Perhaps you’ve been to Kyoto City and seen the sights. This time, why not get out a little deeper into Kyoto Prefecture, and discover the Woodland Kyoto area? This nature-rich central region is a lot closer and in fact easier to access than you might expect, and for the traveler looking to find a deeper Kyoto experience, there’s a lot to discover!
Whether you’re planning a soak in a hot spring, a trip to an ancient shrine in the forest, or a daring boat trip down the Hozu River, we’ve got you covered with information on how to access each corner of this region of Kyoto!
To get a sense of how easy it is to access each of these locations—as well as a sense of the beautiful sights—take a look at this short video:
Assuming you start your journey from Kyoto Station, if you’re arriving at Kansai International Airport, you can take the Kansai Airport Limousine Bus (about 1 hr 30 min), or the Limited Express Haruka train (1 hr 15 min) to Kyoto Station.
The closest to Kyoto City at just a 20 minute train ride, Kameoka City offers a variety of attractions for nature-lovers, casual and otherwise. The city is located in a basin just over the hills that separate it from Kyoto City, and this basin location is part of the reason for some of Kameoka’s most unique features. The adventure can begin even before you set foot in the area: by taking the Sagano Romantic Train to Kameoka from Arashiyama, visitors can get in a bit of scenic sightseeing along the breathtaking Hozu River Gorge. The train has open windows for riders to take in views of the blue-green river below as the tracks wind along the river, dipping in and out of the surrounding mountainside. The fall season also features light-up events in which visitors can ride the train at night through the colorful, illuminated foliage.
If you’re up for more adventure along the Hozu River Gorge, a different, thrilling activity awaits where the train lets you off: from Kameoka, you can also choose to head down the river to Arashiyama by boat! Much more than a simple meandering ferry ride, boats down the Hozu River Gorge are steered by skilled boatmen: one with a pole at the bow, and another with a sort of tiller at the stern. These waters were once used to transport lumber, rice, and other goods, but since sightseeing boats began to sail down the ravine in 1895, it’s become an extremely popular way to experience the seasonal beauty of nature in the gorge. If you don’t mind getting completely wet, there are also rafting tours down the Hozu River.
If the river’s not to your taste, you can head to the mountains: Kameoka is a great place to see unkai, the magical-looking “sea of fog” phenomenon. For an easy lookout spot, head to the Kameoka Fog Terrace. You can even check on conditions at the terrace in advance with this live camera.
Finally, Kameoka is also great for a restful onsen experience: the Yunohana Onsen area including bathing facilities at a number of traditional inns, or ryokan, each with their own types of bath.
The Fog Terrace
The “Tamba Fog” that appears across the Kameoka Basin from autumn to spring is a unique sight for which Kameoka is known.
In the morning in particular, the scenery as viewed from the Fog terrace is w …
・Getting to Kameoka From Kyoto City
By train/bus: Take the JR Sagano (San’in) Line from Kyoto Station to Kameoka Station (About 20 minutes).
Alternatively, take Keihan Kyoto Kotsu Bus from Kyoto Station to Kameoka-eki-minami-guchi bus stop (About 70 minutes).
By car: From Kyoto City, head west on National Route 9 (About 20 minutes).
By train/bus: Take the JR Sagano (San’in) Line from Saga-Arashiyama Station to Kameoka Station (About 8 minutes).
・Finding Accomodation in Kameoka Syoenso Hozugawatei: a traditional ryokan inn with onsen to enjoy in a forest surrounding (the inn is a part of the Yunohana Onsen area). *Pick-up service is available with advance reservation from Kameoka Torokko Station on the Sagano Romantic Train, and from JR Kameoka Station.
Sumiya Kiho-an: A “nature resort” nestled in Kameoka’s Yunohana Onsen area. *Pick-up service is available with advance reservation from Kameoka Torokko Station, and from JR Kameoka Station.
Koiya Farmhouse Inn: A traditional farmhouse perfect for private stays. *Free pick-up service available from Chiyokawa Station on the JR Sagano (San’in) Line.
Bishamon House: A traditional home in the ancient village of Bishamon in Kameoka City. *Pick-up service available from Kameoka Station.
Hanare Ninoumi: An inn beautifully renovated with modern comforts from a 100 year-old building.
Nantan & Miyama
If you really want to experience the traditional Japanese countryside, this is the area for you. Within Nantan City, a visit to Miyama’s pastoral Kayabuki no Sato (a village of traditional homes with thatched roofs) in particular will make you feel as if you’ve stepped right into a postcard. Surrounded by forested hills, and filled with grasses and flowers, the village looks nothing if not idyllic, even (or perhaps especially!) when its iconic peaked roofs are topped, gingerbread house-like, with a layer of snow. You can tour the village and learn about village life, and how these houses are created and maintained, and you can even spend the night: some are available as inns or bed and breakfasts (see Miyama Futon & Breakfast below).
