A pleasant walk through woods and 1100 years of history? In Kyoto? Yes, it’s possible on the south-eastern edge if you walk between Tambabashi and Fushimi-Momoyama. It takes two hours and along the way are imperial tombs, Shinto shrines and an Edo-era escapade.
Start from any of three Tambabashi stations (JR, Keihan or Kintetsu). Walk uphill for ten minutes and you’ll come to the tomb of Emperor Kammu (737-806), fiftieth in succession from the sun-goddess and the founder of Kyoto. The reconstructed tower of Hideyoshi’s Fushimi castle peers out from the trees behind.
From Kammu’s burial site it’s a fifteen minute walk through a mixed forest to the much larger mound of Emperor Meiji. The last emperor to live in the old capital, he moved to Tokyo in 1868 at the age of fifteen. In front of Meiji’s mound are 230 steps that lead steeply down to the road below where you’ll find Nogi Shrine, dedicated to the very last Japanese to commit junshi (following one’s master into death). Nogi was the hero of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and when Emperor Meiji died in 1912 he committed ritual suicide with his wife.
Ten minutes downhill brings one to the colourful Gokonomiya Shrine, where you can enjoy refreshing spring water. (It’s ranked among Japan’s top 100 famous waters!). There’s a Keihan station just down the slope, but you’re only ten minutes from the Teradaya Inn and one of the most celebrated incidents of Japanese history.
The man at the centre was the Restoration supporter Sakamoto Ryoma (1834-67). When a shogunate police force raided the inn, the landlord’s daughter, Oryo, heard them coming and rushed out naked from her bath to warn the guests. Ryoma was able to ward off the attackers with a revolver and escape over a roof at the back. Later he married Oryo.
By this stage you may feel you’ve had enough culture, but fortunately you’re in the heart of Kyoto’s sake-brewing area. Two companies, Gekkeikan (largest in Japan) and Kizakura, run attractive restaurants in converted buildings, and it’s there the tour comes to an end. Cheers!
Text and images by John Dougill. John Dougill is professor of British Studies at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University and the author of Kyoto: A Cultural History, In Search of the Hidden Christians, and Japan’s World Heritage Sites. He is also a contributor to our book, Deep Kyoto: Walks. You can read his previous articles for Deep Kyoto here.