked by a sign pointing to Jingo-ji and Hiking Course. Take these steps down.
Start of Hike in Takao – image © Chris Rowthorn
The steps down to the Kiyotaki-gawa River make a nice start to the hike. If you’re here in April or May, you can enjoy the incredible new green on the maple trees for which this area is very famous in Japan.
Stairs Down to Kiyotaki-gawa River – image © Chris Rowthorn
After a few switchbacks, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the stairs, with the Kiyotaki-gawa in front of you.
Bridge at Bottom of Stairs – image © Chris Rowthorn
Don’t cross the bridge yet. Rather, take a right on the road before the bridge and walk upstream, past some old restaurants. This is the road to Saimyo-ji Temple, the first temple on this route.
Road to Saimyo-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
After about five minutes of walking, you will see a vermillion bridge across the river. Take this bridge to reach Saimyo-ji.
Bridge to Saimyo-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
After crossing the bridge, it’s a short, easy climb to the gate to the temple. You do not need to pay to enter the main precinct.
Saimyo-ji Temple Gate – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you pay Y500, you can enter the main hall of Saimyo-ji and look at the back garden. To be honest, unless you are a scholar of Buddhism, it’s sufficient to tour the main precinct outside the hall.
Garden at Saimyo-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Now exit the temple and go back to the bridge at the bottom of the stairs. Cross the bridge this time and you will see on the other side of the bridge the start of the long steps that lead up to Jingo-ji Temple, the second temple on this route.
Stairs to Jingo-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Climb the steps up to Jingo-ji. You will pass several teahouses and simple restaurants along the way. These are closed most of the year and only open during the spring “new green” season in April/May and the fall foliage season in October/November. The climb to the main gate of Jingo-ji takes about 15 minutes. Don’t rush, especially on a hot day, otherwise you’ll be soaked with sweat when you reach the temple. At the top of the steps, pay the Y600 fee to enter the temple and walk into the main precinct of the temple.
Main Precinct of Jingo-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Walk straight into the temple and you will soon find a flight of steps on your right. Climb these to reach the main hall of the temple, the Kondo Hall.
Stairs to Kondo Hall – image © Chris Rowthorn
At the top of the steps, you will find the Kondo Hall. This hall contains all the main figures of this branch of Buddhism (Shingon or Esoteric Buddhism). While they are only labeled in Japanese, you can still get an appreciation for them even if you can’t read their names. Take some time to soak up the atmosphere in the hall and then head down the steps of the hall and walk to immediately to your right. This is the start of the path to the next attraction in this temple, the kawarakenage spot.
Start of Path to Kawarakenage – image © Chris Rowthorn
It’s a short gravel path to the kawarakenage spot.
Path to Kawarakenage – image © Chris Rowthorn
When you get there, you will see a small shop on your left. This is where you buy your kawarake.
Kawarake Vendor – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is a shot of the kawarake for sale at the shop. You can buy two for Y100. They’re in the wooden tray.
Kawarake for Sale – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is a picture of some kawarake. By this point, you’re probably wondering, “What the heck are kawarake?!” Kawarake are small clay discs that you throw off the nearby cliff to rid yourself of bad karma. The act of throwing them is called “kawarakenage” (“nage” means “throw”). It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend trying it. The kanji on the discs read 厄除, which means “getting rid of evil.”
Kawarake – image © Chris Rowthorn
You will see a fence at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the valley and the Kiyotaki-gawa. This is where you throw your kawarake. The trick is to hold them gently with the convex side up, like a Frisbee. Do not throw them too hard, just sort of lay them out onto the wind. The further they go, the more bad karma they carry away.
Kawarake Throwing Place – image © Chris Rowthorn
Once you’ve gotten rid of all your bad karma, leave the temple the same way you came in and walk down the steps to the Kiyotaki-gawa. As soon as you get to the bottom, take a hard right, at the restaurant. Do NOT cross the bridge over the river. Walk along the road, with the river on your left and the restaurants on your right.
