Kyoto Itinerary #2: [KURAMA]

Saturday 11 January 2020:

Woke up bright and early at 7AM after having an early night previously and had my breakfast in the hotel (I got the egg mayo sandwich from Lawson’s, which is both cheap and good). My destination for this day was Kurama: a small, quaint town located not far away from central Kyoto. The journey there was slightly more complicated because I was required to change lines a few times so I was slightly apprehensive at how everything would turn out.

Though my hotel was closest to Kyoto station, however I decided to walk to Tofukuji station instead so that I could wander past the streets of the small neighbourhoods and have a greater feel of what it must be like living as a local. Additionally, this meant I would be saving a bit of transport fare since I had to take the Keihan line from Tofukuji anyway, a line that cannot be found in Kyoto station itself. After a short 15 minute walk, I arrived at Tofukuji station and caught the Keihan line for Demachiyanagi Station. From there, I had to exit the gentry and walk to another part of the station where the Eizan line was. There were signboards everywhere so it was pretty easy for me to switch from one train to another – all I had to do was tap out, walk through and underground connector, go up an escalator and tap in once again for the second part of my journey.

The Eizan train was pretty spacious and had large windows so that passengers could enjoy the view and no wonder the train was designed in such a manner, because the view was just amazing. Even though I went in winter when the trees are all bare and plain, however the sight was still one to behold and I absolutely loved the train ride. I can only imagine how much prettier it’ll be in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Apparently, this train ride is similar to the Sagano Romantic Train in Arashiyama as it also boasts scenic views for passengers to enjoy.

The whole journey to Kurama took about an hour so I reached the place close to 10AM. My first spot of the day was Kurama dera, which is a temple located at the top of Mount Kurama. Before reaching the temple, I had to hike up fleets of stairs and do a bit of incline walking but I enjoyed every single moment of it because I was constantly surrounded by nature. The flights of stairs were adorned with traditional standing lamps on both sides and it was amazing to look at. The weather was also absolutely perfect, with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. While hiking, I was listening to the OST from Kimi No Na Wa, and it fit so beautifully, making the hike even more memorable and impactful. Listening to deep, soulful music whilst connecting with raw nature? It’s the best possible combination ever. I could exercise like this every single day if only I had the chance to.

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All the effort spent hiking up the mountain was truly worth it because the view at the top where the Kurama Dera temple was…stunning… I feel like at this point I keep repeating words like “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, “pretty” but that’s because Kurama is such a place. For those people who enjoy scenic views tremendously, I assure you Kurama is the place to be. Arashiyama too, but we’ll save that for another post. I spent a short time catching my breath, drinking water, strolling the temple grounds before continuing my hike towards the next small town that is Kibune. There is a designated trail connecting both Kurama and Kibune, one of which was by going to Kurama Dera and from there, there is a trail at the back of the temple grounds. I followed that path, and climbed high and low, past many trees but I wasn’t worried about getting lost at all thanks to helpful signs along the way. This hike is not a very easy one, but neither was it very difficult. But the path can be a little unstable sometimes, so go slow and steady and watch your step to prevent from tripping over branches and whatnot.

Upon arriving at Kibune, I headed over to the Kibune shrine for a peek. That wasn’t part of my itinerary but I spotted it along the way so decided to pop in for a bit. I ended up doing some kind of fortune telling because it looked so interesting. Basically, I bought a piece of fortune paper (I’m not sure what to call it), and you’re supposed to place it on the bed of water nearby. As the paper gets wet, words will start to appear. Since the words were written in Japanese, there’s a QR code scanner for phones to translate the written fortune into the language of your choice. After reading your fortune, you’re supposed to roll it up and tie it on the string board. I had never done anything like this before in all of my temple visits, so I decided to give this one a try 🙂

By then, it was slightly past 11AM so I decided to walk back to Kurama, this time walking on the footpath alongside the main route instead of scaling the mountain once more, so that I could enjoy a different scenery. The whole walk took about 50 minutes, but it was very relaxed and leisurely thanks to my good music. Going solo means my best friend was my earpiece but I had no problem with that, and in fact I enjoyed it very much indeed. Throughout the whole trek, I was blessed with mountain views. The roads were not very busy either so it was rather safe to walk along the path. I felt very peaceful and calm the entire time, and I couldn’t help but smile occasionally because I was just so happy.

