The best thing is to ride the train all the way to the last station, Kurama. Then a little cable car takes you part of the way up the mountain. After that, you just have stairs ( a lot of them) to contend with.
Some of the stairs at Kurama
But rewards await you. After a turn, you suddenly see
the pagoda, Kurama
Actually, there were still more flowering sakuras on either side. We arrived at the same time as a small group of Japanese tourists, and we all went a collective "Oh!" of admiration. Then we all lined up to take photos. LOL
This view encourages one to climb yet more stairs, and finally we got to the main temple. There are rather few tourists there, as it is out of the way North East of Kyoto, and a somewhat arduous visit. But it is really worth it. The site is peaceful and quite beautiful.
side view of main temple, Kurama
It is restful to sit a bit and absorb the atmosphere. There are beautiful spots all around.
After Kurama, one ought to go at least to Kibune, a small town not too far away with a temple of its own. There is also Kurama Onsen, which is very nice. We skipped it and just visited Kibune. Two ways of going there: for the energetic, on foot up the rest of the mountain and down an infinite number of winding stairs through the forest on the other site. We went the easy way, by train (only one station away) and then by bus up a hill. You arrive at a village, and go on from there to the temple. We did go into the forest and climbed stairs for about 35 min. You have to be fit! The remarkable thing about that forest (towering cryptomerias and other trees) is that there were quantities of large camellias in bloom. They were huge, really trees rather than shrubs, and quite gorgeous.
Torii to Kibune temple
We got to the temple, and there was a wonderful smell of cedar, as it had just been rebuilt! So we got to see how those places look before age darkens the wood. I want to note that Japanese temples are often rebuilt, at least in part, as a lot of the wood is eventually damaged or rots, especially where it is unpainted.
To the left is the purifying fountain, a little hard to see in the picture.
We walked back to the town and had lunch in a tiny restaurant. I always enjoy those little places, of which there is a legion across Japan. Then back on the train and back to Kyoto. I had wanted to visit Kurama-dera for such a long time, because of its association with Yoshitsune, and then my friend Karen had given me a glowing account of the place. This was a perfect day.
The next day we went to Hakone for a couple of days of relaxation (sort of, as we did do some exploring and went for a while on the old Tokaido road, the one the daimyos used to walk along on their way to pay obeisance to the shogun in Edo. It is lined by giant cryptomerias).
Then back to Tokyo (Shinjuku and some last minute frantic shopping). And on towards home, tired but happy!