garden at Shugaku-in Imperial Villa
Shugaku-in Imperial Villa (No.5 bus from Sanjyo Station on Tozai subway line) is the largest private compound in Kyoto. Covering 540,000 square meters, the villa embraces three large hillside gardens (lower, middle and upper) with wonderful ponds and trails. Guided tours (English Audio Guidance) are available.

The garden is breathtaking example of landscaping art. Constructed in the 17th century by a Tokugawa shogun for a retired emperor, it is a stroll garden characterized by the unification of nature and garden. The gardens are famous for their use of borrowed scenery. The upper tea garden was built to harmonize with mountains — namely Mt. Kuruma and Mt. Atago — that are 10 kilometers in the distance. There are wonderful views from the tea house here.

Shugakuin requires special permission to visit but is well worth obtaining the prior permission necessary to view it. Reservations are made at Imperial Household Agency on the west side of Imperial Palace Gardens (near the Imadegawa subway station). Reservations are required in advance at the Kyoto Imperial Household Agency at least one day before the tour date. Bring your passport or Alien Registration Card to the Agency office. Or apply by Internet four days before the tour date. Apply as far in advance as possible. Requests sometimes have to be made three months in advance. Entry is limited to those aged 18 or over. Application should be made internet or through in person with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency at Kyoto Imperial park (Tel:075-211-1215) For more info and reservation

Address: Shugakuin, Sakyo-ku Getting There: 15-minute walk from Shugakuin-Rikyu-michi Bus Stop or Shugakuin Station on Eizan Dentetsu Line. Websites: Imperial Household Agency / ; Photes ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ;

Temples in North Kyoto

Koto-in and Diasen-in Subtemples contain lovely Zen gardens, The latter is (or was) also the home of a jolly monk who poses for pictures with tourists and dashes off works of calligraphy to give away. Website: Japan Guide

Jukoin Temple is famous for its fusame-e paintings on 46 sliding doors, including one of flowers and birds created by Kano Shoei and his son Eitoko around 1566 when the temple was built. Because these paintings are delicate and deteriorating they have were replaced in 2006 with replicas made with digital technology on special washi paper with special ink-jet printers.

Kozan-ji Temple (in Toganoo, 12 kilometers northwest of Kyoto Station) is a Buddhist temple with a treasure trove art. One of its prize possessions is what is said to be the Japan's oldest manga, the "Choju Jinbutsu Giga" ("The Scroll of Frolicking Animals and Humans"), which was created between the 12th and 13th centuries. The scroll drawing, which Osamu Tezuka, one of the most prominent manga authors in Japan and the creator of the world-known "Astro Boy," deemed a major influence on his work, features frogs, rabbits and other animals, frolicking about and engaged in tiny dramas. The work supposedly satirizes nobles, priests, and other persons of high class from the period. Kozan-ji Temple is also famous for the superb view from the veranda of Sekisui-in. Take in the vast mountains of Toganoo in one, sweeping gaze. Location: Address: 8 Toganoo-cho Umegahata Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, Not closed on holidays Admission: 600 yen (In autumn, a special fee of 500 yen is required to enter the mountain area); Hours Open: 8:00am-5:00pm Getting There: 8-minute walk from JR bus stop Toganoo. Be sure to check the bus schedule for your return tip. Buses are infrequent. JR Bus Line Takao Keihoku: Togano bus stop to Shijo Omiya bus stop: About 40 minutes Hankyu Line: From Shijo Omiya Station to Kawaramachi Station: About10 minutes

Gardens in North Kyoto

Shisen-do Temple (near Shugaku-in Imperial Villa) was originally the private retreat of Jozan Ishikawa (1583–1672), a renowned Edo period poet, scholar and samurai who served under Tokugawa Ieyasu. A delicate, diminutive structure, it flows naturally into an exquisite, microscopic garden, a masterpiece of landscaped art. Built in 1641, it houses a gallery with portraits of 36 famous Chinese poets. It is a wonderful oasis of calm and tranquility.

