Kurama-dera, the esoteric temple nestled in Kyoto's mountains

2019年 10月02日

Legend has it that the Chinese monk Gancho, a disciple of the famous Jianwhen (Ganjin in Japan), was told in a dream, while living at Toshodai-ji in Nara, to go to a mountain in the north where a great mystical energy was supposedly concentrated. This is where the story of the temple begins, in 772. Once arrived, the monk got lost but was surprised to see in the middle of the forest a white horse with a saddle already attached on the back. He followed the animal to finally reach the mountain that is now called Kurama (鞍馬), which literally means "saddle horse", where he decided to settle for the night before being attacked by a female demon. Bishamonten, one of the four kings of heaven and protector of the north, saved the monk and Gancho decided to establish there a temple which would be dedicated to his savior.
Scenic view from Kurama mountain on a rainy day

As the years went by, the temple evolved into what we now know, accumulating legends, wildfires, new Buddhist schools, and it now worships three deities who are considered to be a holy trinity: Bishamonten, the truth, Kannon, mercy and Gohomaoson, an esoteric deity whom is only enshrined here and who symbolizes power. This trinity would be the representation of the energy that exists behind all that lives.

The access to the temple, quite high in the mountain, is a pleasant hike from Kurama Station, only 30 minutes by train from Kyoto city. The ride being outdoors, you can contemplate the city turning into nature by the train's windows. At the exit, a big head of Tengu, legendary creatures who live in the mountains, will welcome you with its long pointed nose.
The long-nosed Tengu waiting for you at the train station
The walk will take you up to the main temple, going through the Yuki Jinja Shrine, where the famous Kurama no Hi Matsuri Fire Festival is held each year in October. A cedar 800 years old and 53m high is also venerated, do not hesitate to stop to admire the impressive roots of the trees that strew the mountain.
The roots that spread on the mountain

If you feel like it, the Kurama Onsen (Hot Spring) is located just a 10-minute walk from Kurama Station and offers the opportunity to bathe in the open air with a magnificent mountain view.

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