A Visit to Hiei

December 8, 2013

by Airi Kinoshita

About 1200 years ago, when Emperor Kammu established Heian-kyō (the former name of Kyoto city) as the capital of Japan, Mt.Hiei in the northeast of the city was regarded as the only defect in the city‘s wealth of natural advantages. No one would come near to the wild mountain as it was rumored that demons and evil spirits were hanging out there, so Emperor Kammu ordered the building of Enryakuji temple to appease or expel these demons and strengthen Kyoto’s defenses. Northeast is believed to be an unlucky direction in the Shinto religion, which accounts for why people often built temples or shrines in the northeast to create barriers against anything evil.

Now, Mt.Hiei is no longer the horrible place that troubled Emperor Kammu so much, rather, it has become a popular tourist spot. Many hotels and restaurants have been built in neighboring areas, and there is a cable car and a ropeway service also available. You will find many options open to you on your visit, but I would like to introduce two that I think are quite special.

The Garden Museum


The first spot is The Garden Museum on Hiei. The museum grounds are designed using the artworks of French and Dutch impressionists like Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh for inspiration. Visitors will be welcomed by about 100,000 flowers of 1400 varieties including roses, lilacs, water lilies, daffodils and so on. One of the most popular gardens is the Water Lilies Garden, which was inspired by the artwork of Monet. Monet admired Japanese sense of beauty so much that he made a great Japanese style garden, including a lake with floating water lilies, around his residence, and drew several pictures of it. I am sure you will understand why this type of garden fascinated Monet so much when you visit here. Afterwards, when you got tired of walking, you can always stop in at Café de Paris and enjoy a drink from their selection of herb teas. Moreover, Maison de Fleur, a souvenir shop in the museum, not only sells French general goods or aroma oils but also provides workshops on how to make original herb soaps.

The Cafe de Paris


The second spot I feel is most worthy is Hiei-zan Enryakuji. I have already introduced the origins of the temple, but now it has become a far more visitor-friendly place. The temple welcomes visitors who lead busy lives and are in need of some peace and quiet, and allows them to experience zazen or shakyo. Zazen is a style of meditation done in a cross-legged position, and shakyo is the transcribing of sutras. Both require you to put all other thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on self-identification. In the clean, fresh air and nature of Mt.Hiei, you will be able to forget all that troubles you in daily life and feel as if you are reborn.

Enryakuji Temple

Hiei autumn colours

One Day in Arashiyama

A Midsummer Walk in the Serene

 Mountains of Northern Kyoto

by Yuka Yamazaki

Look at around you. What do you see? Through the window might be towering skyscrapers and noisy roads congested with traffic. Your coworkers might be clearing those last stacks of files and shutting down their computers as they get ready to vacate the office, or perhaps a group of screaming, hyperactive kids are playing among a jungle of toys strewn across your living room floor.

Had enough? I know just what you need: a peaceful retreat where you can relax, breathe the fresh air and feel at ease in your mind.

Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan, is a very popular tourist destination, and therefore might not seem to be a place where one can easily relax and escape the hectic urban lifestyle, but I will show you that there is another way to enjoy this beautiful scenic location.

Now, let us begin our day-long midsummer walk in Arashiyama.

We disembark at Hankyu Arashiyama Station and make our way to Togetsu-kyo Bridge, about 10 minutes away. Togetsu-kyo in Japanese means ‘Moon Crossing Bridge’, and was named such by the Emperor Kameyama in the 13th century. It is a famous sightseeing spot in Kyoto, so while the surrounding landscape might be lovely, the sight of so many tourists and vendors on and around the bridge makes you feel queasy. It’s time to take a different route. So, let’s cross the Togetsu-kyo bridge.

Let us follow the river. As you progress farther down the winding path, there are fewer and fewer people around. What a relief! Sit by the bank and enjoy the lush greenery reflected in the river. Perhaps you will catch sight of a crane taking flight.

Continue down the path and eventually you will come across some small stone stairs leading up to Kameyama Mountain. There are some great views from up here. Take a deep breath and savor the scent of fresh, new leaves.

Walk further up the mountain…
Keep going…

…Stop! You feel the presence of someone, something…

 

You realize that they are welcoming you with spotlights, dancing on the stony path at your feet.

By the time the light show has ended, you have reached the summit of the mountain and another performance awaits you: this time it is the artistic vocals of the hototogisu, the Japanese cuckoo. Time to take a seat on one of the benches. Peer up at the vast expanse of blue sky, down at the boats silently floating along the Hozugawa River from which you have come, and chill to the sweet background music.

