We leave michi-no-eki Galleria Kameoka and follow Route 9, heading away from Kyoto. There is a solid line of traffic in both directions. Kameoka, seen from this perspective, consists of a line of Pachinko parlours, used car lots, fast food joints and petrol stations. This is lucky, as we fill up with relatively cheap fuel and head off towards Obama and Miyama.
This area of Kyoto prefecture is unfamiliar to me with its pretty streams, in the wide valley bottoms, and the picturesque villages, hugging the hills that rise out of them. We discover our intended onsen of the night before – a very long way from where we thought.
Lunchtime finds us in Miyama which is on the Shuzan Kaido. The old main road from Kyoto to Tamba, an important area in ancient Japan, now R. 162. This road I took often on a motorcycle from Kyoto, years ago, but I don’t find it at all familiar. There are no convenience stores in this area so we have lunch at a restaurant, across the road from the michi no eki, which turns out to be surprisingly good for the price.
Here, we discover we are only 8 or so kilometers from a thatched village similar to Shirakawago. We decide to take a look. I am surprised because of all the times I must have passed this way and never knew of its existence. This, perhaps a reflection on how tourism has developed in the past 30 years – though D. says she knew all about it.
When we arrive, innumerable buses pack the huge car park with more arriving every minute, plus hundreds of people milling about. We execute a quick U-turn in the car park and escape. We learn later that today is the day when the fire hoses are tested. The thatched buildings being sprayed with water make for a photographic bonanza.
Hanase to Kurama
We head for Kurama and approach through the mountains passes of Hanase on ever narrower roads. Here again we find pretty little hamlets. Some houses still thatched but most of the roofs replaced with corrugated iron or else rebuilt altogether.
This is an area of total Sugi (Cedar), plantations and nothing else – the famous Kitayama Sugi. I find this depressing now but years ago I reveled in the regimentation of the trees. My impression changed, perhaps, when I contracted Kafunsho, the hay fever triggered by Sugi pollen, or maybe when it dawned on me that they were plantations.
Arriving in Kurama, we park in the station car park by a large Tengu mask, and walk up to Yuki Shrine. Then, continue climbing to Kurama temple. The daily course of steps on this trip is beginning to wear on me and I find my legs complaining by the time we reach the top.
This steep slope up to Kurama temple is called Tsuzuraori – 99 turns. If you don’t feel up to the climb, there is a cable car run by Kurama temple. This is a 2 minutes ride, so very short, and there is no fixed fare but passengers are urged to donate 200 yen as an appreciation to the temple and for maintenance of the machinery.
The cable car runs from near the kindergarten at the entrance. The building that houses it is not obviously a cable car station so, it is easy to miss.
From Kurama Temple there is a hiking trail (Kinone michi) over the mountain and down to Kibuneguchi station. That is one station down the line from Kurama station towards Kyoto. I have not walked this route for many years but I suspect it is still a fine round trip hike, either by train from Kyoto city or with your car parked at either station.
Down from Kurama temple, we drive on down into Kyoto city having completed a loop through the northern part of the prefecture. Our navi takes us through some very narrow obscure streets but – that is Kyoto.
Arriving at our hotel, we find the car is too tall for the hotel parking. So we have to navigate still more narrow, complicated Kyoto side streets before we can park, unload and carry our bags some distance to our hotel. After a quick shower, we set off to visit some old haunts with some old friends.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.