■Winter Journey in Nara
■Temples Shrines for a Winter VisitTouch and Experience Nara’s Profound Religious Culture
■Autumn Event Calendar
■Journey to Beautiful Gardens in Nara

Winter Journey in Nara

While enjoying the amazing snowy scenery and early spring flowers, formed with history and nature in harmony, warm yourself up with hot springs and hot dishes. Hospitality and cordial manners will satisfy the chilly traveler. Why not come to this old Japanese town and enjoy a trip in winter?

Recommended Winter Destinations
Area 1 Dorogawa & Tenkawa
Warm yourself up at Dorogawa Onsen and Mt. Omine Dorogawa Onsen is a famous hot spring located in a remote area known for its remarkable mineral water, and also the birthplace of Shugendo religious training. It is located about 820 meters above sea level on the bank of Sanjo River. Sanjo River is the headstream of Kumano River, and it rises in the Mt. Omine range. Its spring water quality is simple. The water is tasteless and odorless, and very mild so comfortable to soak in. The historic streets, lined with long-established inns, create a nostalgic atmosphere filled with the aura of nature at its freshest. Mt. Omine is a sacred mountain for the practitioners of Shugendo, as Shugendo religious training is said to have been founded here 1300 years ago by Enno Gyoja.

Dorogawa Onsen is a post-station town, and it has flourished as the base for climbers who follow the Mt. Omine faith. The warmth of the people living there has remained unchanged for ages, and their warm welcome has aided the area’s popularity. Recently, the number of visitors such as couples, groups of women, and foreign tourists has increased. How about mentally and physically unwinding and relaxing at Dorogawa Onsen?

Welcomed by Locals on the Sacred Mountain Groups of men requiring vegetarian meals used to be typical visitors to this post-station town that welcomes mountain ascetics. It has been a custom of Dorogawa’s facilities to cater for guests night and day. Even though many ordinary tourists also come to visit the town these days, the warm welcome still remains.

What is often said about this amicable town is that you can relax as if you are at home, and easily communicate with the people around. Bathing in a hot spring surrounded by snow and eating wild game, such as wild boar or deer, are recommended in winter. The wild boar meat hot pot, which uses lean Omine Boar, is waiting for you. Bathing surrounded by snow enjoying the silence and the warmth –What you see from the open-air bath or the semi-open-air bath is a silent snowscape. A luxurious warm moment for you in the light from the snow.

“Smack your Lips” over the boar meat hot pot – As boar meat contains high protein and low fat and low calories, it is the dish women prefer. The boar meat hot pot, which contains plenty of collagen, is highly recommended as it also works well for your skin.

Gorogoro Teahouse (Gorogoro water collection facility)
Tel: 0747-64-0188. Address: 686-139 Dorogawa, Tenkawamura, Yoshino-gun . Open: 9:00-18:00. Closed: Dec 31st-Jan 6th
Access: Take bus from Kintetsu Shimoichiguchi Stn. and get off at Dorogawa Onsen bus stop. 30-min. walk from the bus stop.

Tenkawa Daibenzaitensha Shrine
This is a famous old shrine for worshipping the god of art. It is one of Japan’s three great shrines honoring Benzaiten, who is also known as the god of music and entertainment. Extensive materials for Noh play are preserved, and Noh plays dedicated to the god Benzaiten are performed there every year.

Enjoy the Beautiful Landscape of Rime Ice
During severe winter on Mt. Kannonmine, you can see a splendid view of the leafless trees completely covered with rime ice. From the observatory, which is located at the height of 1285m above sea level, you can enjoy the dynamic panorama of Mt. Inamuragadake, Mt. Misen, Mt. Hakyogatake. If you are a good walker, you should head off toward the top of the mountain, walking through the rime ice forest with its breathtaking view. Be sure to prepare well for mountain climbing.

Mt. Kannonmine
Tel: 0747-63-0999 (Tenkawamura Information Desk)
Address: Tenkawamura, Yoshino-gun.
Access: Take bus from Kintetsu Shimoichiguchi Stn. and get off at Kannonmine Tozanguchi bus stop. 2 hours and 30-min. walk to the observatory (in winter).

Enjoy a ski resort with the family – Ski resorts are rarely seen in the Kii Peninsula
This cozy ski slope is a perfect place for the beginners to start skiing, and to enjoy sleigh rides especially for families. It is also popular among advanced skiers for its smooth and dry snow quality at 960-1,040 meters high.

Snow Park Dorogawa
Tel: 0747-64-0082
Address: 678-220 Dorogawa, Tenkawamura, Yoshino-gun
Open in winter: 8:30-16:00. Admission: Adult ¥1,000, Children ¥500
Access: Take bus from Kintetsu Shimoichiguchi Stn. and get off at Dorogawa Onsen bus stop. 10-min. taxi ride from the bus stop.
*If the snowfall is not sufficient, the park will be closed. Please check before leaving home.

Area 2 Yoshino
Spend a Special Relaxing Moment in Winter in Yoshino
Yoshino-cho in Yoshino-gun, is a historical mountain village and a special place to visit in quiet winter. This is the place where history has been made since the ancient Asuka and Nara periods. Quiet winter is the best season to visit this romantic place and think back over ancient times. Everything you find here has been refined over a long time; the Onsen, where you can enjoy panoramic views of snow capped mountains; local hot pot dishes, which are arranged in various imaginative ways; and the famous temples with their national treasure buildings, which you can find while walking around. To appreciate the mysterious charms of Yoshino in depth, a trip in winter is the thing to do.

Enjoy an Onsen with a Great View and Local Special Dishes to the Fullest at a Classic Inn on Mt. Yoshino. There is a peaceful hot-spring inn with a great view where you can stay in Yoshino, where history and culture have been cherished for centuries. In the open-air bath, you can look over Mt. Yoshino covered with snow, which makes you think back through the long history. Gradually warming up in a hot onsen, you can spend a luxurious moment with an elegant view in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere. The local food in this mountain village is recommended, such as wild boar, venison, pheasant and the arrowroot starch called Yoshino Kuzu, among many other dishes using local products.