The greater Nantan area is renowned for its beautiful nature, perfect for an escape from the city. Visitors can hike in the Rurikei valley area, and even stay the night with an outdoorsy twist by glamping at GRAX: staying in a sort of tent or yurt with cozy bedding, delicious food, and facilities to make the experience more comfortable and luxurious than simple camping (Read more about GRAX and glamping in this area here: Rural Retreats, Glamping Getaways: Rurikei Onsen).
Another local attraction that’s certainly worth the visit is Ikimi Tenmangu Shrine.
Various shrines with the name “tenmangu” can be found across Japan, and aside from their name, they share an enshrined deity: the legendary 9th century poet and politician Sugawara no Michizane. Ikimi Tenmangu Shrine, however, is the oldest of Japan’s tenmangu shrines. Established in 901, the shrine is also unique in that it is the only shrine to celebrate Sugawara no Michizane as a living deity during his lifetime: this is a place to truly walk through history.
Miyama’s thatched village
The Miyama area is well known for its farmhouses that still use traditional thatched roofs. Kita is an area with a particularly large number of such houses, all positioned together in a village. The t …
・Getting to Nantan From Kyoto City
By train/bus: From Kyoto Station, take the JR Sagano (San’in) Line to Sonobe Station (about 40 minutes).
By car: From Kyoto, take the Jukan Expressway via National Route 478 (About 60 minutes).
・Getting to Miyama From Kyoto City
By train/bus: From Kyoto Station, take the JR Sagano (San’in) Line to Sonobe Station (about 40 minutes). From here, most trains require a transfer to Hiyoshi Station (about 10 minutes). From Hiyoshi Station, take Nantan City Bus to Miyama (about 45 minutes). Please be aware that the first and last buses of the day depart from Sonobe Station, rather than Hiyoshi.
For more details, see this guide to public transport in Miyama. If you’d prefer a visual, check out this helpful video explaining just how to reach Miyama’s beautiful thatched hut village: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrzniFLdPvc&t=11s
By car: From Kyoto, take National Route 162 through Takao. Alternatively, take the Kyoto Jukan Expressway and get off at the Sonobe Interchange. Take Route 19 into Miyama. Both routes take about 80 minutes.
・Finding Accomodation in Nantan & Miyama Casa Miyama: A 110 year-old traditional country home in Kayabuki no Sato village, with a rich, rustic interior that doesn’t skimp on features like an open hearth, beautiful Japanese-style bath, and some wonderful, locally-sourced food. *Pick-up service is available on request for fewer than four people from “Miyawaki” bus stop.
Ryokan Chinsenro: This traditional Japanese ryokan inn is located in Miyama’s Kayabuki no Sato village, and offers traditional tatami rooms that are a feature of ryokan stays. Don’t forget to enjoy the incredible meals and open-air onsen that look on the local forests! *Pick-up service is available upon request.
Miyama Futon & Breakfast: Imagine staying in a 150 year-old thatched roof house with countryside greenery all around! This unique “futon and breakfast” provides not only a unique stay, but cycling, cooking, and traditional roof-thatching activities as well.
Further northwest of Nantan, Kyotamba is located at the center of the Woodland Kyoto area, and offers a number of unique natural sights. Shizushi Cave, for example, is the only limestone cave formation of its kind in Kyoto Prefecture, and visitors can descend through a narrow passage (just watch your step if you visit after rainfall!) to explore its otherworldly depths before reemerging into forested Kyotamba. The Koto Falls flow from a height of 43 meters, the tallest waterfall in Kyoto Prefecture, and an ethereal sight in the forest where the water splits into thin streams reminiscent of the strings of a koto (a traditional instrument), for which it is named.
When you’re ready for a break, you can head to the former Shitsumi Elementary School—a unique Kyotamba location. The retro building is no longer a schoolhouse, though it’s still filled with traditional blackboards, chairs, and other traditional trimmings. Now, the building houses a variety of unique shops and cafés.
While you’re in Kyotamba, you’d also do well to try some of the local delicacies, too. The area produces a variety of local vegetables and foods, including daikoku hon shimeji mushrooms, black soybeans, soybeans, chestnuts, and of course, Tamba wagyu beef.
Old Shitsumi Elementary School
The former Shitsumi Elementary School closed in March, 2011.
The building is now being re-used, with its nostalgic wooden school house interior just as it used to be.
Inside, you’ll find a number of …
・Getting to Kyotamba From Kyoto City
By train/bus: Take a limited express train on the JR Sagano (San’in) Line from Kyoto Station to Sonobe Station (About 40 minutes). You may transfer here to a local train towards Fukuchiyama and get off at the station closest to your destination in Kyotamba. (For Shitsumi Elementary School, get off at Shimoyama Station and take a Kyotamba Municipal Bus to “Ueno” bus stop)
Alternatively, from Sonobe Station, take a JR West Bus towards Fukuchiyama to reach sightseeing spots in Kyotamba. For Koto Falls, get off at “Kototakimichi”(琴滝道) bus stop (About 15 minutes) and walk 30 minutes. For Shizushi Cave, get off at “Hiyama”(桧山) bus stop (About 32 minutes) and transfer to a Kyotamba Municipal Bus to “Shonyudo-guchi” (鍾乳洞口) bus stop (About 40 minutes).
