The tiny mountain town of Kurama sits high in a mountain valley outside of Kyoto, Japan. The town is a bit of a trek to get to, requiring a couple transfers on subways and trains from the city center, and a final ride on a small, slow line through the mountain valley. But the town’s natural scenery and old architecture make the trip worthwhile. The final train there is surrounded by indigenous Japanese flora, and the fall foliage is renowned throughout Japan. At night, spotlights are trained onto the surrounding trees, adding drama to the scenery.
The first thing you will notice upon arriving at Kurama is the giant head of a tengu. Tengu are mythological demons that haunt the ancient mountain forests. They are characteristically red, with long noses. In the town shops along the narrow road through it, you’ll find tengu masks and figures, in addition to Kurama’s other mascot, the karasu, or crow.
Kurama Temple sits just feet away from the station, just beyond the tengu statue. You’ll find a large, dramatic, stone staircase, lined with red lamps, leading up to the temple gate. Stone tigers stand guard on either side of the entrance. This mountain temple is one of the more obscure ones around Kyoto, being less accessible than those within the city limits, but its unique location lends itself to the drama of the scenery. Although the temple gates close relatively early, at 4 pm, the lamps lining the staircase are lit in the early evening, adding to the eerie atmosphere.
Further down the narrow mountain road, past the traditionally designed Japanese residences, sit a number of hot springs, for which Kurama is also famous. Here, you can end your visit by checking in, changing into a yukata, and making your way to the outdoor baths for a relaxing soak in the mountain forests. Because there is only one small road through the town, there is little traffic, and the mood is very serene and quiet; the perfect way to end a full day of sightseeing around Kyoto before heading back into the bustle of the inner city.