Yumoto Hounoya
Tel: 0746-32-5121. Address: Nakasenbon Park, Yoshinoyama,
Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun. Open: Onsen for day trippers 14:00-19:00
*Last admission at 18:00). Admision: Adults ¥1,500, Elementary school students ¥750. Access: Take ropeway from Kintetsu Yoshino Stn. and get off at Yoshinoyama Stn. 15-min. walk from the station.

Kinpusen-ji Temple
Kinpusen-ji Temple, which is a training hall for Shugendo, has a national treasure, Zaodo Hall. That magnificent structure looks most beautiful in quiet white winter. Here, the general public may participate in the morning religious service. How about attending the service in a crisp and solemn atmosphere? On every February 3rd, after the Setsubun ceremony, a unique fire festival is held. Here the participants chant ‘In with the demon, in with good luck’, in order to receive the ousted demons from the whole country and finally convert them to Buddhism.
Tel:0746-32-8371. Address: 2500 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho,
Yoshino-gun. Open: 8:30-16:30 (Last entry at 16:00)
Admission: ¥500-¥1,000 for special viewing period
Access: Take the ropeway from Kintetsu Yoshino Station and get off at Yoshinoyama stop, and approx. 20-min. from the ropeway stop.

Translators of this issue: Yuriko Yano

Temples Shrines for a Winter Visit
Touch and Experience Nara’s Profound Religious Culture

Fresh, crispy winter air in Nara will awaken your senses. Enjoy special winter experiences at historical temples and shrines in the old capital. Listening to priests’ stories in a shrine and watching how Buddhist monks work every day will deepen your understanding about the culture of Japan. Many temples and shrines open some of their “secret” doors to the public only during the winter months. Dress up warm and go out for a journey to discover lesser-known “premium” Nara.

Location 1 Todai-ji Temple (UNESCO World Heritage)
Grand Temple which boasts tangible and intangible heritages Todai-ji Temple was commissioned by Emperor Shomu, who was an devout worshipper of Buddhism, in the Nara period (710-794). The Buddhist sutra, “Kegon-kyo,” describes that the size of the universe can be described as Buddha’s height times 10. As if representing this description, the large statue of Vairocana (or Daibutsu, Great Buddha) was completed in 752, and a huge celebration ceremony was held.

The original Daibutsu-den Hall was lost in fire in the late Heian period, but was successfully restored in the early Kamakura period, funded by a donation from the Buddhist monk, Chogen. It was also the time when genius Buddhist sculptors led by Unkei and Kaikei flourished, and many of their sculptures still remain today as National Treasures. As the result of another fire, the current building is a reconstruction completed in 1709. The most famous rite of Todai-ji Temple is “Shunie” or more familiarly known as “Omizutori” in March. Surprisingly, the Shunie rite has never been missed in over 1250 years from its original start.

Todai-ji Temple
Address: 406-1 Zoshi-cho, Nara
Open: Daibutsu-den Hall, Hokke-do Hall, Kaidan-do Hall: 8:00-16:30
(Nov. to Feb.), 8:00-17:00 (Mar. to Oct.). Access: Take the bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off at Daibutsuden Kasuga Taisha-mae, and about 5-min. walk

The Miraculous power of Great Buddha’s palm The Great Buddha holds his right hand up and shows the palm to the front, while his left hand is on his left knee palm up. The right hand, called Semui-in, represents the spiritual power to dispel fear and anxiety, while the left hand, called Yogan-in, has the power to make people’s wishes come true.

Location 2 Kinpusen-ji Temple (UNESCO World Heritage)
Sacred Home of Shugendo founded by Enno Gyoja
Kinpusen-ji Temple was established by Enno Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo (the Shugen sect), a religion that fuses the faiths of Shintoism and Buddhism, and is one of several religions unique to Japan. Magnificent statues of Zao Daigongen, colored in blue, stand here. They are said to have been carved by Enno Gyoja himself out of the wood of cherry trees when he was engaged in spiritual training on the mountain. Cherry trees have been recognized as a sacred symbol of Yoshino for more than 1,300 years, cherished and protected not only for their flowers, but also for their wood, which is deemed sacred.

The Zao-do Hall is a massive wooden gate which is designated as a National Treasure. The most important aspect of Shugendo training is to attempt hard training in the mountain, and to seek the wisdom of Enno Gyoja there. Surrounded by the solemn atmosphere of Yoshino, it will be such an exceptional life experience to try Shugendo training.

Enno Gyoja was the founder of Shugendo who lived in the 5th to 6th century. One of the historical records of Japan describes how Enno Gyoja had a mysterious spiritual power and could control fairies and demons as he wished.

Kinpusen-ji Temple
Address: 2500 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara
Open: 8:30-16:30 (last entry: 16:00).
Access: Take the ropeway from Kintetsu Yoshino Station and get off at Yoshinoyama stop, and approx. 20-min. walk from the ropeway stop.

Unique Setsubun rite welcoming both good demons and bad demons
February 3rd is the Setsubun, or seasonal division from winter to spring. At the massive Zao-do Hall of Kinpusen-ji Temple, a large scale Setsubun Rite is held from the 1st to 3rd of February. What is unique about Setsubun at this temple is that demons are also treated as good luck, while usual Setsubun rites treat them as evil. They welcome to the temple demons warded off from all around Japan, and let them reform their wicked minds with the power of Buddhist sutras.

Location 3 Kasuga Taisha Shrine (UNESCO World Heritage)
Grand shrine of Nara where a deity descended
Ancient myths tell us that about 1300 years ago when the national capital was relocated in Nara, the Great Deity Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto came all the way from Kashima Shrine (Ibaraki Prefecture) to Mt. Mikasa in Nara, which is considered a holy mountain, to dwell on its summit for the prosperity of the nation and the happiness of the people. Later on in 768, the shrine halls were established. The shrine halls’ bright vermillion columns, white walls, and roofs of hinoki cypress bark contrast beautifully with the green of the surrounding ancient woods.