By car: From Kyoto City, take the Kyoto Jukan Expressway, and get off at Tamba, Mizuho, or Wachi IC (About 1 hour 20 minutes).
Within Kyotamba, you may find it most convenient to travel from location to location by car.
About an hour on a single limited express train from Kyoto Station, further to the northeast and approaching Kyoto’s northern coast is Ayabe, an area that’s perfect for farm stays and forest bathing. In fact, you can literally bathe in the forest with the hot spring pools of Ayabe Onsen, or at least get close to it: here, you can soak in an outdoor bath looking out through the mist over the forests of Ayabe’s Kanbayashi area. In addition to being supremely relaxing, the onsen waters here are also known for their skin-beautifying properties.
At night, go to rest in a farmstay like Poka Poka Farm or Satoyama Guesthouse Couture (see below) for a truly immersive experience in the Japanese countryside. When you’re ready to explore again, be sure to visit the historical Komyo-ji Temple, whose 13th century Niomon Gate is designated a National Treasure. Bright red against the forests on the mountainside, this multi-storied gate is built with a “tochibuki” style of wood shingles that’s unusual even in Japan.
Niomon Gate and Komyo-ji Temple
You’ll find Komyo-ji Temple on a mountain slope in the forests of Ayabe City. It was said to have been founded by the legendary Prince Shotoku (572-622). The temple’s main Niomon Gate was constructed …
・Getting to Ayabe From Kyoto City
By train/bus: From Kyoto Station, take a limited express train on the JR Sagano (San’in) Line to Ayabe Station. (About 60 minutes)
By car: Take the Kyoto Jukan Expressway via National Route 27 (About 1 hour 15 minutes)
・Finding Accomodation in Ayabe Poka Poka Farm: A picturesque farmstay location. *Pick-up service can be arranged if you contact the guest house in advance.
Satoyama Guest House Couture: A beautiful, traditional guest house just outside of Ayabe. *Pick-up service can be arranged from Omachi Bus Terminal, or Higashi Maizuru Station if you contact the guest house in advance.
Shoreki-ji Temple: Spend the night at a historical temple! There are other unique experiences to try as well, including meditation in the bamboo grotto, sutra writing, and more.
Just 75 minutes on a single limited express from Kyoto Station, Fukuchiyama is full of both history and legend on a grand scale. One of the area’s most famous locations is the historical Fukuchiyama Castle, which includes a stately three-layered four-storied castle tower atop a hill on which cherry blossoms bloom in the springtime. Originally built by the warlord Akechi Mitsuhide 1579, the current structure is a carefully crafted reconstruction of the historical castle’s unique design.
Before Fukuchiyama Castle, there was Yokoyama Castle, a fortress of the Yokoyama, the local ruling family. Akechi Mitsuhide, the samurai who subjugated Tamba, rebuilt the fortress using state-of-the-a …
Another unique location in Fukuchiyama dates back even further: Motoise Naigu Kotai Shrine enshrined Amaterasu, the Shinto goddess of the sun, before she was moved to Ise Grand Shrine. In fact, this shrine predates Ise Grand Shrine—whose history stretches back nearly 2,000 years, according to some records—by 54 years!
Motoise Naiku, Amanoiwato Shrine
This ancient shrine is one of the locations at which Amaterasu, the Shinto Goddess of the Sun, was enshrined before moving to Ise-jingu Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. In fact, this shrine predates Is …
Of course there’s nature aplenty here, too. Mt. Oe is not only a wonderful location for hiking amidst the greenery or autumn foliage, but is also known as the land of the “oni,” traditional Japanese monsters or demons. In fact, the greatest of the oni, Shuten Doji was said to have made Mt. Oe his home, so venture through if you dare! If you want to learn more about the oni folklore of the region, you can stop by the Japan Oni Cultural Museum, which has some wonderful collections of oni masks and artifacts.
Visit Mt. Oe in the right season, and you can be treated to a different kind of “supernatural” view: this is also a wonderful location to catch a view of the unkai “sea of fog”!
Japan Oni Cultural Museum
The Japan Oni Cultural Museum is appropriately located at the foot of the Oeyama mountain range, home to the most notorious “oni” (demon or ogre) in Japan, Shuten Doji. The museum explains local folkl …
・Getting to Fukuchiyama From Kyoto City
By train/bus: Take a limited express train on the JR Sagano (San’in) Line from Kyoto Station to Fukuchiyama Station (About 1 hr 15 minutes).
By car: From Kyoto, take the Kyoto Jukan Expressway and Route 9 (Approx. 1 hr 45 minutes)
・Finding Accomodation in Fukuchiyama Furuma-ya: A cozy, traditional country house and farmstay owned by a multicultural couple. Complimentary pick-up service can be provided upon request. *Please inquire about pick-up service availability.
Abura-ya: Drink in the nature at this country home in Obara, Fukuchiyama.