At around 12 noon I reached my third spot of the day: Kurama onsen!!! The onsen place also had a restaurant so I went to have my lunch first. I ordered an unagi don with tamago, and boy was it  delicious! The egg rolls were super fluffy and had such a great, airy texture. The unagi was silky and soft and perfect with the chewy warm rice. With my tummy satisfied, I headed over to the outdoor onsen since I wanted to be surrounded by nature while I soak.

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For the outdoor onsen,  I had to exit the restaurant and cross the parking lot to a flight of cobbled stairs. Halfway up the stairs, there was this vending machine where I bought my entrance ticket and other necessities (such as a bathing towel for rent). For those who are clueless about how to obtain the necessary items, fret not because there will be staff there providing assistance. When I went, there was this very kind and friendly elderly Japanese man and he helped me out when I wasn’t sure what to do.

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The next 2 hours or so, I spent it very serenely, submerged in hot steaming water and surrounded by the view of mountains and forests. The outdoor bath was a large wooden square tub situated right smack in the centre of an outdoor courtyard paved with cobblestones. It was surrounded by planted trees and foliage to provide some bits of privacy though it wasn’t really needed since the surroundings were all nature, and no other man made infrastructure in the vicinity as far as my eyes could tell. It was so therapeutic watching plumes of steam rise up from the hot bath water, ascending higher and higher, dissipating into nothingness. Other than steam watching (as I call it), I also enjoyed the beauty of the natural scenery. It was such a perfect, secluded place to get lost in your thoughts, to lose track of time, and embark on a spiritual healing journey with oneself. It’s amazing how time can fly even when I was just in the same spot more or less, with nothing to occupy me except for my thoughts. I shall dedicate a whole separate post detailing my entire onsen experience, as well as tips for those who are unsure about onsen etiquette and how it works; simply because I love onsens so much that a paragraph is not enough to describe how positively nourishing it is to my soul.

The hot, steamy environment made me very sleepy (or perhaps it was also due to food coma), and I found myself drifting off to sleep a couple of times, my heavy eyelids drooping shut. When I finally was warm enough (till the point where it was getting off), I changed back into my clothes and headed back to Kurama station to catch a train back to Kyoto. The sleepy mood that started whilst I was in the onsen followed me, and I found myself nodding off during the train ride home.

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Before going back to my hotel, I decided to drop by the shopping district again. Once more I strolled along the streets of the Shijo Kawaramachi area, and without meaning to, I stumbled across the Teramachi shopping street as well. Whilst there, I chanced upon this donut store (Koe donuts) that looked absolutely eye-catching with all its interior decor (look at the picture and you’ll see what I mean) so of course I had to step in. And of course, I had to buy some of the donuts to try because there was a queue forming and those donuts were just begging for me to take them home. So I did! I chose the original soy donut (one of its best sellers) as well as the matcha glazed one.

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The original soy donut definitely did not disappoint! From what I can remember, it had a hint of soy flavour (not too strong, so those who are not usually soy-lovers might appreciate this still), was mildly sweet and the texture was perfect. There was a bite to every chew, and it was not heavy or dense at all! Totally should’ve gotten more of this donut while I could…I guess I have to wait till the next time I visit Kyoto again. As for the matcha glazed donut, I must say I was disappointed by it especially since after having that delicious soy donut first so my expectations were raised. The matcha glaze was waaay too sweet and sugary for my liking and the matcha taste was not strong at all. The sugary sweetness was an overload on my senses, and there was no bitterness from the ‘matcha’ to balance it out. The texture of this donut was also not on par with the soy donut; instead of being chewy like the soy donut, this felt a bit stale in comparison. Perhaps it was a poor choice on my part; now that I look through the pictures I took, maybe I should’ve gotten the pink donuts instead.

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Overall: day 2 was one of the BEST days ever throughout my whole solo travel journey and perhaps in my 20 years of existence as well. That day was truly one of the greatest self-love days I’ve ever had, and I just felt so spiritually refreshed and rejuvenated. I was so happy that day – the kind of happiness that you feel deep in your soul, where everything in the world seems beautiful and it seems like your inner peace has finally been restored.

P.S My self love extended all the way into the night: after the onsen, I decided to treat my face to its own spa as well by using the newly bought charcoal mask!

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