According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, who is said to have appeared on Mt. Mikasa riding a white deer. From that point, the deer were considered divine and sacred. The serene beauty of the buildings has not changed since its inception. This is because of the “Shikinen Zotai” ceremony which takes place every 20 years. In this ceremony, the buildings of the shrine are repaired, the tools and instruments used are renewed, and ceremonial rituals are held strictly according to their traditions.

Onmatsuri is an annual grand festival dedicated to the deity of Wakamiya Shrine, one of the auxiliary shrines of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. In mid-December, a number of rituals, ceremonies and performances of traditional performing arts will be held.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Address: 160 Kasugano-cho, Nara City
Open: 6:30-17:00 Access: Take a bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off at Kasuga Taisha Honden stop

Discovering three stone lanterns inscribed “Kasuga Daimyojin” will bring luck and fortune On both sides of the long shrine approach, there stands some 2,000 stone lanterns. It is believed that if we can discover three stone lanterns in one day on which is inscribed
“Kasuga Daimyojin (春日大明神)”, we can receive incredible good luck and fortune!

Location 4 Kohfuku-ji Temple (UNESCO World Heritage)
Massive temple complex flourished with the Fujiwara Clan
The origin of Kohfuku-ji Temple dates back to 669, during the time when Emperor Tenchi ruled Japan. One of the most famous and influential court officers, Kamatari Nakatomi, fell ill and a temple was constructed to pray for his recovery. This temple was moved later when the national capital was relocated in Nara, and was also renamed as Kohfuku-ji Temple.

Kohfuku-ji Temple received considerable support from the imperial court and the powerful Fujiwara clan which extended its prosperity. Its power was so great that Kohfuku-ji Temple ruled almost all of the province at that time. Also, the temple made a large contribution to the development of cultural items such as Buddhist sculptures, noh and kyogen theatre plays, food like tofu, miso and sake, and more.

Kohfuku-ji Temple
Address: 48 Noborioji-cho, Nara City
Open: Tokon-do Hall 9:00-17:00. Access: Approx. 5-min. walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or take the bus from JR Nara Station and get off at Kencho-mae Stop

Location 5 Hase-dera Temple
Magnificent Statue of Kannon
It is believed that Hase-dera Temple was founded by the Buddhist priest, Tokudo Shonin, who in it enshrined the Eleven-Faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statue, by order of the Emperor Shomu in the 8th century. Going up the 399 stone staircases will bring you to the main hall where Japan’s largest wooden statue of Kannon (over 10 meters tall) is enshrined. From the balcony, a superb view of the city can be enjoyed.

Hase-dera Temple
Address: 731-1 Hase, Sakurai City, Nara. Open: 9:00-16:30
Access: Approx. 15-min. walk from Kintetsu Hase Station

Location 6 5Muro-ji
Mt. Koya for Women
Muro-ji Temple is built on a steep slope to the north of the Muro River. It is said that it was originally the site where the 8th century Buddhist monk Kenkei had a temple, and that his disciple Shuen designed the alignment of Muro-ji’s structures as they still stand today. In contrast to Kongobu-ji Temple (on Mt. Koya in Wakayama, erected by the Buddhist monk Kukai in the early 9th century) which prohibited the entrance of women, Muro-ji Temple, built by the same sect, allowed women to visit and thus was frequented by many female worshippers. It was called "Nyonin-Koya" or Mt. Koya for Women.

Muro-ji Temple
Address: 78 Murou, Uda City, Nara. Open: 9:00-16:00.
Access: Take the bus from Kintetsu Murou Ono-guchi Station and get off at Murou-ji Temple. An approx. 5-min. walk from the bus stop.

Translators of this issue:


Kohfuku-ji Temple Area
The Area with Many National Treasure Buildings

1) The Nara National Museum
The Nara National Museum is one of the leading facilities for Buddhist art collection, and includes many National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. The annual exhibition of Shoso-in Repository attracts a large number of visitors ever y year. The Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall is a stately, western-style structure opened in 1895, and it has been designated as an Important Cultural Property.

2) Kohfuku-ji Temple
Kohfuku-ji Temple was once a large temple which used to lead Buddhist society along with Todai-ji Temple. Although most of the halls and pagodas have been lost in fires, a number of important cultural properties remain.The 50-meter five-story pagoda, which is the main feature of the temple, was reconstructed in 1426.

3) Kohfuku-ji National Treasure Hall
The Kohfuku-ji National Treasure Hall houses about 20,000 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties belonging to Kohfuku-ji Temple, including the famous statue of Ashura and the Buddha head of the former Yamada-dera Temple.
Note: the National Treasure Hall will be closed from January 1st to December 31st, 2017 for ear thquake resistance renovation. However, a selection of artifacts will be exhibited at the temporar y Ko-do Hall.

4) Nan’en-do Hall
The Nan’en-do Hall of Kohfuku-ji Temple is the ninth temple of the 33 Saigoku Sacred Pilgrimage Sites, and it’s the only such site in Nara City. The current Hall was constructed in 1741. Nan’en-do Hall houses a seated image of Fukukensaku Kan’non as its principal icon, as well as standing images of Shitenno, the Four Heavenly Kings, all National Treasures.

5) Ukimi-do Pavilion
Ukimi-do is a hexagonal pavilion with a unique atmosphere, apparently "floating" over the Sagi Pond in Nara Park. The beautiful reflection on the pond’s surface makes it a waterside oasis.

6) Marumado-tei House
The Marumado-tei is a wooden warehouse with a thatched roof which was
once Kasuga Taisha’s sutra repository, and is located within the Kataoka
plum forest near Sagi Pond.

Kasugano Area
1) Todai-ji Temple
Todai-ji Temple was built as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan during the mid-8th century Tempyo era when Japan’s Buddhist culture was flourishing. One of the seven great temples of Nara, Todai-ji Temple has many highlights in its spacious grounds.

