Kibune is only around thirty minutes from Kyoto City, but it feels like worlds away. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle to experience a bit of tranquility and calm, take the Eizan train north. The area is filled to the brim with wildlife and seasonal flowers blooming along the river, and the local restaurants and ryokan (traditional inns) serve meals on platforms built over the cool waters. Kibune is also home to the Kifune Shrine, a shrine that worships kami associated with water. Three separate locations make up Kifune Shrine; the main shrine, Yui no Yashiro, and the Okunomiya. Some people choose to take a certain course to make this pilgrimage. First visit the main shrine, then after you finish praying go straight back to the Okunomiya, then lastly drop by the middle shrine, Yui no Yashiro, as you’re heading home. Not only stunning in the summer, Kifune Shrine is absolutely gorgeous in winter as well. If you can brave the chilly weather, go to Kibune village when it is snowing and the area is covered in a blanket of snow, becoming a dreamy wonderland.
The area is filled to the brim with wildlife and seasonal flowers blooming along the river, and the local restaurants and ryokan (traditional inns) serve meals on platforms built over the cool waters in Kibune village.
The stone staircase lined with red wooden lanterns and covered by a canopy of maples leading up to Kifune Shrine’s main hall is a famous sight often photographed in all seasons. This shrine was patronized by the Imperial Court in the Heian Period, and during this time the Imperial Court sent official delegations to the shrine and offered the deities horses as gifts when praying for certain weather; a black horse to ask for rain and a white horse to ask for clear skies. Because of this tradition, there are statues of horses at the shrine to this day. Near the main hall is a place to buy amulets, as well as a small pool of water to use in fortune telling.
If you’re feeling thirsty, there is a spot in Kifune Shrine where you can drink some pure and tasty mountain water. The water is called the goshinsui (sacred water) and streams down from the mountain in Kibune. This water has been praised since ancient times by the locals and people who work with water (cooks, Japanese tea masters, etc.).
Fortune by Water
At Kifune Shrine, a shrine related to prayers for water, you can enjoy some fortune telling using that very medium. The fortune telling sheets of paper are called mizuura mikuji, and you can purchase them at the shrine for a small fee. Simply place the sheet of paper in the small basin of water near the main hall and wait until your fortune appears on the piece of paper, predicting various aspects of your life including love, work, health, and dreams. With time, the water soaks through the paper and begins to obscure the fortune, so don’t forget to snap a photo! Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you don’t need to worry. There is a small QR code on the omikuji paper that can be scanned with a QR code reader application on smartphones. If you scan this code your phone will pull up a page that offers translations of the fortune (in English, Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean), as well as an audio recording of the fortune!
Yui no Yashiro
Yui no Yashiro is about midway between the Okunomiya and the main shrine. If you wish to follow the formal shrine visiting procedure, visit this shrine last. When approaching you will notice the area is filled with green papers tied onto rows of string. In the past, visitors would write their wishes on slender leaves, which is why the papers are a green color to this day.
If you walk right to the end of the road in Kibune surrounded by towering trees on the lantern-lined path, you will end up at the Okunomiya. If you’re following the formal shrine visiting procedure, visit this shrine after the main shrine. In the past, the Okunomiya actually used to be Kifune Shrine’s main hall until flooding in the 11th century forced a change of venue. Though you wouldn’t be able to tell with just a glance, this small shrine is one of only three of its kind in the country, built directly above a well called a ryūketsu, which directly translates to “dragon cave”. To the left of the shrine is a large pile of rocks that may look nondescript, but is actually said to contain a sacred boat that features in the myth of the shrine’s founding. Also known as a powerful spiritual spot, this beautifully simple hall is surrounded by verdant trees and plant life.
Not only lovely in the bright greens of summer, Kifune Shrine is also very stunning in the winter season. The famous Kibune winter landscape has even been shown on post cards, posters and billboards promoting Kyoto. You might need some extra motivation to visit the area in the cold weather, but the snow-covered landscape you’ll find will truly be worth it. Make sure you take your camera to capture the icy magic!