Shisendo Temple Garden is a Stroll garden with running water “yari-mizu,” laid out in the 17th century by Ishikawa Jozan, who designed the “sozu” or “shishi-odoshi.” Wonderfully landscaped, the garden is known for its serene atmosphere, features a steam, raked sand, a spacious strolling area, manicured bushes, moss, carp ponds, streams and a unique teeter-totter bamboo device that fills with water and then drops it in a stone with a sharp crack. The device was made to scare away pesky wild boars and deer.The occasional tapping sound of “sozu” reverberates in the tranquility of the Chinese style garden, creating a refined atmosphere. Noted for the beauty of azaleas in spring and tinted foliage in autumn. Address: Monguchicho, Ichijoji, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm Closed May 23 Admission: ¥500. Getting There: 10-minute walk from Ichijoji-Sagarimatsu-cho Bus Stop.

Manshu-in Temple (near Shugaku-in Imperial Villa) lies at the base of Mount Hiei. The sand and wood landscape garden incorporates the local mountains into its scheme. The home of 1,200 cultural treasures, it attracts maple-leave-viewing crowds in the autumn. Manshuin Temple Garden is a Dry garden constructed in the 17th century. The washbasin with owls engraved on all four sides is a rarity. The low balustrade on the open veranda of the Ko-shoin (small study) represents a rudder, and it will take you towards the Horai (isle of eternal youth) Stone deep inside the garden. A composition of a painting seems created as you, upon a boat, watch the Tsuru and Kame Islands upon the sea. Address: 42 Takenouchicho, Ichijoji, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm Admission: ¥600. Getting There: 20-minute walk from Ichijoji-Shimizucho Bus Stop.

Ninnaji Temple Garden (two kilometers north of Myoshinji Tmepl) is a Landscape garden for viewing from within a building and for strolling laid out in the 17th century. A style of gardening reminiscent of the splendor and luxury of Genroku culture. It flourishes with viewers of the “Otafuku cherry blossoms” in mid-April Address: 33 Omuro-Ouchi, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm (–4:30pm December–February) Admission: ¥500. Getting There: Near Omuro Ninnaji Bus Stop.

Koetsuji Temple Garden (eight kilometers north of Kyoto Station) is a Tea garden with seven tea houses including Taikyo-an, reconstructed in 1915. The temple and garden were originally built as the residence of Honami Koetsu (1558-1637), a noted artist in the 17th century. This garden is famous for its attractive bamboo fences. Address: 29 Koetsujicho, Takagamine, Kita-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 8:00am-5:00pm Closed November 10–13 Admission: ¥300. Getting There: 3-minute walk from Genkoan-mae Bus Stop.

Kyoto Botanical Garden (Kitayama Station on Karasuma subway line) is the first large scale botanical garden built in Japan. Covering 240,000 square meters, it is home to 120,000 plants of 12,000 species.

Shrines in North Kyoto

Kamigamo shrine
Shimogamo Shrine(15 minute walk from the Kuramaguchi subway station on the Karasuma Line) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It and Kamigamo Shrine are believed to be to be the oldest shrines in Japan, founded in the 7th century before Kyoto was a capital, by the wealthy Kamo family. Only the shrines in Ise are regarded as more important.

Hashidono is a stagelike building where Shinto rituals are conducted. The two deities enshrined here are Kamotaketsunem the guardian spirit of Kyoto who sometime morphs into a three-legged crow, and Tamayori-bime, a shamanistic spirit-medium and younger daughter of the sea god and is credited in some myths with giving birth to the first Emperor Jimmu.

The procession for the Aoi Matsuri — the oldest of Kyoto’s three main festivals — starts at Shimogamo. There are nice sacred forests near the shrine with 600 trees between 200 and 600 years old. Much of the forest is off limits but there are several bridges and observation areas where visitors can take in the landscape. Rare evergreen oaks and a wide variety of birds can be seen here. Websites: Shimogamo Jjinja ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

Kamigamo Shrine (No.46 bus from Shijo Station on Karasuma subway line) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering 664,000 square meters, it contains 34 buildings. all of which have been designated as important national cultural assets. The main hall was rebuilt in 1863. The Aoi Matsuri festival procession finishes here.

Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines are far apart but are regarded by locals as a pair that protect Mt. Hiei from demons entering the from the southwest direction Both are situated in forest with rivers running through them. Their location on the Kamogawa river prevents demons from entering Kyoto along that route.

Kamigamo is older than Shimogamo and is named after the deity of the Kamo clan, which ruled the region. Shimogami shrine enshrines the parents of the deity of Kamigamo Shrine. Website: Kamigamo Jinja site ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine ( southwest of Daitoku-ji Temple) was founded in 947 to honor the wronged 9th century scholar Michizane Sugawara. Among the shrine’s treasures are two sets of scrolls in the Treasure Museum, considered the best of their kind, illustrating the history of the shrine. An outdoor flea market is held monthly on the 25th.

Daitokuji Temple

Shimogamo shrine
Daitokuji Temple (No. 206 bus from Kyoto Station, get off at Daitokuji-mae) is the headquarters of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and the best place to investigate Zen Buddhism. Completed in 1319, it contains a two-story Sanmon gate designed by Kyoto's most famous architect Senno Rikyu and 24 subtemples, eight of which are open to the public. There are almost no pieces of furniture in the temple; only wall paintings, calligraphy and mats.

Every year many Europeans and Americans come here to study Zen Buddhism, and some of them even stay on and enter the monastery. The monks that live here spend their time meditating; practicing traditional Japanese arts like calligraphy; and having tea ceremonies which have reportedly been carried out here since in 12th century.

Daitokuji-Daisen-in Temple Garden is a Dry landscape garden built in the 16th century. This garden is famed as a masterpiece of gardening developed for Zen temples.When you open the sliding paper doors, you will see the garden creating a panoramic scene resembling the landscape paintings you can find on sliding partition doors or folding screens in traditional Japanese homes. It represents the mental state of a Zen Buddhist priest going through ascetic practices in a natural surrounding. Address: 54-1 Daitokujicho, Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto (in the Daitokuji Temple compound) Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm (–16:30 December–February) Admission: ¥400. Getting There: Near Daitokuji-mae Bus Stop.

Daitokuji Hojo (Chief Abbot’s Chamber) Garden is a dry landscape garden constructed in the 17th century, designed by Kobori Enshu (1579–1647). The east garden depicts the image of Buddha’s disciples practicing zazen meditation. This garden is only open to persons who join the Garden Tour operated daily. (See Garden Tours in Kyoto on Page 2) Individuals must join the tour to enter. Address: 53 Daitokujicho, Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto Entsuji Temple Garden is a Dry landscape garden constructed in the 17th century. The garden utilizes the distant view of Mt. Hiei for its backdrop. Address: 389 Hataedacho, Iwakura, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 10:00am-16:30 Admission: ¥500. Getting There: Near Entsuji-michi Bus Stop, or 15-minute walk from Midoroga-ike Bus Stop.

Myoshinji Temple and Gardens

Myoshin-ji (three kilometers west-northwest of Nijo Castle, six kilometers northwest of of Kyoto Station) is a temple complex and head temple of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism school,.the largest school in Rinzai Zen with 3,400 temples throughout Japan. The grounds of the temple were formally a palace for the Emperor Hanazono, who abdicated in 1318 to become a monk and donated the palace to found the temple in 1342. The head temple was founded in 1342 by the Zen master Kanzan Egen (1277–1360), third patriarch in the influential Ōtōkan lineage. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Myoshinji Temple sprawls over a large area and features a number of sub-temples and winding paths flanked by high walls, so it is easy to become disoriented. As is usual in Japanese temple construction, the main buildings are located on the axis from the south gate, in the south-west quadrant of the complex. There is a main north–south path connecting the north gate and the south gate, starting parallel to the main buildings, then continuing north, flanked by veering slight, and ending at the north gate. There is also an east–west path leading east from the main buildings (starting in the west at Tenju-in, passing between the hattō and butsuden, then ending in the east, after a curve, at Tōrin-in). In addition to the direct north–south path, there is a longer path that proceeds east from the north gate, winds past Keishun-in, then terminates in the east–west just south of Daishin-in. In addition to these main routes, there are a number of side paths. These paths are all lined with sub-temples, generally with a single entrance. Getting There: Myōshin-ji station and Ryōan-ji station on the Randen line, near north gate, Hanazono Station on the JR Sagano Line, near the south gate

