Kurama-dera Temple (鞍馬寺)

Kurama-dera Temple is a buddhist temple located in Kurama Honmachi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. It used to belong to Tendai Sect, but since 1949 it became independent and is now the Head Temple of Kurama-kokyo Sect. Sango is Mount Kurama. It is said to have been established by Gantei, a leading disciple of Ganjin. In this temple, the Honzon (main image of worship) is referred to as "Sonten." "Sonten" is said to be the Honzon that is a Trinity of Vaisravana, Saharabhuja and Goho Maoson.

Is located at the north of Kyoto Basin, on the sourthern slope of Mount Kurama, where rich natural environment remains. Kurama is also famous as the place where Ushiwakamaru (MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune) trained himself, and it is also known as the setting for Jiro OSARAGI's book, "Kurama Tengu." It is the No. 19 New Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage Site.

It operates a cable car (Mount Kurama Cable Railway) transportation to Kurama Temple, and it is the only religious corporation which operates a railway business.

Origin and History

Various books including "Konjaku Monogatarishu" and "Fusoryakuki" describe the beginning of Kurama Temple, and it is said that a person named FUJIWARA no Isendo, who came from Fujiwara Nanke and served as the Head of Zoto-ji Temple, enshrined Vaisravana and sahasrabhuja, and built Kurama Temple. However, "Anbagaiji engi", handed down for many generations in the temple, tells another story about the start of the temple, which is that Gantei, a high disciple of Ganjin, built a cottage in the 1st Year of Hoki, and enshrined Vaisravana.

Gantei was the youngest among the eight high disciples who Ganjin brought back with him from Tang (present day China). One night, in the third year of Hoki, Gantei saw a spiritual dream, which told him that there is a spiritual mountain in the north of Yamashiro Province. Gantei, who set off to visit the spiritual mountain, saw a white horse with a saddle made by treasures on top of a mountain. That was Mount Kurama. Gantei, on entering the mountain, was attacked and nearly killed by an ogre who took the form of a woman, but when he was in extreme danger, a dead tree fell down and crushed the ogre. The next morning, a statue of Vaisravana was there, and it is said that Gantei built a temple to worship this statue. This story about Gantei is only seen in "Anbagaiji engi", and it is not clear how far it tells an actual historical event. Nevertheless, it is notable that a priest of South Capital (Nara) took part in establishing the temple, as in the case of the establishment of KiyomizuTemple.

Later, in 796, FUJIWARA no Isendo, who was in charge of building an official temple, To-ji Temple, wished to build a temple to place a Kannon that he personally worshiped. Isendo, in accordance with a message revealed to him in a spiritual dream one night, followed a white horse and arrived at Mount Kurama, upon which he saw a small shrine that housed Vaisravana. Isendo became suspicious saying, "I worship Kannon, but it is Vaisravana that is worshipped here." However, in his dream that night, a child appeared and told him that "Kannon and Vaisravana have different names, but fundamentally they are one and the same." Thus it is said that Isendo made a statue of sahasrabhuja and enshrined it together with Vaisravana.

Kurama-dera Temple became a temple of Shingon Sect from around the time when Priest Buen of To-ji Temple entered Kurama Temple during Kanpyo era (from 889 to 897) at the end of the 9th Century, but it changed to Tendai Sect in the 12th Century; since then it has been under the control of Shoren-in for a long time. It appears to have attracted worshippers widely during the latter half of Heian period, as can seen by the fact that Emperor Shirakawa came to worship in 1091 and Moromichi FUJIWARA, the Kanpaku, in 1099. "The Pillow Book" names the Front Approach of Ninety-nine Prayers of Kurama Temple as an example of "something which is near but also far".

Kurama Temple has been burned down many times, including by the fire of Year 1126. In 1812 (ninth year of Bunka of Edo period), there was a great fire that engulfed the whole mountain in flames, and more recently, the Main Shrine was burned down by a fire in Year 1945. Therefore, all the buildings are new, but many cultural properties such as statues of the Buddha have been preserved.

Koun SHIGARAKI, a chief priest in the Showa era, started Kurama-kokyo Sect in 1947. In 1949 the temple became independent from Tendai Sect and is now the Head Temple of Kurama-kokyo Sect.

