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Hiking in Nara - Courses for Beginners


While the vibrant neon lights of Tokyo often capture the imagination when thinking of Japan, the country's landscape is predominantly characterized by a diverse topography. Approximately 70% of Japan's land area comprises mountainous regions and plains, presenting a stark contrast to the urban imagery and hyper-modernity often associated with the nation. Nestled in the heart of the Kii Peninsula, Nara Prefecture exemplifies this natural diversity. With mountains and forests enveloping the region, only about 23% of Nara's area is habitable, ranking it 43rd in terms of livable space among Japan's 47 prefectures.


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This geographical makeup positions Nara as an idyllic destination for hiking enthusiasts. The prefecture's rich natural landscape offers a plethora of trails that cater to hikers of all skill levels. However, this article aims to introduce hiking courses specifically designed for beginners. These trails feature minimal elevation changes, ensuring an accessible and enjoyable experience for those new to the activity. Moreover, these paths are dotted with various points of interest, enriching the hiking experience with cultural and historical insights. Whether you're looking to immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Nara's natural environment or seeking to explore its rich cultural heritage, these beginner-friendly trails offer a perfect starting point.



Index:



Yagyu Kaido

In the mountains northeast of Nara City is the village of Yagyu, home of the renowned Yagyu Swordsmiths, the sword makers who equipped and trained the Tokugawa Shogunate. Yagyu was connected to Nara via the 19 kilometer long Yagyu Kaido road and in centuries gone by, samurai and other warriors from near and far traversed this road to purchase swords and receive training from the Yagyu family. Much of the original road remains intact to this day and is open to anyone for hiking. It also connects to the Mt. Kasuga Hiking Trail and the Nara-Okuyama Driveway granting hikers the option of having a shorter hike.

  

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Part of The Yagyu Kaido is paved with smooth, moss-covered stones that become so slippery and waterfall-like when it rains that the path is also known as the Takisaka-no-Michi, "Waterfall Slope Road". Despite such a slippery reputation, the trail is actually a pleasant and easy walk. The trail parallels a small stream for much of its route, and takes hikers past ancient Buddha and Jizo statues carved from the rocks, and passes through the Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest high on the slopes of the mountain behind Kasuga-taisha Shrine. Before the peak of the Yagyu Kaido the trail passes a former mass grave turned irrigation pond and a glorious place to take reflection pictures.

  

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The Amidamagaibutsu Cave of Buddhas and the Kasugayama Stone Buddha are the last sites before the Yagyu Kaido reaches the Nara-Okuyama Driveway. At this point, one can continue on toward Yagyu, return the way they came, and descend the Kasugayama Hiking Course’s Southern Promenade Course. Whichever way you choose will be a memorable adventure.





For further maps and details on the Yagyu Kaido, download the official pamphlet.


Nara Visitor Center Yagyu Kaido MAP(English)
.pdf
Download PDF • 9.78MB



 



Takatori Town

The Town of Takatori is a part of Nara’s Takaichi District along with the village of Asuka. After the construction of Takatori Castle was completed in the 14th century the town of Takatori grew up and prospered. Takatori Castle was the largest mountaintop castle ever built in Japan and the center of one of if not the largest fiefdoms by area of any castle. The impressive stone foundations of Takatori Castle’s innermost structures remain to this day. A reenactment of what life and battles were like in the old days is held at the Takatori Castle Festival on the 23rd of November every year.


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Tsubosaka-dera Temple is another of Takatori’s major draws. The temple was founded in the 8th century and boasts several ancient structures. Three marble Buddhas and several other statues and buildings donated to the temple by India as a thank you for Tsubosaka-dera Temple's support in curing a leprosy epidemic in the 1970s.




Hike Overview

This suggested hike starts at Tsubosakayama Station on the Kintetsu line and ends at Takatori Castle Ruins. It takes in a picturesque road full of old traditional houses, historical landmarks and past several quality restaurants.