2) Daibutsu-den Hall
Though the present Daibutsu-den Hall is only two thirds of the size of the original, it still is the largest ancient wooden structure in the world, and the Great Buddha, the principal image of the temple, awes visitors with its imposing appearance.

3) Shoso-in Repository
Shoso-in Repository houses artifacts cherished by Emperor Shomu, ancient documents, Buddhist scriptures, musical instruments and paintings, as well as artifacts from Tang Dynasty, China, India and Persia.

4) Himuro Shrine
Himuro Shrine is a unique shrine dedicated to the god of ice that protects a Himuro (icehouse) which was built with the establishment of Heijo-kyo. The Himuro Shrine is worshipped by ice manufacturers from all over Japan. During the Kempyo-sai Festival, a block of ice which is packed with carp and bream is offered to the god.

5) Nigatsu-do Hall
The Nigatsu-do Hall is the site where the Omizu-tori water drawing ceremony is held in March every year. The views from its balcony across Nara are magnificent.

6) Yoshikien Garden
The Yoshikien Garden consists of Japanese gardens and a separate tea house. This impressive garden has Mount Kasuga and Mount Mikasa as shakkei (borrowed landscapes.)

7) Isuien Garden
The Isuien Garden consists of the front garden and the back garden. The Meiji period back garden is the only strolling-around-the-pond style garden in Nara.

Tobihino Area
Relax and Enjoy the Rich Greenery

1) Tobihino Field
The name “ Tobihino” is derived from “Tobufu”, a signal fire lit by the field guard a long time ago.

2) “Rokuen” Deer Protection Center
The Rokuen Deer Protection C enter is a veterinary hospital which takes a special care of deer. Almost 1000 deer are living in Nara Park and they are protected by the Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara.

3) Man’yo Botanical Garden in Kasuga Taisha Shrine
In Man’yo Botanical Garden, there are over 300 varieties of flora, each of which has its name and the corresponding Man’yo poem written on a signpost.

4) Wakamiya Shrine
Wakamiya Shrine is located at the foot of Mount Mikasa, and is famous for its wisteria.

5) Kasuga Taisha Shrine
The enshrinement of a god from Kashima Shrine, present day Ibaraki Prefecture, at the peak of Mount Mikasa to protect the Heijo-kyo Capital at the beginning of Nara period , is believed to be the origin of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, built in 768. The bright vermillion shrine halls and the lanterns hanging from the eaves of the cloister, contrast beautifully with the green of the surrounding cedar woods.

6) The World of Dense Kasuga-yama Hill Primeval Forest
Since the Heian Dynasty, for over 1000 years, hunting and logging have been prohibited in Kasuga-yama, a sacred hill of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Thanks to this policy, Kasuga-yama Hill Primeval Forest, unlike other primeval forests near the city centers of the world, is a haven for rare animals and plants. 1000-year-old giant cedars, firs and cypresses are all found in the forest. As the sub-tropical and temperate plants coexist in the forest, the number of species reaches 805, including arctic plants and ferns.

Mt. Wakakusa & Mt. Kasuga
1) Mount Wakakusa
Mount Wakakusa is covered with grass, and it will only take you about 20 minutes to reach the peak if you walk ver y fast. The view from its peak is magnificent, and the evening view is super. Open between the 3rd Saturday in March and the 2nd Sunday in December.

2) Kasuga-yama Trail
The Kasuga-yama Trail runs through the Kasuga Primeval Forest and is good for hiking, forest bathing, and bird-watching. The Takisaka-no-Michi was previously the Yagyu Road, a paved path along a stream toward Yagyu, the village of swordsman.

3) Uguisu-zuka Ancient Tomb
The Uguisu-zuka Ancient Tomb is a roughly 100-meter-long key-hole shape burial mound on the peak of Mount Wakakusa. It is believed to have been built in the early 5th century. Since a mountain top tomb is very unusual, Uguisu-zuka Kofun appeared in Makura-no-Soshi (The Pillow Book), an essay written in the Heian period by Sei Shonagon.

4) Images of Buddha Carved in Kasuga-yama Stone Caves
The Kasuga-yama Sekkutsu-butsu are about 20 images of Buddha carved inside two rocks excavated from the mountain surface, in the style of Atsuniku-bori (deep-engraving.) They are also known as Anabutsu, literally “cave Buddha” and the ancient inscription says that the images were carved in the 12th century.

5) Images of Buddha Carved in Jigoku-dani Stone Caves
Jigoku-dani Sekkutsu-butsu are carved in the style of Sembori (line engraving.) In the center of the front wall of the cave, there is a 1.4-meter-tall seated statue of Nyorai, which is believed to have been carved in the late Nara period.

6) Kubikiri Jizo
Kubikiri Jizo is a stone image of Jizo (bodhisattva) whose head is not connected to its body. A legend says that Mataemon Araki, a swordsman tested the sharpness of his sword here.

7) Uguisu Waterfall
Uguisu-no-Taki is a 10-meter-tall small waterfall, which is the headwater of Saho River. The area around Uguisu-no-Taki is well-known for autumn colors of Japanese maple trees.

8) Asahi Kan’non
Asahi Kan’non is the stone Buddha triad carved on the cliff along Takizaka path. The image of Miroku Bosatsu in the center, and Jizo Bosatsu on both sides are all facing the East. They are called Asahi Kan’non because they glow in the morning sunlight.

Translators of this issue:

Journey to Beautiful Gardens in Nara

Isuien Garden (Nara City)
Isuien is a quiet garden secluded from the surrounding noise of Nara City. It is a strolling-around-the-pond style garden designed to preserve the beautiful landscape of Nara, following the Japanese tradition of valuing seasonal natural beauty. Visitors can appreciate two gardens created from two different periods, the Edo and the Meiji eras.

