Situated in the north of Kyoto, far off the busy city, Kuramadera is an ancient spot of mystical spiritual power, surrounded by the natural beauty of Mount Kurama.
The beginnings of Kuramadera are shrouded in legends, but can be traced back to 770. It is said that at that time, Gancho, a disciple of the monk Ganjin living in Nara, was instructed in a dream to go north and seek out a spot with large spiritual power. Aided by the apparation of a white horse, as well as Bishamonten, who rescued Gancho from being devoured by a female demon, Gancho founded a hermitage on Mount Kurama. In 796, two years after the capital had been moved to Kyoto, Fujiwara Issendo had a vision of the Thousand-Armed Kannon and sponsored a temple at the mountain. By the 10th century, Kuramadera was already famous, as mentions in both Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book and Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji show.
In the 12th century, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune was sent to the temple at the tender age of seven by the rival Taira clan who killed most of his family. Studying as a monk by day, legend has it that the boy snuck out at night to receive weapon'ss training by Sojobo, the king of the tengu, who are said to roam the mountain to this day.
Be that as it may, fact is that the monks of Mount Kurama were famous for their fighting prowess, rivaling that of the warrior monks of Mount Hiei, who were much more numerous. During times of civil unrest, the temple was petitioned many times to dispatch troops, and during the Sengoku period, Shingen Takeda, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu came to the temple to pray for victory.
Over its history, Kuramadera changed affiliation to Buddhist sect several times, until in 1949, the then-abbot Shigaraki Konu established the independent Kurama school of Buddhism. The temple now enshrines the Sonten Trinity, formed by Bishamonten, Kannon, and Gohomaoson, an esoteric deity only worshipped here.
The precincts of Kuramadera begin at the Niomon Gate, which was last rebuilt in 1909. Its left door, however, dates back to around 1182 - 1184. The two guardian statues were created by Tankei, the eldest son of Unkei, a 12th century carver of Buddhist statues, renowned for his naturalistic style.
Directly inside the gate is a Kannon statue at a little fountain.
A few steps further up - literally - lies the Sanmon Station of the Kurama cable car. It takes only two minutes to arrive at the top station, where you are greeted by the Taho-to Pagoda, but it shortens the approach to the main part of the temple to about 10 minutes.
However, it is worth to spend the roughly 30 minutes it takes to walk the traditional path. Not only is the forest beautiful in all seasons, but there are a few interesting places and monuments on the way.
One of these is Yuki Shrine. This small shrine was founded in 940 and it is said that the Kurama fire festival originated at that time, when the villagers brought bonfires to welcome the spirits of the shrine. It is guarded by a tremendous Japanese cedar that is 800 years old and 53 meters high, and its Wari-Haiden hall is an Important Cultural property.
Just beyond Yuki Shrine is a stone monument to Yoshitsune, built on the former site of the Tokubo temple where the boy lived for nearly 10 years.
Nearby is Life, a modern statue of Love, Light and Strength, which symbolizes the teachings of Mount Kurama.
The softly winding mountain path through the forest changes to stone steps once it reaches the Chumon Gate. Starting at the gate, many lanterns and stone monuments donated by believers line the steps, and there are also some benches to rest. The approach from the cable car joins this path after a few more curves.
The last important building before the ascent to the main hall is complete is the Temporin-do with a large wooden statue of Amida Buddha from the Edo period. The ground floor houses a resting place where souvenirs and books of the temple are for sale.
Finally, at the top of the steps lies a plateau with fascinating views over the surrounding mountains and the Main Hall of Kuramadera. Built in 1971, it enshrines statues of the Sonten Trinity - Bishamonten, Kannon, and Mao-san. The principal image is only shown to the public once every 60 years, in the year of the tiger.
Tigers are an important feature of Kuramadera, since they are the messengers of Bishamonten. Two statues called A-Un Tigers flank the main hall instead of the usual komainu guardian lions.
