Kurama-dera – a new religion?

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

This week, I used my after school time to take a trip up to one of the northern parts of Kyoto!  Kurama city lies all the way at the end of a train line that lies all the way at the end of another train line – up between the mountains and trees of northern Kyoto.  The town is small, mostly a place for day-time sightseers and onsen-goers.  A lot of places near there are really popular for 紅葉 – autumn-leaf viewing.

But I actually didn’t go to Kurama for the leaves!  I was there to visit Kurama-dera – a temple-turned-shrine-turned-theological-anomaly.

Kurama is probably best known for a fire festival Kurama-dera holds in October.  One of my teachers gave us some pointers about it, and actually recommended we not go.  She said it’s often crowded, and the streets are too small for the people and the parade.  Based on accounts from fellow classmates, I can assume she was right.  But I do love nature and temples and shrines, so I thought I would head up to Kurama and check out the temple for myself.

The temple from the street – sort of hard to spot.

I wasn’t sure what I was going into, when I went.  Kurama-dera, as a name, suggests that the place should be a temple.  Anything with -dera tacked on generally implies a Buddhist temple.  But when I arrived I was a little surprised.  I knew that Shinto and Buddhism see a lot of overlap in Japan, but it seemed like I was standing right in the middle of a Shinto shrine!

A small shrine within the grounds of Kurama-dera.

I didn’t know this at the time, but I later learned from the same teacher that Kurama-dera was, at one point, a Buddhist temple.  But times change, things happen, and it turned into a Shinto shrine…almost.  The history she explained to me was confusing, but she basically said that Kurama became it’s own kind of new religion – an amalgamation of Shinto and Buddhism with a few other things mixed in as well.  Even if I didn’t understand Kurama that well, I still found it to be a peaceful place, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Some shrines and a protected tree.

Kurama is the perfect little day-trip away from the bustle of Kansai city life – or weekend trip, if the onsen suits your fancy!  I think I would very much like to venture to Kurama again, if I get the chance!