Wanna escape from the crowds in Kyoto? The temples and shrines in the mountains north of the downtown area can boast of being surrounded by more unspoiled nature than anything in the main parts of Kyoto can, and, being removed from the city center, have drastically reduced crowds. Kifune Shrine, near the town of Kurama, is an excellent example. Neither Kifune Shrine nor the village around it are very large, but their location, tucked away into an extremely narrow and steep mixed pine-deciduous tree forested canyon, is nothing short of beautiful. Walking up Kifune Shrine's red lantern and maple tree-lined main entrance recalled imaginings I had of Japan as a child from watching animes like "My Neighbor Totoro."
Now for something more impossible, how would you like to see sakura (cherry blossoms) and koyo (red autumn leaves) at the same time? My visit was during Golden Week. Because of the mountain location, some sakura (cherry) and ume (plum) were still in bloom and, much to my elation, while most of the maple trees were covered in leaves of spring's freshest green, many were also alight with red leaves. The contrast of the red against the green leaves was striking, but the spot at Kifune Shrine's back gate where sakura, spring green and red maple leaves all came together was a sight of beauty I have yet to find a match for. Don't believe me? Take a trip up to Kifune Shrine around Golden Week and maybe you too will be lucky enough to see sakura and koyo at the same time.
Kifune Shrine has no entrance fee and once you've seen all you need to see, the hiking trail over to and through the Kurama Mountain Temple is just at the foot of the village. The Kurama Onsen in Kurama Village awaits those who make the hike. What do you say? Ready to do something different in Kyoto? Happy travels!