Hiking from Kurama to Kifune: Exploring Kyoto’s Mountain Power Spots

This hiking route from Kurama to Kibune is one of my favourite places in Kyoto, and I always visit it whenever I come to Kyoto. Walking through Kyoto’s sacred mountains, which are steeped in the history of Shugendo practice and unusual temples and shrines, is a truly enriching experience.

There are two ways to hike Mount Kurama: one from Kurama station to Kifune and the other in the opposite direction. However, I recommend starting from Kurama and heading towards Kifune because it is less uphill climbing and is closer to Kurama station, making it an easier starting point for the hike.

Moreover, in the Kifune area, there are numerous cafes and restaurants. If you start your hike around 9 or 10 am, you can enjoy a lunch after completing the trail at the local restaurants.

I’ve heard and read many stories about this area. It’s said to be one of the most potent power spots, serving as the source of spring water for Kyoto’s underground reservoirs and home to the enshrined Ryujin (Dragon or Water God) at Kifune Shrine.

This area holds significant spiritual importance, serving as a sacred site for rituals for an unknown period, with historical records dating back at least 1300 years. Towards the end of this article, I will share the stories I’ve heard and read about this place.

Trail Details: Kurama to Kifune Hiking Route

To reach Mount Kurama by train, depart from Demachiyanagi on the Eizan Line and get on the ‘Kirara’ train, which features seats facing the window, allowing you to enjoy the seasonal scenery along the way, especially cherry blossom and the autumn season is great, and summer time, you are all sounded by green. You will arrive at Eizan Kurama Station in approximately 30 minutes. This hiking trail typically takes about 2 hours to finish.

Kurama Station: 鞍馬駅

The terminal station of the Eizan Electric Railway Kurama Line. In front of the station, there is an object depicting a Tengu (animism spirit related to the Shugendo), and within the premises, the front head and wheels of the Dena 21 train, which continued to run on this line for many years, are preserved.

Kurama Nio Gate: 鞍馬仁王門

This gate is a short walk from Kurama Station. Enshrined within is a statue of the Nioson, created by Tankei (the eldest son of Unkei, a sculptor active in the Kamakura period). It is revered as the barrier between the mundane world and the pure realm. Upon passing through the Niomon gate, you will encounter Kiichihogensha. This shrine is dedicated to the martial arts master Kiichihogen, who is said to have instructed Ushiwakamaru in the art of war.

Yuki Shrine: 由枝神社

This is the shrine where the ‘Kurama Fire Festival’ is held. It is a heroic festival where the entire mountain is illuminated in red by bonfires and is renowned as one of Kyoto’s three most unusual festivals. The path from Niomon is partially cobblestoned, but most of the way is unpaved. The slope becomes steeper from the Minamoto no Yoshitsune memorial tower.

Kurama Temple: 鞍馬寺 本堂金堂

Kurama-dera Temple dates back to 770, at the end of the Nara period when Gancho Shonin built a hermitage and enshrined Bishamonten there. As the entire mountain is an object of worship, the precincts are extensive, taking about 30 minutes to traverse from the Sanmon gate to the main hall. Additionally, Tahoto can be accessed from Sanmon via cable car.

One notable power spot is the ‘six-pointed star’ in front of the main hall of Kurama-dera Temple, believed to be the site where heavenly energy descends. It is said that standing in the centre allows one to feel this energy from the universe.

While standing in the middle of the ‘six-pointed star,’ I didn’t feel much at first, but I experienced a remarkably clean and tranquil atmosphere there. Well, I wasn’t alone, so it was hard to sense the power that is said to emanate from the universe. You may want to try being there alone and concentrate to feel the power. Meditation could be helpful.

Kurama Temple Tree Roots Path: 鞍馬寺 木の根道

This is the path leading to the shrine near Fudo-do Hall, heading towards Okunoin/Kifune. In this area, the bedrock lies close to the surface, preventing tree roots from penetrating deep into the ground. As a result, the roots of cedar trees are exposed on the surface. Legend has it that Ushiwakamaru practised jumping here. Please avoid stepping on tree roots, as doing so may damage the trees.

Oh my god, walking through this area with tree roots is quite challenging. It’s definitely not suitable for high heels or any kind of pointy shoes; you’ll get stuck between the roots. Nonetheless, it’s an incredibly interesting place to walk through. I really enjoyed it.

Kurama Temple Okunoin Maodo: 鞍馬寺 奥の院魔王堂

This small hall sits atop an unusual rock formation known as the Demon King Hall, dedicated to the enshrinement of the Demon King. According to legend, the Demon King descended from Venus 6.5 million years ago on a mission to save humanity on Earth.

Some people say this area is quite scary. It’s very isolated and in the middle of the bush. I felt a sense of ‘not disturbing’ atmosphere, so I avoided lingering and walked quickly, almost holding my breath as I passed through. In Japan, certain Shinto places are considered untouchable, and I felt a similar vibe here.

Kifune Shrine (main shrine): Divination by the water deity

As you continue down the stone steps, you enter the area of Kibune-jinja Shrine. If you pay close attention, you may notice a subtle change in atmosphere as you cross the border from Kurama Temple to the water god’s shrine area.

You might feel as though the air has become sharper. It’s difficult to describe, but even my husband, who is an atheist, noticed it.

Kifune Shrine is situated at the headwaters of the Kamogawa River and serves as the main shrine among the approximately 500 Kifune Shrines in Japan. Dedicated to the god of water, it has been a site for imperial court prayers for rain and cessation of rain since ancient times.

Here is the attached information from Wikipedia for reference:

he shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers were sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines including the Kifune Shrine.