Myoshinji Keishun-in Temple Garden is a Combination of dry landscape garden, tea garden and landscape garden for strolling constructed by the famous India ink painter, Kano Motonobu, in the 17th century. Address: 11 Teranonaka-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm (–4:30pm in winter) Admission: ¥400. Getting There: Near MyoshinjiKitamon-mae Bus Stop. (in the Myoshinji Temple compound)

Myoshinji Taizo-in Temple Garden is a Picturesque dry garden constructed by the famous India ink painter, Kano Motonobu, in the 15th century. Address: 35 Myoshinjicho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm Admission: ¥500. Getting There: Near Myoshinji-mae Bus Stop. (in the Myoshinji Temple compound)

Mt. Hiei and the Birth of Japanese Buddhism

Enryakuji Temple
Mt. Hiei (on a ridge between northern Kyoto and Lake Biwa) is regarded as one of three holiest mountains in Japan along with Mt. Koya and Mt. Osorezan. More than 800 meters high, it has several beautiful temples scattered over a wide area in a pine forest. In the old days the mountainside was filled with temples and monks and is regarded as the mother mountain of Japanese Buddhism Today it is known as a pleasant hiking and autumn foliage viewing area. There is a parking lot and visitors area at the top connected to the lowlands by regular bus service. Websites: Enryaku-ji Temple official site ; Kyoto Travel Guide ; Photos ; Marathon monks

Mt. Hieiis equally as famous for its spectacular vistas from the summit as it is for its prestigious Enryaku-ji Temple. The temple has been a major influence in the Buddhist world since it was founded in 788 (See Below). Set in a deep cedar forest, it at one time housed 3,000 buildings in its three precincts. Most of its present buildings date from the mid-17th century.

The most important temple in Heian Period (794 to 1185) Japan was Enryaku-ji Temple, built on top of Mt. Hiei near Kyoto. Founded in 788 by Saicho, the priest who founded the Tendai school of Buddhism, it was established to protect Kyoto from demons traveling from the northeast and was the center of Buddhism in Japan for 800 years. At it height the temple contained 3,000 buildings, ruling monks more powerful than the Imperial family and warrior monks that supported them. Many famous monks are associated with Enryaku and Mt. Hiei: Honen, founder of the Jodo sect; Eisai, founder of the Zen sect; Dogen, founder of the Soto sect; Shinran, founder of the Jodoshin sect; and Nichiren," founder of the Nichiren sect. [Source: Library of Congress] The Tendai sect is an eclectic form of Buddhism that incorporates elements of both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra is Tendai’s central text. Followers believe that salvation can be achieved by reciting and copying it. The Tendai sect appeared at the end of the 8th century and was centered at Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei near Kyoto.Its founder, Saicho (762-822), studied meditation, tantric rituals and the Lotus sutra in China.

Under the patronage of Emperor Kanmu (737-806) and Emperor Saga (786-842) the Tendai sect was officially sanctioned. It was embraced by these emperors who had tired of the authoritarian nature and political power of the priests in the Nara Buddhist sects. Priest were ordained at Enryakuji, the temple founded by Saicho, Tendai artists produced wonderful Buddhist sculpture — graceful and beautiful sculptures of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities — in the Heian period.

Tendai was not recognized as a school until after Saicho’s death. After Mt. Hiei received the right to ordain monks the sect took off, At it height Mt, Heie boasted 3,000 temples and 30,000 monks and produced wonderful works of art. The monasteries kept armed retainers and sometimes imposed their will on the government by force.