Start of Trail to Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
Walk for about ten minutes and when the road ends, you will see a bridge on your left, crossing the river. Cross this to the east side of the river.
Bridge to East Side of River – image © Chris Rowthorn
Continue downstream along the trail. As you might have guessed, you’re now walking in the valley into which you were throwing those kawarake before. While I’ve never been hit by one on my many journeys down this trail, I have seen many kawarake on the trail and the hillside next to it. I’m sure that people have been hit by them before. Don’t worry: they’re so light, it wouldn’t cause anything but a big surprise!
Kawarake on Trail – image © Chris Rowthorn
The trail follows the east bank of the river for a while now. You can get some great views down into the emerald pools of the river.
View from Trail Below Takao – image © Chris Rowthorn
The mountains above the trail are also lovely, especially in the spring and fall.
April Greenery Above Trail – image © Chris Rowthorn
About 2.1km after leaving Takao, you will come to a train junction, where a smaller trail leads off on the left. If you take this, you will eventually get to Arashiyama. I’ve done this before and it’s not a particularly interesting route. Rather, stay on the main trail and continue down the river.
Trail Junction to Daikakuji in Arashiyama – image © Chris Rowthorn
About 1.7km after the above junction, the trail descends to a bridge across the river. This is where I usually eat lunch.
Lunch Spot Bridge – image © Chris Rowthorn
The gravel bank of the river is a great place to eat while enjoying the view of the river.
Lunch Spot on River – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you prefer to eat at a table, there are some picnic tables just across the bridge.
Picnic Tables at Lunch Spot – image © Chris Rowthorn
After lunch, continue down the trail, now on the west side of the river. This is a particularly scenic part of the trail, with some nice sections cut into the cliffs above the river.
Trail Below Lunch Spot – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly before reaching the village of Kiyotaki, you will come to a short wooden bridge across a creek coming in from the right.
Bridge Before Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
Follow the trail above the bridge. You’ll soon come to a signpost that points to the left, indicating Kiyotaki (清滝). Walk in the direction indicated (to the right).
Sign Before Road to Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll soon climb up to an asphalt road. If you are in a hurry, just follow the road downhill, back toward the Kiyotaki-gawa and in the direction of Kiyotaki. However, if you have an hour to spare, I recommend taking the detour to Kuya-no-taki Waterfall. If you want to do so, take a right at this road (walking away from the Kiyotaki-gawa).
Road to Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
The road to Kuya-no-taki starts off level and takes you through some stands of sugi (cedar) with ruler-straight trunks.
Road to Kuya-no-Taki Falls – image © Chris Rowthorn
The road gradually climbs and after about 25 minutes, you will come to a small parking area and see a trail leading off along a creek on the left. This is the trail to Kuya-no-taki.
Start of Trail to Kuya-no-Taki Falls – image © Chris Rowthorn
The trail to the falls is a really atmospheric trail, snaking its way along the creek into the tight ravine that contains the falls.
Trail to Kuya-no-Taki Falls – image © Chris Rowthorn
After about five minutes of walking you will come to the buildings below the falls. These were associated with the shrine at the falls. I don’t think anyone lives here anymore.
Buildings Below Falls – image © Chris Rowthorn
Walk through the midst of the buildings, keeping to the main trail. You’ll shortly get to the final flight of steps, at the top of which is a torii (Shinto shrine gate) and the actual Kuya-no-taki Waterfall.
Torii at Falls – image © Chris Rowthorn
As soon as you see the waterfall, you will understand why it was worth making the detour to reach them. They plunge into a lush green grotto lined with Buddhist images. The falls are named for Kuya, a 10th century Japanese holy man who promoted the practice of chanting the nembutsu to attain enlightenment. After taking a nice rest at the falls, head back the way you came, all the way to where you climbed onto the road that leads down to Kiyotaki.
Kuya-no-Taki © Jeffrey Friedl
When you read the junction, this time, follow the road down to Kiyotaki.