From 1871 through 1946, the Kifune Shrine was officially designated one of the Modern system of ranked Shinto Shrines (官幣中社, Kanpei-chūsha), meaning that it stood in the second rank of government supported shrines.

Kifune shirine Wikipedia

Visiting Kifune Shrine worship should be this order: starting from Honmiya (main shrine), then to Okumiya (rear shrine), and finally to Kessha (middle shrine).

This shrine is renowned as a shrine that grants blessings for matchmaking, it is said that Izumi Shikibu, a female poet from the Heian period, prayed for a reunion with her husband and her wish was granted. The serene landscape, blending lush nature with elegant architecture, has captivated numerous writers and poets throughout history and continues to draw visitors today.

The exact history of this shrine is too ancient to precisely define. However, written records indicate its existence dating back to the Emperor Tenmu era, approximately 1,300 years ago.

Since then, Kifune Shrine has become renowned as a power spot for relationships, marriage, and romance, although its main shrine should be Yuino Yashiro.

The natural spring water that emanates from Kibune Shrine serves as the source of underground water in Kyoto and is revered as holy water. An intriguing superstition known as ‘mizu-uranai,’ which involves fortune-telling using this sacred water, is quite popular. I tried it with my best mate in late summer; you can obtain the water from the shrine’s office. There are instructions nearby explaining how to perform the fortune-telling.

After completing the fortune-telling, you can tie the paper onto a tree branch in the shrine. People do this for several reasons:

1. To leave behind any bad luck within the temple grounds.

2. To symbolically ‘tie’ their relationship with the gods through the act of ‘tying’.

3. To ‘tie’ away bad luck by using their non-dominant hand and accomplishing a challenging task. All three reasons converge with the belief that ‘bad luck transforms into good fortune.’

Kifune Shrine Okunoin (inner Shrine): 貴船神社奥の院

After finishing your visit to Kifune main shrine, you can descend the stairs to Okunoin, which is a 10- to 15-minute walk away. It’s a lovely area and a great walk if you’ve been invited.

Okumiya is quite different. I assume it’s the main shrine for the entire Kifune area, with the other shrines built by the ancient government for ordinary people to worship. I hope you can feel this when you visit.

Inside the Okunoin, there is an area dedicated to intense rituals.

I particularly love Kifune’s inner shrine (Okunoin). Compared to the main shrine, it doesn’t attract as many visitors. Physically, it’s a bit farther away from the main shrine, maybe about a 10-minute walk or so.

It is said that only those who are truly invited can visit shrines that enshrine the water god (Ryujin; dragon animism gods). For example, if one feels unwell or becomes sick upon attempting to visit, or encounters any other obstacles preventing a successful visit, it is interpreted as a sign that they are not invited. I believe in this kind of mysterious phenomenon. I love the area, but I understand it’s not for everyone.

For instance, my husband felt very uncomfortable, and he became increasingly ill upon entering the Kifune area while we were walking from Kurama. When we reached the Okunoin, he developed a nasty stomach ache and looked pale. We had to leave quickly because he had diarrhea. As we walked away from the shrine, he gradually felt better with each step. Despite being an atheist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural or superstitions, he acknowledged feeling unwelcome by something powerful. He even mentioned seeing a snake cross his path and feeling bugs on him while we were hiking after leaving the Kurama temple area.

The Ushimitsu Curse Activity at Kifune Shrine

This Kifune shrine is also well known for cursing, actually quite famous for the ‘Ushi no koku Mairi’ ritual since ancient times.

Here is the Wiki link that explains it well:

Ushi no toki mairi (Japanese: 丑の時参り, lit. “ox-hour shrine-visit”) or ushi no koku mairi (丑の刻参り) refers to a prescribed method of laying a curse upon a target that is traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox (between 1 and 3 AM). The practitioner—typically a scorned woman—while dressed in white and crowning herself with an iron ring set with three lit candles upright, hammers nails into a sacred tree (神木, shinboku) of the Shinto shrine. In the modern-day common conception, the nails are driven through a straw effigy of the victim, impaled upon the tree behind it. The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, causing death to the target, but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell. The Kifune Shrine in Kyoto is famously associated with the ritual.

Ushi no koku mairi Wikipedia
Make sure you wash your hands before going into Okunoin.

When I was with my best mate last time, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, the restaurant manager kindly offered to drive us back to Kifuneguchi station. During the car ride, we asked the driver about the cursing activities. He mentioned that they still occur from time to time, and that the priests at Kifune Shrine occasionally collect straw dolls and nails on the trees.

I’ve never been to Kibune Shrine in the middle of the night, and I really have no desire to go there. However, I can easily imagine the presence of dark energy, even during the daytime. It feels very different from any other spiritual place in Japan.

Well, Kifune Shrine can be an incredibly spooky place, but it holds a special significance for me. This place gives me a sense of ancient mystery and timelessness; I feel like I lose my sense of time when I’m there. Unlike many other tourist spots in Kyoto, this shrine remains untouched and retains its natural, authentic atmosphere.

For some reason, I never feel compelled to take pictures of the shrine, especially at the Okunoin. The photo was taken by my friend, and I asked her to send it to me. I only took photos of the entrance and the area where visitors purify their hands with sacred water before entering the shrine.

I don’t know if you will like this place or not, but I highly recommend visiting this ancient water god shrine. You will have a very different experience from any other place in Kyoto, that’s for sure!

Oops, I forgot to mention. If it’s raining when you visit the Kurama temple and Kifune shrines, it’s considered a sign that the water gods are welcoming you. I’ve been there three times, and each time it was raining. Truly blessed.

Scroll to Top