Wait a minute! You have noticed something. Is that a little village you see, on the other side of the river?  Let’s check it out. Now this feels more like an adventure.

Let’s go back down the mountain. Can you remember the way you came?

Let’s hope so! Don’t forget to say farewell to the company you have encountered on your stroll.

Head back towards the Togetsu-kyo bridge and cross it. There will be another smaller bridge, named Togetsu-kyo ko-bashi, and next to it a small lane next to that bridge which runs parallel to the river. This dark, mysterious path that runs deep into the mountain entices you. Where does it lead?: Arashiyama Mountain, after which this touristic region takes its name.

You stumble across a strange, handwritten sign with an arrow pointing left. If you can read Japanese, you will know that it says that there is a special viewing point nearby.

According to the sign, the person or group who wrote it goes by the name “Daihikaku.” Who is that, I wonder?

You continue down the lane in the direction of where the sign is directing you and wonder about that strange sign you saw for a while, but very soon you will soon forget about it as you a greeted by beautiful little cascades streaming out from the mountainside.

You continue your leisurely walk down the lane deep into the mountain, taking in the scenery and feeling the light breeze on your face.

This is a small urban adventure in relatively unexplored areas of Arashiyama that you can experience with little effort and, not to mention, courage. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and a bit of curiosity to venture off the beaten track!

You might say, “But Yuka, there are no temples or shrines on this walk, and I am in Japan after all!” Well, do you remember that sign you passed earlier? That is an important clue: you have to find out where it leads to on your own!
If you are tired with your daily life, you will certainly appreciate Arashiyama. Enjoy!

How to get there

There are several ways to get to Arashiyama from Kyoto Station.

①    By Train

Take JR Sagano line (also known as JR Sanin line) to Saga-Arashiyama Station (15 minutes). Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a 10 minute walk away.

②    By bus

Take the bus No. 28 to Tenryu-ji Temple. This temple is located in the center of Arashiyama district, and Togetsu-kyo Bridge is close by. However, the journey takes much longer than by train and you may also get stuck in traffic.

③    By bicycle

You can also access Arashiyama by bicycle. There are many shops where you can rent bicycles in Kyoto.

Kurama and Kibune

by MORIYA Tomomi

Recently hiking is in the spotlight because it is very good for our health, so many people enjoy hiking in Japan in their free time. By hiking we can get fresh air, called minus ion, and another good point is seeing the green of trees which is also very good for our eyes. For me, Kurama and Kibune are the best places to go hiking in Kyoto.

Especially I recommend hiking there in summer and autumn because these seasons are the best ones to see the scenery, and I am sure that everyone feels comfortable. Between Kurama and Kibune, there is a hiking course called “Kinone-michi” which takes about one hour to hike.


Kurama is a very famous place where we can see the beautiful red leaves of maple trees in autumn. In summer, we can enjoy ourselves there because Kurama, being in the mountains, is cooler than downtown Kyoto, and the green leaves will make you feel very relaxed.

At the same time, Kibune also has a pleasant environment in summer and autumn. Kibune has a clear river, called the Kibune River, and in summer, the air near the river is very moist and cool, so we will feel relaxed. Especially I like the sound of the gentle flow of the river, and I think that it helps purify our mind. At Kibune we can see not only beautiful red leaves in autumn, but also beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. I am sure that you will have a good time there.

 

 

 

 

 

While hiking between Kurama and Kibune, we can see several historical structures and places which are connected to legends, so that if you know the legends, hiking around there is more interesting.

When Japanese hear the word “Kurama,” most of us imagine “Kurama-Tengu.” “Tengu” is a long-nosed Japanese goblin, and it is said that Tengu have great spiritual power. According to legend, the Kurama-Tengu helped a boy named Ushiwakamaru, who later became Yoshitsune Minamoto, by teaching him how to use a sword well. There is also an interesting myth at Kurama. About 6,500,000 years ago, a Japanese god who is called “Maou” came to Kurama from the planet Venus. It is said that he would create and destroy everything. The spot where the god arrived on Earth is called “Oku-no-inn-maouden.” As you can see, Kurama has many interesting stories and mysteries.

 

Kibune is also famous because of Kibune shrine. A long time ago the shrine was built, but nobody knows when or who built it. Kibune shrine, however, is well-known because tradition says that a god of water (or rain) lives there. It means that people used to pray for rain at the shrine, and still now many people believe that the shrine houses a god of water.

In conclusion, Kurama and Kibune are very interesting places for not only Japanese, but also for visitors from other countries. I hope that you will go to Kurama and Kibune to enjoy hiking if you want to feel refreshed. Also you can recognize that history permeates Kyoto.