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November 14th 2019
Published: February 25th 2020
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Probably the most rewarding day trip from Kyoto is the hike from Kibune to Kurama to visit the temple followed by a trip to the onsen. The train ride is a highlight in itself, especially with the changing autumn leaves, but likely all year round. This adventure would only be improved as an overnight trip or even a long weekend; Kibune itself is an incredibly cute little village with several beautiful inns that would be well worth a stay, and there are some great restaurants here too. The hike between the two towns is not overly long or strenuous, with a chance to visit some lovely shrines along the way, and it’s nice to get out into the mountains and away from the crowds. If you’re not interested in the hike you can take the train directly to Kurama and visit the Kurama-dera temple before relaxing at the onsen.

Kurama-dera temple is wonderfully atmospheric and has an incredible natural setting, placed high in the forested mountains with an amazing view. It also has a fascinating history. In 770 the monk Gantei left Nara’s Toshōdai-ji in search of a wilderness sanctuary in which to meditate. Wandering in the hills north of Kyoto, he came across a white horse that led him to Kurama valley, and after having a vision of a Buddhist deity, Gantei established Kurama-dera just below the peak of Mount Kurama. You can also make a quiet and respectful visit to the crypt below the temple, where you’ll absolutely find yourself contemplating your own mortality.

If you’re visiting Kurama-dera temple then you should have lunch at Yōshūji, which serves excellent shōjin-ryōri in a delightful old Japanese farmhouse. There are two options, a wonderful selection of vegetarian dishes served in red lacquered bowls, or, if you want something lighter, you can get the soba topped with mountain vegetables. They also serve sake.

Ideally you’ve left your afternoon or early evening free for a visit to Kurama Onsen, the best onsen in the Kyoto area and quite reasonable. Sitting in the sex-segregated outdoor tub surrounded by the forested mountains is, as expected, incredibly relaxing in all seasons. It’s easy to walk to the onsen from the train station, or back when you’ve finished, visiting the various souvenir stalls which are also well worth your time. Finally, enjoy the scenic train ride back to Kyoto, only half an hour away.

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