The garden is designated a Place of Scenic Beauty. Zen-en (Front Garden), one of the gardens, was created in the early Edo period and is a calm and secluded place. Ko-en (Back Garden) was laid out in the Meiji era, skillfully incorporating the surrounding landscape as the backdrop of the garden. Zen-en spreads to the right of the entrance, and was made by a wealthy Nara-zarashi merchant. He transferred the Sanshutei Tea House to this site at the side of the Yoshiki-gawa Stream as his villa in 1670s to enjoy sencha (steeped green tea). He built another tea house called Teishuken and created a garden commanding a view of distant mountains. Stone lanterns are placed at some important spots around the pond, and rocks on the bank are arranged in the distinctive style of the Edo period. Today meals and teas are served at Sanshutei Tea House.

Ko-en is a strolling-around-the-pond style garden with a tsukiyama artificial hill. It was created by a wealthy businessman in the Meiji era. As visitors walk along a narrow path, their vision is abruptly widened, and a magnificent view spreads out in front of them. The garden incorporates the distant landscape of Mt. Wakakusa, Mt. Kasuga, Mt. Mikasa and even the adjacent Nandai-mon of Todai-ji Temple as part of its garden design. This is called shakkei, or “borrowed landscape.”

Neiraku Art Museum built in the garden displays a wide range of works including bronze tools, rubbed copies and old mirrors of ancient China, ceramics of the Goryeo period of Korea, tea utensils and old tiles of Japan.

Isuien Garden
Open: 9:30–16:30. Closed: Tuesdays, year-end and New Year
Admission: Adults 900 yen. Restaurant: In January and February open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays (11:30–15:30).
Closed December 13, 2016 to January 31, 2017.
Access: 15 min. walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Address: 74 Suimon-cho, Nara City
Tel: 0742-25-0781.

Yoshikien Garden (Nara City)
Yoshikien Garden is on the site of Manishu-in, a residence of high priests of Kohfuku-ji Temple up until the Edo period. In the Meiji era, it became a private possession, and the present buildings and garden were built in 1919. After being used as a corporate guesthouse, it came into the hands of the Nara Prefectural Government toward the end of the Showa period, and has been open to the public since then.

Yoshikien consists of three different types of gardens: The pond garden was designed to take advantage of the natural terrain, the moss garden is carpeted with cedar moss and the tea-ceremony flower garden is full of seasonal flowers. The garden incorporates Mt. Kasuga and Mt. Wakakusa as shakkei and offers visitors a peaceful moment.

Yoshikien Garden
Open: 9:00-17:00. April 1-February 14, March 1-March 31 (Closed: February 15-28)
Admission: Adults 250 yen (free for visitors from abroad).
Access: 15 min. walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
Address: 60-1, Noborioji-cho, Nara City. Tel: 0742-22-5911

Former Daijo-in Temple Garden (Nara City)
Daijo-in Temple Garden was devastated in the peasant uprisings during the Muromachi period, but later restored by the famed garden designer of the day Zenami. Court nobles, including the Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga, often visited, and the garden was praised as the most beautiful garden in Nara. The Heritage Center, built in a corner of the garden, displays related historical materials. Events and gatherings using the tearoom and conference rooms are also held at times.

Former Daijo-in Temple Garden
Open: 9:00-17:00. Closed: Mondays. Admission: Adults 100 yen
Access: Nara Hotel bus stop. Bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Station
Address: 1083-1 Takabatake-cho, Nara City
Tel: 0742-24-0808.

Heijo Palace East Palace Garden (Nara City)
The Heijo Palace was constructed in 710. Once there was a pond measuring 60 meters from east to west and 60 meters from south to north in the southeast corner of the palace. The area around the pond is now called East Palace Garden, To-in Teien.

In 1967 a garden site was discovered at the eastern end of the Heijo Palace Site, and a full-scale excavation was carried out to reveal the total picture of the garden. The garden, measuring 80 meters from east to west and 100 meters from south to north, was named East Palace Garden (To-in Teien). The garden was restored and has been open to the public since 1998. The garden is very elegantly designed with a pond in the center and several buildings around it, invoking the images of emperors and the aristocracy of the Nara period holding ceremonies and parties there.

Heijo Palace East Palace Garden (To-in Teien)
Open: 9:00-16:30. Closed: Mondays, year-end and New Year
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Yamato Saidaiji Station to Heijo Kyuseki stop. 10-minute. Address: Saki-cho, Nara City
Tel: 0742-30-6752.

Jiko-in Temple (Yamatokoriyama City)
Jiko-in Temple, which belongs to the Daitoku-ji division of the Rinzai Zen sect, was founded in 1663 by Sadamasa (Sekishu) Katagiri to pray for the happiness of his father’s departed soul. Sadamasa Katagiri was a feudal lord of the Yamatokoizumi-han and also the founder of Sekishu school of tea ceremony.

The temple is simple but elegant and has a beautiful dry landscaped garden, praised as one of the three most magnificent gardens in Nara. Visitors are enchanted by the bright contrast between the whiteness of the sand and the greenness of azalea shrubs, and the extraordinary view looking over the whole Yamato plain.

Jiko-in Temple
Open: 9:00-17:00. Admission: Adults 1,000 yen (including matcha green tea and sweets).
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Yamato Koizumi Station or a short walk from Katagiri Nishi Shogakko bus stop. Bus from Kintetsu Koriyama Station
Address: 865 Koizumi-cho, Yamatokoriyama City
Tel: 0743-53-3004.

Taima-dera Temple Nakanobo (Katsuragi City)
Taima-dera Temple is a large temple founded in the 6th century Asuka Period. Many temple buildings, such as the East and West Pagoda, the Main Hall, the Golden Hall and many auxiliary temples, including Nakanobo, stand in the grounds. Some temple buildings, Koguen Garden and the Reihoden Museum that houses treasures associated with Princess Chujo are open to the public. Tree peonies in spring are especially attractive, and about 1,200 tree peonies in different colors bloom one after another from late April to early May. Apart from tree peonies, visitors can enjoy seasonal flowers such as hydrangeas, cotton roses and Chinese bellflowers.

Among the many cultural assets in Taima-dera Temple, Koguen Garden is a must-see. It was created in the Momoyama Period and is famous as one of the three magnificent gardens in Nara. Centering on a pond in the shape of the Chinese character for water in cursive style of writing, the garden skillfully incorporates the East Pagoda as its shakkei borrowed landscape.