Another highlight is Tsubosaka-dera Temple, one of Nara Prefecture's most visually stunning temples, recently famed for its "Sakura Buddha."







 



 Mt. Yamato Katsuragi

Katsuragi City is a small city with a population of less than 40,000 people on Nara’s western border with Osaka City. The city’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of Sumo wrestling. Legend has it that a local strong man named Taima no Kehaya once bragged that he knew of no one stronger than himself, but that if a man who was as strong or stronger than he was existed he would like to fight that man.


The Emperor of Japan heard of this boast and found such a man, Nomino Sukune, who lived near Izumo-taisha Shrine (present day Shimane Prefecture). The fight was arranged and Kehaya lost. Supposedly his leg was broken by a kick from his opponent and Kehaya later died of complications from the injury. A sumo museum honoring Kehaya and the sport of sumo wrestling is one of Katsuragi City’s key sites. It has a regulation sized sumo ring with sumo wrestling experiences available to all visitors.


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Katsuragi City’s other claim to fame is Taima-dera Temple, the only temple in Japan to have both of its original pagoda towers intact (both date from the end of the 8th century to the beginning of the 9th century). The temple is also known for its Nerikuyo-e Ceremony, held on the 14th of May every year, featuring a procession of bodhisattva’s escorting the Princess Chujo to heaven. Katsuragi City also hosts one of the largest fireworks displays in Nara in July.

The city of Katsuragi is served by the Kintetsu Gose and Minami-Osaka Lines (direct service on the Minami-Osaka Line is available from Tennoji Station), and by the JR Wakayama Line.



Hike Overview

Mount Yamato Katsuragi, standing at a height of 959 meters, is a notable peak within the Kansai region, straddling the border between Nara and Osaka Prefectures. The views at the peak are stunning and the azalea forest in particular, offers a stunning display of color in the spring, attracting numerous visitors.



There are three popular ways to get to the top of the mountain. One is by ropeway, then a 30 minute walk. The 2 main routes are hikes that you can join nearby the ropeway station. The northern Ridgeline path, known as the Diamond Trail, meanders up the mountain and is quite gentle. The Diamond Trail is a long-distance nature trail that traverses the ridgeline of the Kongō-Katsuragi Mountain Range, covering a total length of about 45 kilometers. The other is short and steep with extensive wooden steps covering and elevation gain of approximately 400 meters over a short distance is therefore not recommended for beginners. The trail can be especially dangerous and slippery after a bit of rainfall.


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The availability of regular bus services from JR Gose Station to the ropeway station enhances its accessibility. For those opting to hike, the ascent can be initiated directly from Gose Station, adding an additional 40-50 minutes of walking to the journey.




 



 Asuka Village

Asuka Village makes up the Takaichi District together with the town Takatori. Japan’s first capitals were moved around the Asuka Village area a number of times in the 6th and 7th centuries and perhaps in the centuries before then. Asuka-dera Temple (home of the oldest bronze Buddha statue in Japan), the scenic Oka-dera Temple (home of one of if not the oldest ceramic Buddha statue in Japan), Tachibana-dera Temple, the Ishibutai Kofun (the stone tomb of a former warlord), and a number of other ancient and historically significant shrines, temples, burial mounds and other ruins are scattered throughout the Asuka Village area.


Asuka Village is served by Oka-dera and Asuka Stations on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line.



Many people enjoy renting a bicycle and exploring the area. The recent popularity of E-bikes has also helped introduce Asuka to those who might otherwise be reluctant to make the effort, but if you enjoy walking, country scenery and cultural history, then Asuka village should be top your list of places to explore.





The above map in no way includes all of what's on offer in Asuka Village, but it will hopefully provide you with some inspiration when compiling your own itinerary.




