Exploring Japan's Countryside

Photo by Brittany Butters

Winter here in Kyoto has been pretty cold, but exploring still remains high on the to-do list. Between work, injuries and the rain sometimes it does get a little difficult to explore, but when I get the chance to go I try to make it worth my while. I've been in Kyoto for about six months now and the popular temples and shrines to visit aren't necessarily the "best", they are just the most convenient. Add on the hordes of people that attend the "best" spots and it gets old fast.  So exploring new terrain is becoming a must. That being said here are a few places I recommend that are a bit off the beaten path...

 

Yoshimine Temple (善峯寺)

 

This place was beautiful and I strongly recommend visiting Yoshimine temple (善峯寺) if you have the time.  It is definitely a bit of a journey to find though... Once you get to Mukomachi Station via JR line you will have to take the Hankyu Bus #66. The bus takes about 30 minutes to Koshio (小塩) bus stop near Jurinji Temple. During the winter months the bus stops here and its a 30 minute walk to the opening of the temple. There is only one bus per hour and the last bus back to the station leaves from Koshio (小塩) bus stop around 4:30pm.  Fortunately, I didn't know this and stayed at the temple until close (5:00 pm).  So, by the time I got back to the bus stop I had to walk to the closest station, which was almost 2 hours away.  Then add on the 30 minutes it takes to hike from the temple to the bus stop... Needless to say I was tired. However, I said "fortunately" because even though it was late and cold it was one of the nicest experiences I've had. Walking through Japan's countryside is amazingly beautiful and a wonderful reminder of what I love about Japan.

Now let's talk about the temple itself... Once you make it to the temple there are many things to see and they give you a map so you don't get lost. Yoshimine not only has a breathtaking view overlooking Kyoto City, but also one of its most unique attractions is a long pine tree, 2 meters tall, but 40 meters wide. I didn't expect it to be this beautiful during the winter months, but there is something about seeing the smoke rising from chimneys amid the vast valley of trees and countryside below that gives you a sense of peace and tranquility in a small country populated by well over a hundred million people. Another major plus was that I saw about 3 people total in the few hours I was there. Nothing beats having this view all to yourself...

Photo by Brittany Butters

 

 

Kurama (鞍馬) and Kibune (貴船)

Photo by Brittany Butters

Some more of my favorite places are Kurama (鞍馬) and Kibune (貴船).  From Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kibune-guchi Station it takes about 30 minutes. Kibune is quiet, but incredibly charming and might be one of my favorite places around Kyoto. Walking through the small town of Kibune is beautiful and during the warmer months you can eat on dining platforms that are built over the river...

Once you get further into town you will see a path that will lead you towards the top of Kurama (鞍馬) mountain... Here is where things get a bit interesting. The hike is mostly uphill and you will see many small temples along the way, but you just follow the signs for Kurama Temple (鞍馬寺). You will know you are there once you see it. I went to see this temple back in December and it was one of the most amazing places I've ever been.  Built into the mountainside, you can look out over a valley of beautiful trees from far above the town below. Make sure to spend your time looking around. Trust me, you don't want to miss anything...

Once you make your way down the mountain going the opposite way from which you came, you will find not only other temples and shrines, but also the town of Kurama (鞍馬). Kurama is famous because it has many types of onsen (温泉) or hot springs as we say in English. Open air and indoor style are both popular here. Definitely give the onsens a try while you're here if that's your thing, but just remember it's "birthday suit" time when you go to an onsen in Japan ^_^. No swimsuits allowed...

 

 

These places are worth visiting if you have a little more time to spend in Kyoto.  Exploring Japan's countryside is a must if you enjoy the more traditional aspects of the culture and I will definitely miss it once I leave here as there is nothing like it where I'm from.  There are so many places like this throughout Japan that it's hard to see them all and knowing which are really worth your time can only be determined after you've visited them. So good luck on your travels.  Japan is one of the best countries to get lost in. Enjoy...

 

-Butterz

 

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