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Ohara: Tranquil Getaway to the North of Kyoto

During summer months in Kyoto, the central districts of Shijo and Sanjo twinkle with the lights of elevated kawayuka platforms, where diners sit by the Kamo River. The riverside here is an iconic image of Kyoto City life, and its banks are dotted with bicyclists, musicians, picnickers, and the like, all the way up to the delta where the river splits at Demachiyanagi. Here, Kyoto’s Kamo River is fed by another river, the Takano, which branches off to the northeast. Follow the Takano northward further still, and you’ll arrive in the Ohara region of Kyoto City, an area with exquisite rural vistas, mountains, and rivers.

A Rambling Ride

The name Ohara means “big field,” but this part of Kyoto is actually located in a valley, nestled amongst mountains stamped with the neverending peaks of evergreen trees. It takes approximately one hour from central Kyoto to Ohara, but the journey is simple–buses run from the northernmost subway station Kokusaikaikan, or directly from Kyoto Station (number 17, which also passes through the central districts of Shijo and Sanjo). It’s a gentle ride, and it’s exciting to watch the change in scenery.

I start my journey from Shijo-dori, in central Kyoto. From the bustling city center, my bus passes slowly into parts of northern Kyoto City, where life appears a bit more leisurely. The change is gradual, but little by little the surrounding scenery starts to become more green, the road a little more winding through residential districts in the mountains.

My first stop in Ohara is Sanzenin Temple: luckily, directions to most of Ohara’s points of interest are indicated at the bus stop (albeit in Japanese). A large arrow indicates I should find this temple across the street and up a hill. The path winds alongside a little creek, and despite the lovely rice field vistas I left behind at the bus station, this road leading to the temple is lined with little shops selling everything from small accessories to locally grown pickled vegetables. Hungry travelers will be happy to know there are restaurants located just beside the temple gate at the crest of the hill, too.

A stroll through still grounds

The pace of life in Ohara is much slower than in central Kyoto, but despite its unassuming rural appearance, Ohara is steeped in history. Sanzen-in Temple was established in 804 by a Buddhist monk named Saicho, who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan. Sanzen-in is also a rare monzeki temple, meaning that members of the imperial family have served here as head priests. It also houses a Natio…

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