Taima-dera Temple Nakanobo
Open: 9:00-17:00. Admission: Adults 500 yen, matcha green tea 400 yen, experience of copying Buddhist images 1,500 yen
Access: 15 min. walk from Kintetsu Taimadera Station
Address: 1263 Taima, Katsuragi City
Tel: 0745-48-2001.

Chikurin-in Temple Gunpoen Garden (Yoshino Town)
Yoshino’s vast array of cherry blossoms in spring and its colored leaves in autumn are well known for their unparalleled beauty, but spending time there in winter enjoying spectacular views is another profound experience. Chikurin-in Temple is said to have been founded by Prince Shotoku, and is famous as a refined shukubo temple lodging loved by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Akiko Yosano and many other writers and artists.

Its garden, Gunpoen, another of the three magnificent gardens in Nara, is a stroll-around-the-pond style garden with shakkei borrowed landscape. As wide as 33,000 square meters, it was designed by Sen Rikyu for Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The garden is decorated with a profusion of weeping cherry blossoms blooming in the center of the pond in spring, surrounded by beautiful greenery in summer, adorned with bright colored leaves in autumn, and covered with snow under the quiet, brisk and clear air of winter. These days Gunpoen is popular as a hot spring inn with openair baths attached to guest rooms and private baths.

Chikurin-in Temple Gunpoen Garden
Open: 8:00-17:00. Admission: Adults 300 yen (Gunpoen)
Access: Ropeway from Kintetsu Yoshino Station to Yoshinoyama stop and 25 min. walk from there.
Address: 2142 Oaza Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara.
Tel: 0746-32-8081.

Translators of this issue:


Mt. Wakakusa Grass Burning Festival
Wakakusa Yamayaki is one of the major events in Nara that heralds the coming of spring. Held annually on the 4th Saturday in January, 342 meter high Mt. Wakakusa is set alight and burned. It is commonly said that Yamayaki represents the idea that the Shinto and Buddhist deities in Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todaiji Temple and Kohfukuji Temple syncretize to calm and console the spirits of the dead, and furthermore to pray for the prevention of disaster in Nara and for world peace. However, there are various theories on the origin of the event. Three representative shrines and temples, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todai-ji Temple and Kohfuku-ji Temple, claim that Yamayaki originates in the woodcutter’s festival to console the dead spirits buried in the keyhole-shaped burial mound on the top of Mt. Wakakusa.

There are also other theories: It was generally believed that if Mt. Wakakusa was not burned in January, some inauspicious events would happen. Another theory claims that it passes down the ancient custom of Noyaki (field burning) that hastens the early spring shoots.

Although its origin is unclear, Yamayaki is certainly an important traditional event in winter, and it also plays the role of a fire prevention campaign. After a 600-firework display, the whole 33 hectare mountain is burned, and blazing fire colors the winter sky red. That whole burning mountain rising up into the night sky is a spectacular sight. Recently, the fireworks have become popular because this is the largest display in Nara, and also, fireworks in winter are unusual in Japan. The fireworks are must-see along with the traditional events of Wakakusa Yamayaki.

Venue: Around Mt. Wakakusa in Nara Park
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Nara Station or JR Nara Station to Todai-ji-daibutu-den/Kasuga-taisha-mae bus stop. 15-minute walk to the foot of Mt. Wakakusa.
View Points: Yamayaki can be seen from several places in the Nara Park: IRAKA; the
Kasugano-enchi Field; and Tobihino Field.

Otateyama Festival
Since the Edo period, people in various parts of Nara have passed down the custom of Tateyama, in which Tsukurimono, a fabricated decoration, was used as a “scapegoat” to absorb evil or misfortune that might otherwise befall people. The tradition of Tateyama is continued to this day, and many local communities hold annual celebration to pray for good health. Tateyama Festival in Okakiuch, Koryo-cho, Atago Festival in Yagi-cho, Kashihara City, and Tenma Shrine Tateyama Festival in Higashinagara, Gose City. Based on the original Tateyama, Otateyama Festival was re-established in 2015.

Four giant Otateyama are constructed on four floats and lights are placed inside each one. These are associated with Four Devas which are guardian deities of Nara. Local people then pull the decorated floats around Daigoku-den Hall in the Heijo Palace Site at night. Along with other traditional events from various parts of Nara, the festive mood rises to a climax with this winter night festival.

Nara Rurie
“Kairo” means a cloister that encircles temple or shrine buildings and courtyards. It is a walkway around the precinct. “Shiawase” is an act of prayer by placing both hands together. Ancient Japanese used to place their hands together toward revered deities. The image of people with their hands together in prayer and gently bowing their heads has been part of the landscape of Nara from ancient times to the present day. The azure color of lapis lazuli had been regarded as a sacred color. The lapis lazuli was brought to Japan along the Silk Road, as were precious stones that have fascinated Japan since ancient times.

The time is early spring according to the calendar, but it is still bitterly cold. The event “Shiawase Kairo Nara Rurie” invites visitors into the picturesque world of lapis lazuli along lantern-lit paths that link the three representative shrines and temples, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Kohfuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple during special night openings.

Enjoy the heart-warming illumination in winter with all of Nara’s prayers. Wish for happiness to come by placing hands together in the shrines and temples and accordingly sanctifying the mind. Wish for world peace along with the offering of the prayers of many, and hoping that the beautiful earth in lapis lazuli color will shine forever.

Large Bowl Tea Ceremony at Saidai-ji Temple
According to the records preserved in Saidai-ji Temple, Ochamori-shiki derives from an event in 1239 when Eison Shonin, a Buddhist priest, treated the common people to powdered tea that was the remains of religious offerings to Yahata-jinja Shrine. Eison Shonin strictly observed Buddhist commandments and shunned drinking alcohol, so he took tea with the people instead. In those days, tea was considered an expensive medicine, but he dared to treat people to tea as a means of relief in a practice of social welfare. This Eison Shonin’s virtuous deeds are believed to be the origin of Ochamori-shiki that has been continued for nearly 800 years.