Almost every sects has its origins in Enryakuji Temple on Mt, Hiei. All new sects founded in the 12th and 13th centuries were founded by Tendai monks. Pure Land, Zen and Nichiren all developed from the Tendai school.

Enryaku-ji Temple

Enryaku-ji Temple (No.5 bus from Sanjyo Station on Tozai subway line) is a temple complex with more than 200 halls, pagodas and other buildings on top of Mt. Hiei grouped into three main sections. Todo (Eastern Section), Saito (Western Section) and Yokawa. Todo contains the main temple. Saito features tall trees and stone pathways. Enryakuji annually organizes the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei, where religious clerics of many faiths and from different parts of the world gather to pray for world peace. The first meeting held at the temple was held in August 1987. .

Enryaku-ji is currently the headquarters of the Tendai sect. One of the halls contains a collection of written oracles that began with a set of 100 sacred lots brought from China in the 8th century. The ascetics that lived here reportedly predicted the birth of Tokugawa Iemitsu, a powerful shogun and were consulted prior to the Russo-Japanese War. Fortunetellers there still predict the future for visitors using sacred lots.

A statue of Yakushinyorai, the deity of medicine, said to have been carved by Saicho himself, is enshrined in Konpon Chudo, the main hall in the Todo area. In the front of the statue is a holy fire that is said to have burned non stop for the almost 1,200 years. Shakado Hall, the main facility, in the Saito area is the oldest existing building at Enryakuji temple. It is called Shakado because it enshrines am image of Shaka, the Japanese name for The Buddha.

History of Enryaku-ji Temple

Hieizan Enryakuji temple is considered to be the place that engineered the spread of Japanese Buddhism, as a significant number of prominent priests were trained and educated there and eventually went on to found various Buddhist sects around the country. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 2, 2017]

Enryakuji was established by the priest Dengyo Daishi Saicho in 788. Saicho founded the Tendai school of Buddhism, it was established to protect Kyoto from demons traveling from the northeast and was the center of Buddhism in Japan for 800 years.

At its height Enryaku-ji Temple contained 3,000 buildings and the ruling monks that resided there had more power than the Imperial family and had armies of warrior monks to support them. In 1581, the ruling shogun saw the temple as threat and ordered nearly all of the temple buildings and the monks destroyed. Many famous monks are associated with Enryaku and Mt. Hiei: Honen, founder of the Jodo sect; Eisai, founder of the Zen sect; Dogen, founder of the Soto sect; Shinran, founder of the Jodoshin sect; and Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren sect.

Enryaku Power and Warrior Monks

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “Enryakuji grew throughout the Heian period to include thousands of buildings and to hold considerable influence as the vanguard of Tendai Buddhism. As the monastic complex grew, so did the willingness of its inhabitants to actively involve themselves in temporal affairs, or rather, to deal with issues in a very temporal manner. The early rivals of the Enryakuji included the older Nara temples, and, after the 10th Century, the Mii-dera temple. The latter came about as a result of a schism with the Tendai sect of Buddhism that saw a fair number of monks driven from Mt. Hiei and forced to establish their own place of worship. Outright battles between the Enryakuji and Mii-dera were common during the later Heian Period, and saw the later burned to the ground numerous times. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives |~|]

The famous warrior monks, or Sohei, of Mt. Hiei came about, it would seem, in an unexpected way. From its earliest times, the Enryakuji was held to be off limits to both women and law enforcement bodies. The latter prohibition attracted such a large criminal element to Mt. Hiei that Kakûjin (1012-81), the 35th abbot of the Enryakuji, called for his followers to form an army and drive away the undesirables. In fact, many of the men who took up arms may well have been those very same unwelcome fugitives they were intended to fight. From this time forward, Mt. Hiei would maintain a martial arm, one that it rarely hesitated to use. |~|