Believed to have been founded over 1,600 years ago, Kifune Shrine is strongly associated with water in the form of rain and sea, which means that it was exceedingly important to the Japanese of old who relied on water as a precious and fickle commodity in agriculture. Legend says that the goddess Tamayori-hime (Princess Tamayori, mother of the legendary first emperor of Japan, Jimmu) appeared on a yellow boat in Osaka Bay and declared that the people were to build a shrine wherever the boat’s journey ended and enshrine the local deities of that place to ensure the prosperity of the country. The boat is then said to have travelled up the Yodo River to the Kamogawa in Kyoto and come to rest at the site of the present Kifune Shrine’s Okunomiya, where it’s said the boat remains to this day, buried beneath a stone cairn. The people did as they were instructed and built a hall on the spot to enshrine the local god Takaokami no Kami, a god worshipped as one in charge of providing water (as opposed to being simply the god of water).
In 796, the deity of the Kibune area is said to have appeared in the dreams of a Fujiwara clan member, showing him the neighboring mountain of Mt. Kurama and commanding him to build a temple on that site. Another historic mention of Kifune Shrine is related to Izumi Shikibu, a poet of the Heian Period who is said to have visited the shrine’s Yui no Yashiro to pray in order for her husband’s affections to return to her. It’s said that the wish came true and the shrine also became known for matchmaking. The famous noblewoman composed a poem after seeing the fireflies above the river in Kibune, which is carved on a memorial rock.
To dwell upon such things,
After a flood in 1055 washed away the original shrine it was rebuilt on the site where the main shrine currently stands, and the previous location was turned into the Okunomiya inner shrine.
Despite its location being slightly far from the city center, the shrine was ranked among the 22 most important shrines in 1140 and patroned by the Heian Period Imperial Court. Generations of emperors would send official delegations to the shrine to present horses as gifts to the deities when they needed to change the weather. When asking for rain the court would present a black horse, and when asking for clear skies, a white horse. It is theorized that this may be one start to the current practice of ema (wooden boards that are written on and hung up at shrines to pray for something, traditionally decorated with paintings of horses), as both gifting and taking care of a large number of horses became difficult in modern times.
* Though the village name is pronounced “Kibune”, the shrine is referred to as “Kifune” despite having the same spelling in Japanese, due to the inherent different possible kanji pronunciations.
January 1st – End of February
|Snow Illumination (snow days only, decision made by 3pm)|
|Wakana Shinji (Seven Spring Herbs Ritual)|
February 3rd, 10:00
February 11th, 10:00
March 3rd, 11:00
|Tōka Shinji (Girls’ Day, Peach Blossom Ritual)|
March 9th, 10:00
|Amagoi Festival (Rain Calling Ritual)|
|Fresh Leaves Light-up (held only a few days)|
May 5th, 11:00
|Shōbu Shinji (Boys’ Day Ritual)|
June 1st, 11:00
June 30th, 15:00
|Nagoshi no Oharae|
July 1st – August 15th
July 7th, 10:00
|Kifune Water Festival, Tanabata Shinji (Bamboo Grass Ritual)|
September 9th, 11:00
|Kikka Shinji (Chrysanthemum Ritual)|
November 7th, 11:00
|Fall Light-up (held approx. three weeks)|
December 31st, 16:00
|Shiwasu no Oharae (End of the Year Purification)|
- General Admission: Free
- Office Hours: 9:00 – 16:30 (subject to seasonal change)
- Closed: No closing days
- By Eizan Train Line ⇒ Ride towards Kurama ⇒ Kibuneguchi Station ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 33 ⇒ Kibune Bus Stop ⇒ 5 minutes walking
- By Keihan Train Line ⇒ Demachiyanagi Station ⇒ Eizan Train Line towards Kurama ⇒ Kibuneguchi Station ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 33 ⇒ Kibune Bus Stop ⇒ 5 minutes walking
- By Karasuma Subway Line ⇒ Kokusaikaikan Station ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 52 ⇒ Kibuneguchi Bus Stop ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 33 from Kibuneguchi Train Station ⇒ Kibune Bus Stop ⇒ 5 minutes walking