In addition, another important key word is Ichimi Wago, which means being comforted by sharing something together in harmony. In the ceremony, we do not drink tea separately; there are no individual bowls for each person. Buddhist priests make tea in a large bowl and the guests help each other to drink tea from the same bowl, which is intended to cultivate a feeling of unity in people’s minds.

The Ochamorishiki, founded by Eison Shonin, embodies the ideology of Ichimi Wago, an intrinsic essence of Buddhist doctrine. It goes beyond the superficial meaning of Buddhist commandments that simply prohibits drinking alcohol.

During the present day ceremony, Buddhist priests make tea in a large bowl, about 30 cm in diameter, and serve it to the guests. A guest lifts the large bowl and drinks tea with the assistance of neighbors and then passes the bowl of tea to the next, which produces a friendly atmosphere.

Opening hours: 10:00-15:00
Guest fee: 1,000 yen *No reservation needed
Venue: Komyo-den Hall, Saidai-ji Temple
Address: 1-1-5 Saidaiji Shiba-cho, Nara City

Mt. Miune Rime Ice Festival
Mitsue Village is located at the east end of Nara Prefecture bordering Mie Prefecture. Its name derives from the legendary myth that Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the daughter of Emperor Suinin, left her own cane (tsue) to mark the candidate site for a Shinto Shrine to enshrine Amaterasu-omikami, the sun deity. The village was closely associated with Ise and Iga in Mie Prefecture, and it prospered as a post town in the Edo period because the main Ise road ran through it from east to west.

Mt. Miune rises 1,235 meters high at the southeast of Mitsue Village, and it is famous for rime ice in winter, which is rarely seen in the Kinki area. The Muhyo Festival is held in Mitsue Youth Traveler’s Village at the foot of the mountain from January to February, which attracts many mountain climbers. (It is a ten-kilometers round trip and takes four hours. Winter mountain-climbing equipment including climbing irons is necessary). The breathtaking view from the mountain top and Hachiman-daira is spectacular.

Visitors can enjoy fantastic scenery of rime ice, and many pleasant events and rare treats to warm the heart and body in the Muhyo Festival.

Opening hours: Muhyo Festival 13:00-
Venue: Mt Miune, Mitsue Youth Traveler’s Village
Access: Bus “Muhyo-go,” from Kintetsu Haibara Station.
*Bus only runs during the Festival period.
Tel: 0745-95-2070

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Botan / Winter Peony
Sekko-ji Temple
300 winter-flowering peony trees bloom in red, white, purple and pink around the temple grounds.
Best period: Early December to late January. Address: 387 Someno, Katsuragi City.
Access: 13-minute walk from Kintetsu Nijo Jinja-guchi Station. Tel: 0745-48-2031

Hase Temple
Known as “a flower temple,” many varieties of flowers can be seen here.
Best period: Late December to late January.
Address: 731-1 Hatsuse, Sakurai City. Access: 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Hasedera Station. Tel: 0744-47-7001

Ume / Japanese Plum
Hokke-ji Temple
Many varieties of ume tree in red and white.
Best period: January to March
Address: 882 Hokkeji-cho, Nara City. Access: Bus from Yamato Saidaiji Staion to Hokkeji. 3-minute walk. Tel: 0742-33-2261

Yamato Folk Park
150 white “Shiro-kaga” ume trees blossom in the “Minpaku plum grove”.
Best period: January to March.
Address: 545 Yata-cho, Yamatokoriyama City, Nara.
Access: Bus from JR Yamato Koizumi or Kintetsu Koriyama stations to Yata Higashi-yama. 10-minute walk
Tel: 0743-53-3171 (Nara Prefectural Folk Museum)

The Museum Yamato Bunkakan (Bunkaen)
130 trees with 70 varieties of white and red ume bloom in the garden.
Best period: Late January to mid March.
Address: 1-11-16 Gakuenminami, Nara City.
Access: 7-minute walk from Kintetsu Gakuen-mae Station. Tel: 0742-45-0544

Nara Park (Kataoka Plum Grove)
250 ume trees are planted in Kataoka ume grove in Nara Park.
Best period: Late February to mid March.
Address: Takabatake-cho, Nara City.
Access: Bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara stations to Kasugataisha Omote-sando. Short walk. Tel: 0742-22-0375 (Nara Park Office)

Tsubaki / Camellia
Tamatsura Shrine
500 camellia trees with 200 different varieties are planted here.
Best period: February to late March.
Address: 383 Jionji, Sakurai City, Nara.
Access: 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Yamato Asakura Station
Tel: 0744-42-6633(Omiwa Shrine)

Tsubaki Juan
With about 1,000 different varieties, 5,000-6,000 camellia trees are open to the public.
Best period: February to early April
Address: 556 Ikenouchi-cho, Yamatokoriyama City, Nara
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Koriyama Station to Katagiri Ikenouchi. Short walk. Tel: 0743-52-6126

Tsubaki-yama, Yamanobe
10,000 camellia trees with about 1,000 varieties, including some original varieties.
Best period: Mid March to early April.
Address: 697-1 Jionji, Sakurai City, Nara.
Access: 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Yamato Asakura Station. Tel: 0744-42-2757

Kaizan-do Hall of Todai-ji Temple (one of the best 3 camellia trees in Nara)
The garden is not open to public, but it is possible to view the “nori-koboshi” ume trees over the hedge.
Best period: March to April
Address: 406-1 Zoshi-cho, Nara City.
Access: Bus from JR or Kintetsu
Nara Stations to either Todai-ji Daibutsu-den bus stop or Kasuga Taisha-mae. 15-minute walk. Tel: 0742-22-5511 (Todai-ji Temple)

Aun-ji Temple
Wild camellia around the remains of the tower.
Best period: Late March to early April.
Address: 361 Kose, Gose City, Nara.
Access: 10-minute walk from Yoshino-guchi Station on the Kintetsu
Line. Tel: 0745-62-3346 (Tourist Association Office of Gose City)

