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Kurama is a small town about 30 minutes north of Kyoto.  I highly recommend visiting it as a day trip away from “temple-hopping” in Kyoto.  The temples in Kyoto are lovely and the city is jaw-droppingly beautiful during the cherry blossom season.  However, the task of visiting temples gets repetitive and traveling to them becomes cumbersome because they are scattered across every corner of the city.  Given this, Kurama is the ideal escape: it is quite compact and easy to navigate.  The paths are fairly straightforward and there is a lift that goes to the top of the mountain where the temple is located.  It is a very easy hike, maybe taking 45 minutes to an hour if you walk at a normal pace.  Yet could also easily spend a few hours if you enjoy photography or nature.

Another positive: there most likely won’t be many tourists if you visit during the daytime, which is much welcomed after spending a few days in Kyoto.  Some of Kyoto’s major sites are swarming with tourists, especially in the spring, and the crowds can become a bit overwhelming.  Wandering aimlessly through Kurama without seeing or hearing a soul in sight will certainly restore your sanity and help you remember why you are on vacation: to relax.

Tip: Perhaps the best time to visit is when it is raining. It started raining on my fourth day in Kyoto.  I had seen practically everything I wanted to see and I did not want to stay inside to look at museums or drink coffee all day.  I can say without hesitation that going to Kurama is the most memorable day of my nine-day trip in Japan.  The entire forest comes alive in the rain.   I can’t imagine it looking as dramatic or having the otherworldly feel it had on a sunny, crisp day.  It’s one of those places where bad weather actually enhances, not diminishes, its beauty.

How to get there: take the Eiden Eizan line from Kyoto.  You can get this train from Sanjo Station or Demachi Yanagi Station in the northeast of Kyoto.

Time to Go: Early on a weekday morning when locals are at work and other tourists are still getting out of bed (probably the best time to do anything, anywhere).  I went at 10am and I didn’t see anyone, but I cannot say whether or not the rain discouraged any tourists or hikers that morning who would have normally visited.

Affordability: Very affordable. I’d give an exact price but it depends on what train station you depart from to get there.  The admission fee is ¥200.

What to bring: FOOD.  I couldn’t find a single convenience store or restaurant when I visited.  I was quite hungry as well and I remember looking hard for either.  Wandering around to find one is an option, but time is better well spent.  The only food you will readily find are some ice cream snacks in the station vending machine.

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