Oharano is a pleasant, semi-rural suburb located to the south west of Kyoto city and easily reached by Hankyu or JR trains and then a Hankyu bus.
A number of interesting temples and shrines make the journey out to Oharano a pleasant half-day trip away from the main, over-crowded sights back in town.
Judith Clancy's excellent book Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital devotes a chapter to this peaceful place, nestled in picturesque, low hills.
The Oharano area is mentioned in the 11th century classic Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.
Oharano Shrine should be your first stop and is a short walk from where the bus from Hankyu Higashi Muko Station or JR Mukomachi Station comes to the end of its route. Oharano Shrine was founded in around 784 when the imperial capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka. Making the move along with the Emperor Kammu was the powerful Fujiwara clan, many of whom had positions of influence at court.
According to myth, the tutelary deity of the Fujiwara clan, Amenokoyane, also moved with them on invitation, riding into the new capital on the back of a deer, hence the several symbolic statues of deer in the shrine's large grounds.
Shoboji Temple 正法寺
Shoboji Temple is a Shingon sect Buddhist temple directly opposite Oharano Shrine. Shoboji Temple like Oharano Jinja was founded in the 8th century. The grounds of Shoboji Temple are noted for a modern rock garden with stones collected from different prefectures in Japan.
Some of the stones resemble animals - even a penguin. There are various ponds, bridges, stepping stones and stone lanterns adorning the garden, which can be viewed from inside a tatami-floored hall, where green tea may be served.
The hall contains an image of a thousand-armed Kannon, which is designated an Important Cultural Property.
Hobodaiin Gantokuji Temple 大原野神社
From Oharano Shrine and Shoboji it is a pleasant, uphill walk through woods and bamboo groves to Gantokuji Temple and Shojiji (Hana-no-tera). Gantokuji Temple is famous for its seated image of Kannon, in this case an androgynous version of the Goddess of Mercy, which is designated as a National Treasure.
The history of the temple is somewhat obscure but it may date from the 7th century, though none of the buildings date from that time. The Treasure House which contains the image of Kannon was built in the 1970s.
Shojiji (Hana-no-tera) 勝持寺
A pair of Nio guardians guard Shojiji (Hana-no-tera) when you reach the top of the stone stairs. This small Tendai-sect temple (which is closed throughout February) is famous for its cherry trees in spring.
Shojiji is associated with the poet-priest Saigyo (1118-90), who after his long and varied travels around Japan, which were later to inspire the haiku master, Basho, expressed a wish to die under their perfect petals. The beautiful temple grounds contain around two hundred cherry trees of different varieties including a variety named after Saigyo.
The grounds also a statue of Binzuru, a disciple of Buddha, said to have the power of healing. The red lacquer that once covered the image has been rubbed away by the hands of supplicants seeking a cure for their ills.
Shojiji's Treasure House contains several Buddhist images including a tiny Yakushi Buddha - Buddha of Medicine. At the back of the storehouse is a set of 12 statues representing the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Rakusai Chikurin Park 京都市洛西竹林公園
Rakusai Chikurin Park is a 2km walk directly east from Hana-no-tera and Gantokuji and contains over 100 different species of bamboo. The park also displays an historic bridge that once separated opposing armies during the devastating Onin War (1467-77) that destroyed so much of Kyoto at the time. The stone Buddha statues in Rakusai Chikurin Park were brought here from excavations during the construction of the Kyoto subway.
The park's museum is dedicated to all things bamboo with samples of both native and overseas varieties, panel displays and collections of bamboo instruments and bamboo arts and crafts.
The museum also includes one of the original bamboo filaments used in Thomas Edison's light bulbs. Buses from near the park connect to Hankyu Katsura Station.
Website in Japanese: www.rakusai-nt.com/tikurin
Oharano - How to get to Oharano
From Kyoto Station take a JR Kyoto Line train to Mukomachi Station (180 yen, 7 minutes) or a Hankyu Line train from Shijo Kawaramachi Station, Shijo Karasuma or Shijo Omiya to Higashi-muko Station (20 minutes, 220 yen). From both stations take the #63 or #65 bus to Minami Kasugacho, the last stop. The bus journey takes 20 minutes and costs 270 yen. If you have the Japan Rail Pass your journey on JR is covered.
It is possible to visit Yoshiminedera and Jurinji temples to the south west in the same day but it means returning to Higashi Muko and taking another bus.