Denko-ji Temple (one of the best 3 camellia trees in Nara)
Unique variety called “Chiri-tsubaki,” named for shedding its crimson petals one by one.
Best period: Late March to early April
Address: 24 Ogawa-cho, Nara City.
Access: 15-minute walk from either JR or Kintetsu Nara Station. Tel: 0742-22-1120

Nara Prefecture Gokoku Shrine
10,000 camellia trees bloom, with about 1,000 different varieties including an early-flowering camellia. Tsubaki-matsuri festival in late March.
Best period: Late March to mid April.
Address: 1984 Furuichi-cho, Nara City.
Access: Bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Stations to Gokoku-jinja. 3-minute walk. Tel: 0742-61-2468

Kosho-ji Temple
A unique, 6m high ancient camellia variety which blooms in many different colors.
Best period: Late March to mid April
Address: Kake, Soni Village, Uda-gun, Nara.
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Habra Station to Kake Nishi-guchi. 5-minute walk
Tel: 0745-94-2106 (Soni Villlage Tourist Association Office)

Byakugo-ji Temple (one of the best 3 camellia trees in Nara)
“Goshiki tsubaki” or five-colored camellia, named for its flowers in 5 different colors. Designated as a natural monument.
Best period: Late March to mid April.
Address: 392 Byakugoji-cho, Nara City.
Access: 20-minute walk from Takabatake Jutaku bus stop, a bus ride from either JR or Kintetsu Nara Station. Tel: 0742-26-3392

Translators of this issue:


Kojiki and Nihonshoki Kojiki is the oldest chronicle in Japan, written on the orders of Emperor Tenmu, and compiled by Empress Genmei. It is composed of three volumes: first, middle, and lower. The first volume contains collected myths about Japanese deities. The middle and lower describe achievements of previous Emperors, from legendary first Emperor Jinmu (712-586 B.C.) to 31st Empress Suiko (554-628), over 1300 years.

The Nihon Shoki chronicles were created by order of Emperor Tenmu in 720. It is a long history book composed of 30 volumes and 1 imperial family tree. It begins from myths describing the birth of Japan, as does the Kojiki, and covers up to the era of Empress Jito.

The compilation of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki started in Nara, a place in Japan like no other, with its rich history, literature and regional traditions passed down since the Nara era. Today, you can still see the landscapes of those days of Kiki Man’yo and stand on spots associated with the myths and traditions of 1300 years past.

Story 1
“Ichigon-san” the Great Deity Hitokoto-nushi of Katsuragi and Emperor Yuryaku
The Kojiki tells that when 21st Emperor Yuryaku was hunting on Mt. Katsuragi, he encountered a procession exactly like his own. He said, “I am the only emperor of Yamato. Whose procession is that?” The other side said the same thing. Angered, the imperial attendants aimed their arrows at the rivals, who also took aim at them. So the Emperor proposed they introduce themselves to each other.

The rival announced, “I am the Great Deity Hitokoto-nushi of Katsuragi who gives an oracle in a single word whether the fortune is good or bad, and presides over the magical power of language.” In awe, the Emperor lay down his weapons and ordered his attendants to take off their clothes, and present them to the deity. This pleased Hitokoto-nushi greatly.

Katsuragi Hitokotonushi Shrine is dedicated to this Great Deity. On the evening of the annual winter solstice, the “Ichiyoraifukusai” festival takes place. People present votive lights before the deity and pray for good luck. This festival can be traced back to a secret night time ceremony from the Muromachi era.

Katsuragi Hitokotonushi Shrine
Address: 432 Oaza Moriwaki, Gose City, Nara.
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Gose Station to the Miyado-bashi Stop, and approx. 30-minute walk.
Tel: 0745-66-0178

Story 2
Moto Ise Old Shrine to Worship Amaterasu, the Supreme Sun Deity
During the Eastern Expedition of Emperor Jinmu as described in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Emperor Jinmu enshrined the Supreme Sun Deity Amaterasu in Akino before marching to the conquest of Yamato. The Supreme Sun Deity Amaterasu is the main deity enshrined in Aki Shrine.

The foundation story of this shrine says that Akihime-no-kami, a descendant of Susanoo-no-Mikoto, enshrined Amaterasu there. This is one of the places called Moto Ise, where Amaterasu was once enshrined before Ise Jingu Shrine was built.

A Noh stage constructed in the Edo era still exists in the shrine precincts. It is said that Nagayori Oda, a descendant of Nobunaga Oda donated it. In June every year, the nationally renowned “Akino Hotaru Noh” is held there.

Aki Shrine
Address: 252 Ouda Hasama, Uda City, Nara.
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Haibara Station to Ouda High School Stop and an approx. 5-minute walk.
Tel: 0745-82-2457 (Uda City Tourism Division)

Story 3
Deity of Sweets, Tajimamori with Noble Pure Heart
Legend says Tajimamori was ordered by 11th Emperor Suinin to leave Japan and bring back the elixir of eternal youth and longevity. After searching for 10 years, he found a fruit called “Tokijiku-no Kakuno-Mi”, regarded as a secret medicine. He brought it back to Japan, only to find that Emperor had already died. He made an offering of the fruit at the Emperor’s mausoleum, crying so sorrowfully that he finally died. A small island in the moat is said to be the tomb of Tajimamori.

After planting the seeds of the fruit, tachibana citrus sprouted. Since then, that place came to be called “Tachibana.” Tachibana Temple is said to stand on the birth place of Prince Shotoku, and is one of seven temples erected by him. A statue of Tajimamori is enshrined In the main hall. He also brought back brown sugar, so is considered the patron ancestor of sweets.

Tachibana-dera Temple
Address: 532 Tachibana, Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara.
Access: Bus from Kintetsu Kashihara Jingu-mae Station or Kintetsu Asuka Station to Kawahara or Oka Hashimoto Stop, and approx. 3-minute walk.
Tel: 0744-54-2026

Translators of this issue