 



Mt. Wakakusa

Mt. Wakakusa rises 342 meters above Nara and offers expansive views reaching to the Former Site of Heijokyo Imperial Palace. For those preferring not to hike, a drive to the summit via the Nara-Okuyama Driveway is also an option. During summer there is also a shuttle bus available operating into the night so people can enjoy the gorgeous night views from the summit. During spring, the mountain's slopes are speckled with blooming cherry trees, making it a favored spot for picnics. In late January, the Yamayaki event transforms the mountain, setting the grass ablaze in a spectacle visible throughout Nara City.




Hike Overview

The 2 best times to hike Mt. Wakakusa are either first thing in the morning, or late afternoon then take in the sunset at Nigatsu-do Hall at the foot of the mountain. It's best to take the winding back route on the way up via Mizuyachaya Tea House, then descend down the front of the mountain, which is a much straighter path. It leads to the Mount Wakakusa Base North Gate right in front of some souvenir shops, most notably the famous Kikuichi Monju Shiro Kanenaga, a cutlery manufacturer with over 750 years of history.





If you only plan to go half way up to the open grassy area, which still offers fabulous views, take the North Gate entrance and you'll be at your destination in about 20 minutes. We have included a selection of other iconic places to consider visiting to supplement your hike.





Mountain Access: From the 3rd Saturday of March to the 2nd Sunday of December

Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (Excluding special mountain access periods)

Fee: Adults: ¥150 | Children ¥80




 



Soni Kogen Highlands

Soni Kogen is an open mountain meadow and wetland area spread across the partially destroyed volcanic crater of Kuroso and Kameyama Mountains. The meadow and the Japanese pampas grass (“susuki”) that grows there were once the source of thatching for the roofs of homes and buildings in Soni Village. Nowadays the people of Soni continue to maintain Soni Kogen for hiking and the breathtaking scenery that the open meadow provides.



Soni Highland with its expansive fields of pampas grass stretch toward the horizon, culminating at the base of Mt. Kuroso offers stunning views that are wildly disproportionate to the relatively easy hike you need to achieve to view them.


In the warmer months, the Soni River becomes a nocturnal stage for fireflies, adding a touch of magic to the summer air, but it's in November when this place really comes into its own. Late afternoon, as the sun dips closer to the horizon, the highland transforms. The silver Japanese pampas grass, bathed in the dying light, casts a spell over the landscape, creating an almost mystical atmosphere. Its a perennial favorite with photographers and the romantics.





Hike Overview

Soni Kogen Farm Garden is a great place to begin your hike. Here visitors are greeted by a host of amenities including a restaurant, a fresh produce shop, and the inviting waters of the Okame-no-yu Onsen. From here it is about a 40 minute walk to the base of the highlands.


To get there by public transport, there are limited bus connections from Kintetsu Nabari Station.

From the west side of the station at bus stop number 1, take a bus bound for Yamakasu-Nishi (山粕西) and get off at Taroji (太良路). During peak seasons, more direct buses run from Kintetsu Nabari Station to the highland. The last bus back leaves from Soni Kogen Farm Garden at 15:30.







 



 Yamanobe-no-Michi

The Yamanobe-no-Michi is part of Shinkaido, the most ancient road in Japan. It is a unique opportunity to experience the harmonious blend of Japan's rich history and vibrant present all enveloped in a hiking trail of 4 to 5 hours suitable for all levels. The Yamanobe-no-Michi is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicle of Japan) meaning it dates back to at least the 8th century. The road originally meandered around wetlands, forest and settlements, but as these disappeared over time, the road straightened out and evolved to match its surroundings.



The most popular stretch of the road runs between Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City and Omiwa-jinja Shrine in Sakurai City. Most people will take a train to begin their hike, complete it and get the train back to their starting point, but you are free to make it as long and as challenging as you like.


What sets the Yamanobe-no-Michi apart is its historical significance and the wealth of cultural treasures that line its path. One could argue that it is more of a pilgrimage than a hike. Regardless, click here for our in depth guide.


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Index:

 Yagyu Kaido       Takatori Town       Mt. Yamato Katsuragi       Asuka Village       




 

Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn

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