One frequent victim of the Enryakuji’s heavy-handed tactics was none other then the emperor himself. As emperor Shirakawa is alleged to have said, "There are three things that even I cannot control: the waters of the Kamo river, the roll of the dice, and the monks of the mountain." When the monks of Mt. Hiei found themselves at odds with court over some affair (perhaps a question of land rights or taxation), they would gather and march down at to the gates of Kyoto, bearing on their shoulders the sacred palanquin (mikoshi) of the Shinto deity Sanno. So revered was this artifact that no one dared block its passage and much more often then not the emperor would give in to the monk’s demands. The warrior monks of the Enryakuji would continue to play an important role in the Kyoto area for hundreds of years, until the advent of Oda Nobunaga. While evidently not the first monastic complex to take on a military aspect, the Enryakuji’s reputation was great indeed.

Monks and Meditation at Enryakuji Temple

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A gentle spring breeze passes over the ornate stone garden of Jodo-in. It is regarded as the most sacred area in the temple as it is where the mausoleum of Dengyo Daishi is situated. Ascetic monks who protect the mausoleum are referred to as jishin. They are required to strictly follow Buddhist precepts, pledge to stay on the mountain for 12 years and devote themselves to serve Dengyo Daishi as if he were still alive. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 2, 2017]

“The jishin thoroughly cleans Jodo-in with an assistant monk. This aspect of the ascetic training is referred to as “cleaning hell.” Former jishin Soho Miyamoto says: “If you keep doing one thing for 10 to 12 years, you can only go forward half a step or one step at a time. That’s what I’ve learned through the training.”

“At the northernmost part of the broad precinct of Enryakuji is Yokawa Chudo, in which 5,000 small Kannon statues line the walls. The statues, resembling the main statue of Yokawa Chudo, called Sho-Kannon Bosatsu, represent donations from visitors. Priests worship in front of the statues every morning to pray for the health, happiness and well-being of believers and their families.

“At the Kojirin hall, which is open to the public, you can experience zen meditation and ritual transcription of Buddhist scriptures. While meditating, you control your body, breath and mind, and confront your inner self. You may be struck on the back by a cane, but it is not a warning. It helps relax your body, which can get stiff when you maintain the same posture for a long period of time. A man in his 20s from Yokohama said, “I tried to concentrate by counting my breaths, but my mind strayed and I ended up thinking about other things.” People today are pressured by time, their jobs and various other matters. The temple offers people the opportunity to regain something precious, which is at risk from being lost.”

Ohara and Kurama Area

Sanzen-in Temple (Ohara, No. 17 and 18 buses from Kyoto Station) in the opinion of many is one of the nicest temples and gardens in Kyoto. Located in the mountains some distance from urban Kyoto, it belongs to the Tendai sect of Buddhism and was founded by Saicho, the same the priest who founded Enryaku-ji.

Founded in 784, the temple is a collection of halls that contains an ancient wood statue of the Amida Nyroai Buddha, sliding panel paintings and statues of the Ryowaki samurai that have been designated as nation treasures. In the main altar room is a miniature replica of the Imperial Palace. The rooms reserved for the emperor are identifiable by the raised floors and sliding wall panels. The oldest structure, Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall, was established in 985 and was only rebuilt once, in 1143. The moss-covered gardens are very beautiful, exhilarating and dignified. Climbing up a slope of "Fish Mountain," the main garden is surrounded by old cedars and contains the famous "Soundless Waterfall," which sounds like any other waterfall.

Yusei-en garden next to the main hall is a moss garden with tall cedars and a pond. The Shukeki-en Garden next to the reception hall was created by a famous tea ceremony master. In the June rainy season thousands of hydrangea bushes bloom. Websites: My Kind of Kyoto ; Japan Guide

Jakko-in Temple (west of Sanzen-in Temple in Ohara, No. 17 and 18 buses from Kyoto Station) is one of Kyoto's oldest temples. Said to have been built by Prince Shotoku in 594, it is very quiet and surrounded by tall cedars and maple trees that turn lovely colors in autumn. Jakko-in Temple contains a secluded Buddhist convent. It was here that the Empress Dowager Kenrei-mon-in became a nun in 1185 after the death of her infant son, the Emperor Antoku, in the sea battle of Dannoura. Her tomb is on the hillside behind. One of the main temples burned down in 2000 in a fire set by an arsonist.