Road Down to Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
A few minutes of easy downhill walking brings you to the village of Kiyotaki. As soon as you reach the village, there is a junction, with a bridge on your left. If you cross the bridge, you will find a vending machine and a parking lot. You can go either way here (and note that there are other vending machines in the village). If you’re continuing to Hozukyo, the easiest way is to continue straight on (ie, don’t cross the bridge). If, however, you need to get back to Kyoto quickly, cross the bridge and take a right at the parking lot.
Entering Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
The road past the parking lot will take you up to a bus stop (about five minutes walk) where you can catch buses back into Kyoto. However, most people will want to continue the walk down the river to Hozukyo.
Road to Bus Stop – image © Chris Rowthorn
Assuming you did not cross the bridge mentioned above and just continue straight into the village of Kiyotaki, you will soon see a torii on your right. This is the start of the hike up to the summit of Mt. Atago-san (save this climb for another day).
Start of Mt Atago-san Hike – image © Chris Rowthorn
After passing through the village, you will come to a vermillion bridge over the Kiyotaki-gawa. Cross this. As soon as you cross the bridge, take a right and take the steps that lead down to the pathway along the bank.
Bridge Across River and Start of Trail to Hozukyo – image © Chris Rowthorn
Then, walk downstream to the metal bridge that leads to the west bank of the river. Climb the steps and cross this.
Bridge Below Kiyotaki – image © Chris Rowthorn
Follow the trail downstream. This is another lovely section of trail, with some nice views down to the river below. After about 20 minutes of walking, you will come to a short metal bridge.
Bridge Above Swimming Hole – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly after the bridge, there are some great swimming holes. Just be careful when the river is high. The current can be surprisingly strong and small children can easily be swept away.
Swimming Hole on Kiyotaki-gawa River – image © Chris Rowthorn
After the swimming holes, you walk along another lovely section of trail. This has some slightly challenging bits where you have to scramble over some rocks. Watch your footing! Another 10 minutes of walking brings you to a low concrete bridge.
Bridge Below Ochiai – image © Chris Rowthorn
Cross the bridge and climb the steps up to the road. You’ll immediately see another vermillion bridge on your right. This is the Ochiai Bridge. Cross the bridge and then walk through the tunnel on the other side.
Ochiai Bridge – image © Chris Rowthorn
As soon as you emerge from the tunnel, take a left and follow the path to the viewpoint that overlooks the confluence of the Kiyotaki-gawa with the much larger (and sometimes muddier) Hozu-gawa. If you’re traveling with children, keep a hand of them, as the drop here is steep and long.
Path to Viewpoint – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here’s a photo from the viewpoint. If you’re lucky, you might see some of the Hozu-gawa Kudari boats that descend the river from Kameoka to Arashiyama.
View of Hozu-gawa River – image © Chris Rowthorn
After enjoying the view, return to the road and continue along the road heading south, with the Hozu-gawa below you on your left (you are now walking upstream). Cars also use this road, so be careful when walking this section, especially if traveling with children. After a few minutes, you’ll see a driveway descending to a bridge that leads over to a station on the Torokko Train that runs from Arashiyama to Kameoka. Unless you actually want to board this train, don’t take this driveway and instead continue along the main road.
Way to Bridge to Torokko Train – image © Chris Rowthorn
The road climbs gradually to a tunnel high above the river. You’re probably tired by this point, but rest assured, once you’re through this tunnel, the climbing is done and it’s all downhill from here.
Tunnel Above Hozukyo Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
Shortly after passing through the tunnel, you will catch sight of a dramatic bridge over the Hozu-gawa below you. JR Hozukyo Station is actually located on this bridge. Follow the road down to the station. There is a ticket machine at the station, but sometimes it’s not working. No worry: You can board without a ticket and just tell the station attendants at Kyoto Station that you boarded at Hozukyo. The Kyoto-bound trains stop on the nearer of the two platforms (ie, you do not have to walk under the tracks). From Hozukyo, it’s a 20-minute journey back to Kyoto Station. The train also stops at Arashiyama and Nijo stations.
Hozukyo Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
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