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Meet mysterious wonders in Kurama
Mountain of spiritual power

Mount Kurama (570 meters high) has become very popular in recent years for its mysterious and spiritual energy. The mountain is also called ''the mountain where the god lives'' and has long been worshipped as a sacred place. One legend says that a mythical presence from Venus descended in Kurama 6.5 million years ago and has been settled here ever since!

As soon as you alight from the Eizan railway at Kurama Station, you will be greeted by a huge, grim red-faced Tengu which is the symbol of Kurama. Tengu is a mythical creature with a big long nose, wings to fly freely and the body of a man, and is one of Japan's most enduring legendary figures.

First, you will enter Kurama Temple from Nio-mon Gate where your adventurous hiking begins. Since Kyoto was founded as the capital, Kurama Temple has played the all-important role of guarding the city from the north and is consequently associated with Bishamon-ten, one of the Four Directional Guardians of Buddhism, who guards the northern direction, the most dangerous.

Though the walk to the top takes about 30 minutes, you can also take a cable car from the base. High up on the mountain, the temple spreads out in three directions and offers great views of the surrounding area; if you look closely, you can see Kyoto way down below. Behind the temple's main building, the hiking trail continues through the forest past several other temple structures to Kibune, a small village in the neighboring valley.

A little further on is the Reihokan (Treasure Hall) which contains several excellent Buddhist statues from the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1185-1333) periods. From the temple area follow the path on up over the twisted and unending roots of the Japanese cedar and other equally big trees down into Kibune village.

Access to Kurama Temple: Take Eizan train bound for Kurama from Demachiyanagi Station and get off at the last station, Kurama Station (about 30 minutes). Admission: 300 yen; www.kuramadera.or.jp

October 22
Kurama Fire Festival

One of Kyoto's most exciting & eccentric festivals If you're looking to get in touch with the spirit of ancient Japan in full celebration mode, then the traditional village atmosphere and lively energy of the Kurama Fire Festival can't be beat.

The Kurama Fire Festival is an ancient rite in which the spirits of hell are guided by the light of pine torches through the realms of humans. The festival is also closely connected with the emperor, who started to send torch bearers from the palace to the village in 794, the same year when the national capital was relocated to Kyoto.

The festival begins at sunset with the lighting of fire lanterns in front of each house, many of which have family treasures (folding screens, suits of armor, etc.) on open display in their front rooms.

The highlight of the festival is the men in traditional clothing as they walk up through the village straining under the weight of huge fire torches (5-6 meters long, weighing over 100 kg). As the sky fills with smoke and the temperature drops, the excitement builds. Suddenly around 20:00, a group of cheering men race up the stairs to Yuki Shrine carrying a large mikoshi (portable shrine) to make the annual offering to the gods.

Direct trains to Kurama depart three times an hour from Eizan Railway's Demachiyanagi Station. However, if you take the train after 17:00 or so, expect to wait in line and be packed in like a grain of sand. It's best to go early and leave early. Alternatively, taking a taxi to Kibune-guchi (1 km below the south end of Kurama Village) and walking in is a good idea. Don't forget a comfy sweater or jacket (Kurama can be up to 5 degrees colder than the center of Kyoto City).