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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Kifune Shrine - A Hidden Gem of Kyoto

Kifune Shrine Staircase
Kifune Shrine is a hidden gem of Kyoto tucked away in a rural village near Kurama in the mountains of northern Kyoto. This charming shrine is full of history and natural beauty, but is often overlooked by tourists on their travels in Kyoto due to its remote location.

The ancient shrine is only 30-minutes from downtown Kyoto, but it feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of Kyoto with its calm and tranquility.

Kifune Shrine is probably most famous for its stone staircase which is lined with beautiful red wooden lanterns. A walk up the well-worn staircase to Kifune Shrine’s main hall will take you away to another time and place and is truly a magical experience.

Kifune Shrine Staircase
Kifune Shrine Staircase | Photo: Chi King on Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, a goddess traveled in a boat from Osaka all the way up the river into the mountains north of Kyoto. The location of where her boat journey had come to an end was honoured by building a shrine on the sacred site.

Kifune Shrine enshrines the god of water and rain and at 1,600 years old is actually older than Kyoto itself. The shrine received Imperial patronage during the early Heian period (794-1185) and as such was a place that imperial envoys used to visit in order to pray for rain. It wasn’t just royalty that visited the shrine, farmers and sake brewers also traditionally paid homage to pray for rain in order to grow good crops.

First Torii Shrine Gate
The First Torii Shrine Gate | Photo: Yanajin33 on Wikimedia Commons

If you are looking to escape the summer heat of Kyoto, which is one of the hottest places in Japan during mid-summer, the shrine is an oasis due to its fresh mountain air and cool stream which help to keep the grounds cool and comfortable.

In summer, many restaurants and ryokan (traditional inns) in the area serve meals out on platforms built over the cool pure mountain water of the Kibune River. This style of dining is called kawadoko in Japanese, and is a relaxing way to enjoy a traditional kaiseki meal and beat the heat.

Kawadoko Along the Kibune River
Kawadoko Along the Kibune River | Photo: 663highland on Wikimedia Commons

If you are planning to visit Kyoto, definitely put Kifune Shrine down on your list of places to visit. 

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