Northern Kyoto: Kurama and Kibune (part 1)

The beds in the Hotel Granvia are very comfortable and I slept very well. Maybe too well.  I had set my alarm to wake me by 7am but I guess I just shut it off in my sleep. I was surprised when I woke up and realized it was after 9am, since every morning prior to this, I woke up easily before 6am. I was now feeling a bit rushed as the day began and it was already looking pretty hot, and like it might rain at some point.

I fell asleep the night before as the computer was downloading that days photos. I wish I hadn’t fallen asleep like that though since I still needed to get some work done which now added to my rushed feeling.  So, I pulled out some yogurt, opened up the “Frosties” ( Frosted Flakes), and started writing.  Not too long after I started, my iPhone rang, it was my wife and daughter wanting to FaceTime.

We a had a great time talking and before I knew it, it was almost noon.  The clock was ticking now- I had to hurry to get out of the room and get the day’s adventure underway. In addition to just getting dressed, I needed to send some clothes down to be cleaned and just made the collection deadline to get them back that evening. I jumped in and out of the shower got out of the room as fast as I could. I decided to head the northern area of Kyoto, into the mountains to an area called Kurama.

I was hungry again since my breakfast was pretty light, so before I caught my train, I ran down to the basement of the Isetan department store that’s part of the massive JR Kyoto Station.  I made my way down to the Andersen Bakery and grabbed a couple things then headed back out to the station entrance. (Side note: I am, unfortunately, unable to resist these bakeries.  Their power over me is great.  It is good we do not have them in America.)

I hopped on the JR Nara line for a short ride and got off at Tofukuji. From there, I transferred to the private Keihan Main line to Demachi-Yanagi, followed by one more train change to the Eizan Kurama Line to Kurama.  All together it took just under and hour to get there and it was amazing to me how I felt like I was no longer in Kyoto, but instead like I had gone someplace totally new.  As the train made it’s way higher into the mountains, it gave me the feeling I was heading someplace remote and less traveled, it was nice even if that wasn’t really the case.

After arriving in Kurama, I quickly headed out of the small station and was greeted just outside the station gate by the huge statue of the Kurama Tengu mask, or Kurama Goblin.

I stopped to watch a mother and father try to get their very young son to cooperate in having his photo taken in front of it. Believe it or not, he didn’t seem to be very excited about having his picture taken. I found it amusing though. After that, I walked about another 50 yards maybe and was greeted with a great stairway up to the Nio-mon Gate of the Kurama-dera Temple.

As I ascended the stairs, I noticed an older man who seemed to be following me.  When I would pause to take a photo, he would also pause, staying just behind me. As we reached the top to buy our entrance tickets, I paused to wipe my brow and said hello in Japanese. He smiled and replied “hello” in English.  He was wearing a sport coat and had on a baseball cap that had “U.S.A” written on it.  He didn’t seem to want to talk to me but rather just wanted to watch me take photos.  So, from that point on, until we reached the point that the path split to either continue on foot to the top or take the cable car, he shadowed me. I have to add, that by this point, the heat was getting to me pretty badly and I was beginning to sweat very heavily. And as the hill got steeper, things were starting to go south as far as keeping myself looking cool and relaxed. In fact I was kind of worried about my new “friend” as he seemed to be struggling a bit as well. Eventually though he left me and headed for the cable car to the top and I never saw him again.

So up I went, passing more shrines, and climbing many steps on the path that zig-zagged to the main hall of Kurama-dera Temple at the top of the mountain. There weren’t too many people on the path since I think most people take the cable car up then walk this path back down.

During this climb, I seemed to be the only person that had any problem with the heat and humidity. When I finally reached the top, my shirt was starting to become soaked through where it was in contact with my camera bag and my small hand towel was already starting to reach the point of being too wet to be of any use. I imagine I was quite the sad site.

I spent about a half an hour looking around the temple hall and grounds of Kurama-dera.  It was nice but not the most remarkable main hall of a Buddhist temple I have ever seen. I watched as they began to prepare the main hall for the night and I decided that if I was going to try and finish the entire trip I had set out on, I had better get a move on now.

My plan was to continue on and make the hike over to the neighboring town of Kibune and see Kibune Shrine. The trail to Kibune starts behind the main hall of Kurama-dera and goes up higher on the mountain and through the forest. It’s supposed to take an hour to complete and since it was now 4:30pm, I figured I had about an hour and a half of good daylight left and headed off on my way.

At first, the trail just went up and up and I was getting hotter and hotter. I passed the Reiho-den (treasure museum), then up more stairs, through a gate and then finally into the forest. At this point though, things started to get a little weird for me. I was a lot more tired from the heat than I realized and was extremely hot and soaked in sweat. As for anything to drink, I had only about a third of my bottle of tea left. The map I was using left me completely unsure where I was and I seemed to be the only person on the trail. But I pushed on, moving faster up the trail.

My heart was pounding after a good steep climb and I was getting even more tired and really began to question my decision.  I stopped to catch my breath and decided that perhaps today really wasn’t the best day for me to make this hike and turned around to head back down.  The thing that made me turn back was that I really couldn’t tell where I was on the map and how much further I had to go. Maybe I was being too cautious but better safe than sorry.  I was now soaked through with sweat, feeling like I had just gotten out of a pool with my clothes on.  So, back I went.

I got maybe 100 yards or so when low and behold, I ran into somebody! I was surprised and glad.  Maybe I didn’t need to turn back after all.  I politely stopped him and asked about our location on the map. Turns out, I was a little further than I thought and he was going to go all the way so I decided to reverse course and follow him. It worked out great and he really was gracious to allow me to tag along behind him. I did feel bad though since a couple of times I felt like I was holding him back. He was of course showing no signs of being hot, and as we hiked along, I just continued to get even worse. My hand towel was so soaked I could wring the sweat out of it and my hands were so wet, my camera was slipping out of my fingers. It was truly ridiculous and embarrassing.

It was a beautiful hike.  Seeing the Kinone Michi was a highlight. it’s where the exposed roots of the cedar trees cross the trail- very unique.  And from that point, it was pretty much all down hill. Now, you’d think that would have made things better but I wasn’t able to cool down at all. I was so tired and wanted to sit but couldn’t as my “trail friend” was keeping a very good pace. He wasn’t about to leave me behind, which I really did appreciate.

The hike from Kurama-dera to Kibune ended up taking about 40 minutes and when I descended into the small quiet town, I was so glad I made it. Next post- Kibune.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.