In Mount Kurama, located in the mountains of Kyoto, mountain ascetic hermits actively practiced Vajrayana Buddhism. Therefore, it is said that Tengus, who are spirits of the mountains, live in Kurama. The highest-ranking Tengu that lives in Kurama is called Sojobo, and Mount Kurama is said to be one of the most supreme mountains for Tengu.

The Honzon

Kurama-dera Temple, located north of Kyoto, was initially a temple with Vaisravana (of the Four Heavenly Kings, the King protecting the north-side) as its Honzon, and it also enshrined Saharabhuja and Goho Maoson. However, form of worship at the current Kurama Temple after the establishment of Kurama-kokyo is unique, and some explanation is necessary regarding its Honzon.

According to the explanation by the temple after the establishment of Kurama-kokyo, the Honzon of Kurama Temple Main Shrine Golden Hall (the Main Shrine) is said to be "Sonten." Within the shrine, Vaisravana is enshrined in the center, Saharabhuja is on the right side facing it, and Goho Maoson on the left side, and the three are collectively referred to as "Sonten." "Sonten" is said to be "the cosmic energy that gives lfe and existence." Moreover, Vaisravana represents the Spirit of Sunlight that symbolizes "Light" Saharabhujarepresents the Sprit of Moonlight that symbolizes "Love", and Maoson represents the Spiritual King of Earth that symbolizes "Power." The power of "Sonten" is believed to exist everywhere, and since this power is especially strong in this area Kurama-dera Temple is said to be a place of practice where one can be surrounded by such power. It is said that Goho Maoson, one of the Sonten, came to Earth from Venus 6.5 million years ago (not "650 years" ago); its body is formed from elements different from those ordinary human beings, and it is said to be in an eternal existence at the age of 16 and it does not age.

Vaisravana, Saharabhuja and Goho Maoson that are enshrined in Golden Hall of the Main Shrine are all secret Buddha statues [not open for public viewing]; in their stead statues referred to as "Omae-dachi" are enshrined in front of these secret Buddha Statues. Omae-dachi Maoson statue looks like an unworldly person, with wings on its back, and a long beard, and has a high nose. The aureola is made from tree leaves. Goho Maoson enshrined in Two-storied pagoda has a similar form. Therefore, it is believed that "Kurama Tengu" was initially Goho Maoson. Although it is said to be 16 years old, it looks aged.

Precinct/ Sangharama

Nio-mon was burned down in 1891, and rebuilt in 1911. The cable car from Sanmon Station to Tahoto Station started operating in 1957.

Tahoto was rebuilt in 1959.

Great Hall was rebuilt in Year 1971.

Shinden was built in 1924.

Tenhorindo Hall was rebuilt in 1969.

Mao-den of penetralia is a small shrine on top of a oddly-shaped rock located on a mountain road on the way from the Main Shrine to Kibune Shrine in the West. It enshrines Maoson, which is said to have arrived on Earth from Venus 6.5 million years ago. The current building was rebuilt after being burnt down in 1945.

Reihoden Hall is located at the back of the Main Shrine. On the 1st Floor there is Kuramayama Museum, which has an exhibition of the animals and plants of Mount Kurama. The 2nd Floor houses Temple Treasure Exhibit Room and Yosano Memorial Hall, which exhibits articles, and other items left by Tekkan YOSANO and Akiko YOSANO (Koun SHIGARAKI, who started Kurama-kokyo Sect, was a poet who studied under the YOSANO's). On the 3rd Floor there is a sanctuary of Buddhist statues, which exhibits cultural properties including three standing statues: Wooden statue of Bishamonten, Wooden statue of Kosshouten, and Wooden statue of Zennishi-doji. There is a view that the Honzon of Kurama-dera Temple were these three statues of Bishamonten, and there is another view that the Honzon probably looked similar to the Tobatsu-Bishamonten of the latter half of Heian era, which is an Important Cultural Property; this statue is also enshrined in Reihoden Hall. Articles excavated from the Ruin of Kyozuka, which are items born from the idea of the Latter Day of the Law during the latter half of the Heian period can also be seen here. Also, Akiko YOSANO's library, named "Tohaku-tei", has been moved from its original location and reconstructed in front of Reihoden Hall.

National Treasure

Wooden statue of Bishamonten, Wooden statue of Kosshouten, and Wooden statue of Zennishi-doji.

