After nearly a week in Kyoto full of pagodas, shrines and temples we were feeling a bit culturally overloaded. So we decided to take a break from the city and do some hiking on the outskirts of Kyoto. We made our escape to a trail that connects the small towns of Kibune and Kurama, and ended up finding one of our favorite sights along the way.
The first half of the trail cuts through a dense forest filled with massive trees, ferns and moss, making for a dark, mysterious, and completely uphill hike. Near the peak the trail is littered with small shrines perfectly embedded into the natural environment. This also marked the all downhill portion of trip (thank goodness!).
On our way downhill, we found the main reason most people do this hike: Kurama-dera (Kurama Temple). Emerging into a opening down a set of stone steps to the temple took our breath away. Secluded in the wilderness, nearly halfway up the mountain, the temple is a formidable structure with bright orange columns and large spherical lanterns. We were instantly struck by an air of spirituality and tranquilly we had not felt so strongly from any of the other temples or shrines we had visited.
The peace we felt may have been made possible by the lack of crowds, or the misty afternoon, but it was mostly how much the design and architecture of the structure resonated with us. The temple felt grand but elegantly restrained at the same time. The front was guarded by two large stone tigers and surrounded by a courtyard of gravel and trees. We loved the simplicity of Kurama-dera, and the temple almost had a graphic quality to it. It balanced many geometric forms within the organic environment. The orange pillars stood out brilliantly against the white walls, the large lanterns added a bold contrast, and the weathered materials brought out the temple's timelessness.
After spending some quiet moments exploring the grounds, we made our way down from the temple along a path that’s lined with beautiful orange lanterns set against brilliant green moss, and finally to the streets of Kurama. Many people go from Kurama to Kibune, as entering Kurama Temple from the front and up along all the orange lanterns is probably an even more majestic experience. We did the hike backwards because we wanted to reward ourselves with a hot soak in the Kurama Onsen afterwards, which we highly recommend.