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Autumn Hiking in Rural Nishiyama

The mountain home of an ancient temple, shrine and old legends

Fine view from Yoshimine Temple's Kaizan-do Hall; © Yoshimine Temple

Kyoto is justly renowned for its autumn seasonal beauty, and the reason for this is nowhere more evident than in the southwest corner of the city -Nishiyama (lit. mountains on the west). The still rural Nishiyama area is surrounded by fields and mountains, and was loved by the Heianperiod aristocrats as a rich hunting area. Escape the crowd of tourists in central Kyoto and visit the extensive temple and shrine precincts in the western part of Kyoto.

Yoshimine Temple
Yoshimine Temple, founded by a Buddhist monk named Gensan in 1029, belongs to the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Similar to Kiyomizu Temple on the opposite side of the city, Yoshimine Temple is built along the mountain side in western Kyoto and looks out onto the city.

Emperor Gohanazono commissioned the building of this extensive temple complex in the Muromachi period. There used to be 52 temple buildings but most of them were lost in fires during the Onin War (15th century). Later, in the Edo period, Keishoin, the mother of the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, largely contributed to the restoration of the temple structures.

Command the spectacular view from Yoshimine Temple's Yakushi-do Hall; © Yoshimine Temple

Tall cedars line the steep and winding approach to this mountain temple, and the air at the top is decidedly cool and fresh. There is the massive main gate, just beyond which is a large maple that shades the stairway to the main hall. This is the twentieth stop on the Thirty-three Temples of the Goddess of Mercy (Kannon) Pilgrimage and is renowned for its seasonal beauty -cherry blossoms in spring, hydrangeas in summer, colored leaves in autumn, and snowy scenes in winter.

© Digital-na Kajiya

The temple's principal image, a thousandarmed Goddess of Mercy, is housed in the Kannon-do main hall. From the main hall, stone steps lead up to the left under one twenty-meter-long branch of the 600-yearold ''Frolicking Dragon Pine'' (National Natural Monument). Trained to grow horizontally, the pine tree is only about 2 meters tall but it width formerly extended over 50 meters, as though bowing in supplication to the temple’s Goddess. Unfortunately, the tree was damaged by insects and some of the branches had to be cut in 1994, but it still extends 37 meters displaying a dignified figure and is claimed as the best pine tree in Japan.

Numbered signs indicate the way to the Shoro-do bell tower, the sutra tower, and Goma-do hall which houses an image of Fudo Myo-o. The next level up is the Shaka-do, a rather new building that contains a stone image of Buddha carved by the temple's founder, Gensan. It was removed from its mountain perch and brought into the compound in 1885. Though still not mentioned in many guidebooks, it is really worth taking the time to reach this old mountain temple which commands an extraordinary view of the colored forests and surrounding cityscape. This vast temple precinct spreading along the mountain side can be walked around in less than an hour.

Go to JR Mukomachi Stn. or Hankyu Higashi Muko Stn., then, from the station, take Hankyu Bus #66 (bound for Yoshimine Temple) and get off at the last stop. The temple is about 8 minutes from the bus stop. It is recommended to take a taxi from the station: approx. 20 minutes & 2,500 yen. www.yoshiminedera.com

Nov. 3, 4, 10-Dec. 2
Special Opening of Temple Treasure of Amida-do Hall
Amida Nyorai, Keishoin, and People around Her

Amida-do Hall was built in 1673 and was fully renovated in 1693 by Keishoin, the mother of 5th Tokugawa shogun. From August 2017 to December 2019, Amida-do is having a large-scale renovation on the roof. During the renovation period, the statue of Amida Nyorai and a number of valuable temple treasures are stored and exhibited in the Temple Treasure House. Open: 9:00-16:30.

Oharano Shrine

Torii shrine gate of Oharano Shrine; © Digital-na Kajiya

Oharano Shrine dates from about 784. When Emperor Kanmu commissioned the national capital to be relocated to nearby Nagaoka, the influential Fujiwara Clan invited their tutelary deity of Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara to this place, thus, the shrine is also known as ''Kasuga Shrine in Kyoto.'' Because of this, an interesting feature of Oharano Shrine is that, instead of the usual guardian dogs at the entrance, a male and female deer (sacred symbol of Nara's Kasuga Taisha Shrine) keep watch at either side of the main shrine.

© Digital-na Kajiya

Colored cherry and maple trees are found all over the spacious shrine precincts. The 200-meter approach stretching from the first torii shrine gate to the third one transforms into a stunning bright red tunnel of colored leaves. Go through the approach and the vermilion colored main hall appears surrounded by the even deeper colors of the trees around it. A number of people, including the imperial members and Heian-period aristocrats, loved to visit this shrine and were stunned by this extraordinary autumn scene.

Go to JR Mukomachi Stn. or Hankyu Higashi Muko Stn., then, from the station, take Hankyu Bus #65 (bound for Minami Kasuga-cho) and get off at the last stop. The shrine is about 10 minutes from the bus stop. oharano-jinja.jp