The ground in front of the main hall shows a large mandala with the so-called Kongosho at its center. The triangle represents the Sonten Trinity, and the six points of the star surrounding it stand for the six ways humans interact with the world: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body, and heart. Mount Kurama is an ancient power spot, ad if you stand on the triangle facing the main hall, you may be able to feel the mountain's energy surge through your body.
A few minutes further up the mountain lies the Reihoden Temple Museum. The first floor is dedicated to the nature surrounding the temple - Mount Kurama as a whole has been designated as a natural science preserve. The other teo floors hold temple relics and Buddhist icons that are worth seeing. Despite the temple burning down several times in its history, many of the statues and other treasures were saved every time, some of the exhibits in the museum are National Trasures of Japan.
The path beyond the museum leads through the old forest past some smaller temple buildings all the way over the mountain to Kibune. This hike takes about one hour and you will be able to enjoy the forest and its wildlife. Note that the path is not secured or even lit during the night, and there are places where tree roots cross the path. Wild animals like deer, boar or bears live in the mountains (not to mention the tengu), using the path in the late afternoon just before nightfall (as early as 16:30 in the forest) is not advisable.
Visiting Kuramadera is always a special event, thaks to the serene forest in which it is located. On top of that, the temple celebrates a number of special events every year. For current dates and times, please refer to our main event calendar. Enjoy!
first day of the tiger Hatsutora Festival Since long ago, people have come to pray for the realization of their deepest wishes, including happiness and prosperous business.
3 or 4 SetsubunThe Setsubun ceremony has been performed since the Heian Period and it is one of the most popular traditions of Japan. At Kuramadera, it includes a bean scattering and the star festival. Age Beans and Reed Arrows are available.
mid April Hanakuyo This is a festival tied to the blooming of the Uzu cherry. Offerings of flowers are made to the deity in appreciation of the abundance of flora and fauna on Mount Kurama.
full moon Uesaki-sai A mysterious festival with international flavour celebrating the protector deity and praying for world peace. It is held on the evening of the May full moon.
20, 14:00 Takekiri-e According to legend, 1000 years ago, a saint subdued a couple of serpents on Mount Kurama. Two groups of priests compete in cutting up large bamboo poles representing the serpents. It is said that the winning team can predict which region will have a better harvest in the coming autumn.
1 - 3 Nyoho Shakyo-e This traditional observance has been held annually for over 800 years. It is a meditation where the individual sits among the singing birds and cool breezes while contemplating the origin of the true self.
15, 11:00 Yoshitsune Festival This is a festival in commemoration of Yoshitsune, who lived at Kuramadera for roughly 10 years and became one of the greatest warriors of Japan. After a Buddhist prayer ceremony,fitting as a memorial to a samurai, various martial arts are performed in front of the main hall.
20 Aki no Taisai This great autumn festival commemorates the establishment of the Kurama Kokyo sect as an independent sect of Buddhism in 1947.
22, 18:00 Kurama Fire Festival This is the main festival of Yuki Shrine. People from Kurama carry huge torches to purify the path for the shrine's mikoshi. This festival is said to date back to the establishment of the shrine in 940.
Kuramadera online: website of Kuramadera (in Japanese)
Address: Kuramahonmachi 1074, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 601-1111(Google Maps)
Directions: take the Eizan Railway from Demachiyanagi to Kurama
Opening hours temple: daily 9:00 - 16:15, exceptions for special events
Service hours cable car: 15 - 20 minutes intervals, daily 8:40 - 16:30 (up) and 8:45 - 16:35 (down), June - August 30 minutes longer
Admission: Temple: 500 yen (adults), Reihoden Museum: 200 yen (adults), Cable Car: 200 yen (adults)
Photography: yes, except inside the buildings
Wheelchair accessible: no; even though the cable car shortens the walk considerably, the final ascent to the main hall of the temple is only possible via steps
Parking: no; please consider public transport options
© 2016 - 2023 Seisen Media Ltd. All rights reserved.