Kurama (Kuruma Station, 30 minutes north of Kyoto on the Eizen railway line) is a popular hot spring resort with outdoor baths, beautiful temples and shrines and walking paths. The area is particularly beautiful in the maple leave viewing season in the autumn. The main hot spring has sex-segregated indoor baths and outdoor baths with wonderful views of the mountains and maple trees. Kuruma Temple on Mt. Kuruma features excellent cedar-root-covered walking paths that leads to Kibune Shrine, dedicated to the god of water. Another popular walking trail leads to Ohara. Nearby Kibune also offers good maple-leaf viewing. It is visited in the summer by people who eat meals on platforms over the river. Typical meals include ayu sweetfish or koi carp served with sake and traditionally-prepared Japanese vegetables. One restaurant offers noodles that have to be scooped from a channel of running water. There is a pleasant walking path between Kurama and Kibune that passes by Kuruma Temple. Website: Japan Guide

Takao (JR bus from Kyoto Station) is an area north of Kyoto famous for maple leaf trees, swimming hole and Jingoji mountain temple, which is reached by a long series of stone steps. The Golden Hall is the most impressive of the temple' structures. Many people buy frisbee-shaped discs and throw them into the valley below to rid themselves of bad luck. There are some pleasant hikes in the along the Kiyotaki River and Hozu-gawa River.

Walks in the Ohara, Kurama Area

It takes one hour by bus from Kyoto to Ohara. Just up the hill, past the souvenir stalls with their brightly colored boxes of cakes, sweets and plastic gifts, is Sanzen-in Temple. Crowds of people come here in autumn to capture the perfect shot of the changing leaves on the mountainside and to admire the beautiful Yusei-en Garden. In the rainy season, you walk through the famous hydrangea garden in the quiet drizzle as spring eases into summer. From here, you walk to Hosen-in Temple. As you enter the tatami room, you feel like you are watching a living picture as you peer out of the wooden frames of the old building into the bamboo garden and hills beyond. Cast your eyes upwards in the main hall and you'll see the macabre blood-stained ceiling taken from Fushimi Castle. Leave a little time for a short rest and to try the bitter Japanese tea and sweet cakes on offer, before heading off to try your hand at Kusaki-zome (vegetable dyeing) or to watch Shiba-zuke (pickled cucumber) in one of the traditional workshops.

Ohara-Kurama Hiking Course begins on the west side of the historical village of Ohara. From the serene silence of Jakko-in Temple, visitors enter the mountains, passing in front of Ebumi Shrine, and walk over the Ebumi Ridge to the village of Shizuhara. From here the path leads over another ridge to the old village of Kurama where visitors can relax in an outdoor

Kurama and Kibune Walk leads you through the valleys of Kyoto from Kurama Temple to Kibune Shrine. You take the Eizan Railways train from Demachi Yanagi up to Kurama Station. Here, the souvenir stalls are decorated with images of a strange goblin-like creature or Tengu, standing out alongside rows of quiet rustic dwellings. Continue along the narrow old streets and into the trees up to Yuki Shrine, where on October 22 the area comes to life for the sparkling Kurama Fire Festival–one of Kyoto's most famous. You continue hiking on upwards, following a beautiful trail up to Kurama Temple. On the way down, stop at the small Oku-no-in Maoden Temple before continuing to Kibune Shrine, dedicated to the God of Water, the deity worshipped for centuries by farmers. If you are feeling tired, there's a bus that will take you to Kibune, up to Kibune-guchi. On your way back, you stop off at Kurama Onsen (hot spring), where you can soak in the open-air bath while gazing at the misty Kurama mountains in the distance. Around you, weary hikers relax in contented silence before returning home.

Image Sources: 1) Wikipedia 2) 3) Kyoto Prefecture 4) 5) Heizen ji 6) Asano Noburo

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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