Kurama-dera Temple, Kyozuka, summary of relics

Important Cultural Property

Wooden statue of Kannon

Wooden statue of Bishamonten

Black lacquer sword

Sword (without the maker's name)

Copper lantern

Kurama Documents

No. 19 of New Saigoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage Sites

Annual Events

Shimenouchi Mode (From New Year's Day until January 15th)
Hatsutora taisai (the first day of the Tiger in January)
Setsubun Tsuina Ceremony (the day of Setsubun)
Spring Shutoku-kai (the day of spring Equinox)
Shojohatsu Kigan Ceremony (early April)
Soten musubidenpo Ceremony (early April)
Hanakuyo (mid April)
Uesaku-sai (conducted in the evening of a full moon in May, on the day of a full moon in May)
Takekirieshiki (2p.m. of June 20th)
Nyoho Shakyo/Sutra Copying gathering (August 1st to August 4th)
Yoshitsune Matsuri (September 15th)
Autumn Shutoku-kai (Autumnal Equinox Day)
Autumn Festival (October 14th)
Prayer for Peace (November 23rd)
Osame no Tora (the 2nd Day of the Tiger in December)
Go-Ennichi of each month (1st, 7th and 14th of each month, Day of the Tiger).

Kuramo no Himatsuri/Kurama Fire Festival (October 22nd) is a festival of Yuki Shrine, located close to Nio-mon. This is not sponsored by Kurama-dera Temple.


From within Kyoto City to the front of Kurama Temple. From Demachiyanagi Station of Eizan Electric Railway, Kurama Line, it takes approximately 30 minutes to arrive at Kurama Station. It takes 1 minute by foot to go from the station to Nio-mon (Main Gate).

From Nio-mon to Main Shrine Golden Hall (on foot).
Nio-mon (0) - 287m - Yuki Shrine (50) - 791m - Main Shrine Golden Hall (160)
The numbers in brackets are altitude measurements based on that of Nio-mon (unit: m). The road is basically unpaved mountain road, although it is partially paved by stone. It will take a grown man about 30 minutes to travel all the way on foot.

From Nio-mon to Main Shrine Golden Hall (by cable car).
Nio-mon(Sanmon Station)(0) - 200m - Tahoutou Station (120) - 456m - Main Shrine Golden Hall(160)
The numbers in brackets are altitudes measurements based on that of Nio-mon (unit: m). Because it is hard to visit and worship on foot for the elderly people, cable car (Mount Kurama Cable Railway) is operates between Nio-mon and Two-storied Pagoda. The time spent in the cable car is only about 2 minutes, and those who contribute 100 yen to the temple can ride the cable car for free (essentially, the fare is 100 yen one way). From the Two-storied Pagoda to Main Shrine Golden Hall, you need to walk about 10 minutes on a stone paved road. If you are visiting and worshipping on foot, you need to go via Yuki Shrine. The temple encourages people who can walk the distance, not to use the cable car and visit and worship the temple on foot.

Access from Kibune side
Kibune Shrine (35) - 573m - Mao-den (185) - 460m - Sekurabe ishi(235) - 404m - Main Shrine Golden Hall(160)
The numbers in brackets are altitudes measurements based on that of Nio-mon (unit: m). The entrance from Kibune side is called Nishi-mon. This route is said to be the route that Ushiwakamaru ran, when he trained with Tengu. As you will be crossing one mountain, it will be harder than climbing from the Kurama side. It will take about 50 minutes on foot, even for a grown man.

Reference Materials

Author: Koun SHIGARAKI "Tengu no yama – Kurama dayori/Mountain of Tengu – Kurama Newsletter" issued by DAITO Publishing, Year 1990 edition.
Supervised by Yasushi INOUE and Zenryu TSUKAMOTO, written by Shusaku ENDO and Koun SHIGARAKI "Pilgrimage of Old Temple,Kyoto 27 Kurama Temple" published by Tankosha Publishing
Author: Toshinori TAKEMURA "Showa Kyoto Landmark Guide, Rakuhoku" published by Shinshindo, Year 1982 edition. "Shukan Asahi Hyakka – National Treasures of Japan" Issue No. 13 (Kurama Temple and others) published by Asahi Shimbun, Year 1997 edition.
"Japanese History Place Names - Place Names of Kyoto City" published by Heibonsha
"Kadokawa Japanese Place Names Dictionary – Kyoto Prefecture" published by Kadokawa Shoten
"National History Dictionary" published by Yoshikawa kobunkan.

[Original Japanese]