Daimonjiyama hike from the Silver Temple

View over north Kyoto from Daimonjiyama

Your reward at the top of the Daimonjiyama hike: views of the whole of Kyoto city

Every year in August the people of Japan welcome the spirits of their ancestors back to the corporeal world. They visit and tend to their family graves, and prepare and serve food for the souls of departed loved ones – this is the O-Bon holiday, and is the season of ghost stories and family reunions. In Kyoto the end of O-Bon is marked by the Gozanokuribi (五山送り火), five huge bonfires in the shapes of Kanji (Chinese characters) and other symbols which are lit on mountainsides around the city to show the visiting spirits the way back to the other side. Depending where you are in the city you may or may not be able to see some of these, but there are various viewpoints people flock to in order to catch a glimpse. The most popular of these is from the bridges outside Demachiyanagi (出町柳) station (Keihan line), from where there’s a clear view of the first and most celebrated of the fires to be lit. This is the character Dai, 大, located high on the hill behind the Silver Temple, and that hill is known as Daimonjiyama (大文字山, Mt Daimonji). There are actually two 大 bonfires; the other is located across town on the hill behind the Golden Temple.

The Daimonji bonfire during the Obon holiday

The Daimonjiyama bonfire seen from Demachiyanagi (and photographed on my crappy old cellphone)

These posters show the designs of all 5 bonfires:

Daimonji bonfire poster

Poster for the Gozan Okuribi bonfires

(There are actually 6, but 妙法 is a single word and those 2 characters are a pair on the same mountain, and thus counted as a single bonfire)

To be honest I didn’t particularly enjoy it when I went to Demachiyanagi to view the Mt Daimonji bonfire – although it is cool to see this huge flaming Kanji blazing away in the darkness above the rooftops, it was absurdly crowded and absurd crowds wind me up! Except during O-Bon, though, Daimonjiyama is a great place for a hike (in fact I think it’s completely closed off around O-Bon).

Daimonjiyama viewed from below

Mt Daimonji seen from behind Shinnyodo Temple

Daimonjiyama seem from Imadegawa street

…and from Imadegawa-dori

The Daimonjiyama hike is one of the most accessible in Kyoto with the trail starting just round the corner from the Silver Temple, and it brings you up to (arguably) the city’s best viewpoint i.e. the clearing where the bonfire is set. It’s also interesting to see the bonfire pits up close (the kanji is actually a series of smaller bonfires arranged in formation) and the shrine at their centre, and get a feel for just how massive the Mt Daimonji bonfire actually is.

View over southern Kyoto from Daimonjiyama

This X is the centre of the bonfire

It only takes about 45 minutes to walk up – the Daimonjiyama trail’s pretty steep but well-maintained and nothing too strenuous… a lot of people walk their dogs up here!

Daimonjiyama hike map

Daimonjiyama trailhead route map

To find the Daimonjiyama trail, start from the front gate of Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Temple), turning north (left, if you’re facing towards the temple):

Signpost for Daimonjiyama

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

Walk a short distance towards the stone torii shrine gate you can see ahead of you:

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

At the torii turn right and walk a short distance again to a fork in the path:

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

Take the right fork, and you’re on your way! (The left fork just leads to a dead end at a high school)

Head on up past the parking area & vending machine and alongside this stream:

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

The hiking trail proper starts from this bridge:

How to find the Daimonjiyama trailhead

From there you hike steeply up through the forest until you emerge at the bonfire site:

The Daimonjiyama bonfire site

(Daimonjiyama is also located along the route of the Kyoto Isshu Trail; if you walk the Isshu Trail section from Keage to Mt Hiei you can detour north at trail board 45 to the bonfire site, and then descend via the Daimonjiyama hike described above to the Silver Temple & Philosopher’s Path to pick up the Isshu Trail again)

For more Kyoto hikes, see here

For hiking in the Tokyo area, see here

Have you done the Daimonjiyama hike, or do you have any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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See the excellent Hiking in Japan & Ridgeline Images blogs for further inspiration; if you’re also heading to Korea or Taiwan, check out my pages on hiking in Seoul and hiking in Taipei

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