Ohara is ‘countryside’ Kyoto – impressive temples, tasty cuisine, and interesting souvenir shops set among the rice paddies of a small village about an hour’s bus ride from Kyoto Station. For visitors who want to see a different Kyoto, Ohara is a great day or overnight trip from the city center.
Ohara is split into two sections, each on opposite sides of Route 367. Traveling from Kyoto, Ohara’s main area is up a gentle slope on the right. It is best to start your explorations there (almost everyone heads to the right upon arrival).
First, you’ll walk up a narrow sloping street that is lined with shops and restaurants on one side and a shallow stream on the other. The stone bridge, Sakanayamabashi, marks Ohara’s ‘heart’. Unfortunately, the lovely inn behind it has been torn down and is currently a dormant construction site. Continue straight to visit Raigo-in Temple or Otonashi-no-taki.
Within Raigo-in‘s extensive compound, visitors wander trails that cut across streams and through the forest. The garden of the main hall is especially beautiful in azelea season. 500 yen. If you’d like to take a little hike through the woods, ten minutes down a trail behind Raigo-in is Otonashi-taki, a 4 meter high waterfall that holds a place in Ohara’s history.
To the right of Sakanayamabashi was Gyozanen (now the construction site). Further along the street is a small temple, Nenbutsuji, a very cluttered Japanese sweets cafe, Genjirushi, and a Western-style coffee shop, Irori.
Turn left to visit Ohara’s main temples, Sanzen-in, Shorin-in, Hosen-in, and Jikko-in.
Sanzen-in is Ohara’s most famous temple, dating back to the late 8th century. It is an absolute ‘must see’! The grounds are extensive and include two lovely gardens. One of them, Yusei-en, is carpeted in moss and is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season, when hydrangeas bloom, and in autumn. 700 yen.
Since the main hall and garden of Shorin-in can be seen from its gate, most do not pay the 300 yen entrance fee. There is an impressive gold statue of Amida Buddha inside the main hall, and the compound is small, but tranquil.
Built in 1012, Hosen-in‘s entrance fee includes tea and a Japanese sweet. Relax on the tatami mats and admire the temple’s garden, Bankan-en. Its focal point is a majestic 700 year old Japanese pine tree. Wooden floor boards, stained with the blood of samurai who lost the battle of Fushima Castle, are now the ceilings of Hosen-in’s outer corridors. 800 yen.
Jikko-in is another small, quiet temple where visitors can enjoy tea and a sweet while viewing a couple of lovely gardens. One contains a rare species of cherry tree, fundanzakura, which bloom from early fall until spring. 500 yen (700 with tea & a sweet).
Back near the stone bridge are souvenir shops and few restaurants that serve simple Japanese lunches.
The ryokan, Seryo, contains a restaurant called Hinosato that offers more elaborate meals that are highly recommended. And, when the weather is warm, they have tables on an outdoor balcony and other that are open to the front and face a small garden.
Toward the bottom of the sloping street is another of my favorite places to eat, Shino Shoumon. I especially like their vegetable lunch with side dishes. The vegetables are grown locally and are delicious! The restaurant’s owner also runs a couple of local shops that sell those vegetables and a number of items made from them (salad dressings, marinades, etc.). If you live in Japan, they make wonderful souvenirs and can be sent directly to your home, often by the next day. I regularly buy their juice made of Ohara red shiso.
Cross Route 367 to explore the quieter side of Ohara. Make your way to & from its main sightseeing spot, Jakko-in. The walk meanders by private homes, fields, small Japanese inns, and unique cafes. If you are fortunate, you may spot ladies dressed like ‘Oharame’ – female peddlers who used to carry flowers or firewood on their heads to sell in the streets of Kyoto.
Minshuku (family-run inns) in this area offer simple accommodations. A couple of the inns allow day visits to their hot spring baths. This is an outdoor bath, or rotemburo, at Ohara-no-sato.
The minshuku, Ohara Sansou, has a cafe on its grounds where you can enjoy an onsen foot bath while sipping coffee, tea, or a beer. The connecting store has a lovely display of pottery. They also offer a reasonable pottery painting activity on-site.
Jakko-in, the ‘Solitary Light’ nunnery, is located at the top of a stone staircase and the grounds are surrounded by forest. It is said to have been founded by Prince Shotoku in 594 in honor of his father, Emperor Yomei.
Access: Buses depart from Kyoto Station via Shijo-Kawaramachi, Keihan Sanjo Station and Demachiyanagi Station. Buses also depart from Kokusai Kaikan Subway Station and Kitaoji Bus Terminal. Ohara is the terminus – head back to central Kyoto from the same location you are dropped off.