Kashihara is a city located in the suburbs of Nara Prefecture Japan. It’s a quiet and modest place but very rich in historical and archaeological sites and plays an important part in the historical timeline of the country.
Kashihara is easily accessible by train both from Nara City, Kyoto and Osaka, all taking less than an hour to get there but first let’s delve into its rich history.
Japan’s first reported emperor, Jimmu Tenno, was said to have established his throne here in 660 BC, designating the origin of a monarchy in Japan.
Emperor Jimmu’s existence is one of legend only receiving mention in the old Japanese tomes of the Kojiki and Nihonshiki. It is argued that he was a mythical figure but historical events attributed to him were said to have actually taken place albeit at different times and places.
Moving ahead to 694 AD, the first capital city, Fujiwara Kyo was established. This was the first capital in Japan to be built using a “street grid” pattern taken from the building style of ancient Chinese dynasties. This capital, located on the present day site of Kashihara city, flourished but only for a short period of 16 years between 694-710 AD. The capital was moved due to the belief of Emperor Monmu (683-707 AD) that a new Emperor should reign over a new capital so Nara was chosen as the next site for his son Shomu.
Although Fujiwara Kyo only lasted 16 years as the capital, the site later re-emerged in the 17th century as the merchant town Imai-cho. Founded as a temple town between 1532-1555 and centered around Shonen-ji Temple, its history had unstable beginnings as it was involved in a conflict with powerful Momoyama Period warlord Oda Nobunaga.
The warlord was trying to limit the power of the temples at that time so they were at odds until an eventual truce was reached and the town was granted some degree of autonomy. It eventually evolved into an important place of trade. The town rose to great prosperity to the point where it was said that 70% of Yamato Province’s gold could be found within the confines of the town.
Kashihara Jingu Shrine
Kashihara Jingu Shrine is a relatively new shrine having been built in 1890.
The Meiji restoration in 1868 saw the samurai lose their power and the Emperor reinstated as the head of the nation. To galvanize the populace, it was decided that a new shrine should be built to commemorate this and give the people of Japan a new symbol to represent the start of a new era.
The place chosen to build this new shrine was Kashihara, at the site where Japan's first Emperor, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have acceded to the throne on 11th of February 660 BCE.
After granting permission for its construction, Emperor Meiji donated two buildings from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the shrine, one of which is now used as the shrine's main hall.
The shrine precincts are vast, surrounded by a lush preserved forest. The Omote-sandō or front approach is a long, wide path with a massive wooden torii at each end, soaring 9.77m into the air. The walkway is also lined by wooden lanterns, reminiscent of the stone lanterns at Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine.
The shrine is often visited during "Hatsumode" (the first shrine visit of the year) and as such, the shrine displays a giant wooden ema (plaque), which depicts the year's zodiac animal. A festival affectionately called "Haru-no-Jimmusai" (lit. Jimmu's Spring Festival), is held to honor the country's first emperor in April of every year. The 3 day festival attracts tens of thousands of people, with stage performances, a farmer's market, food marche and a colorful street procession.
Address: 934 Kumecho, Kashihara, Nara 634-8550
Hours: 6:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Just in front of Kashihara Jingu-mae Station you'll come across something that may not immediately catch your eye as anything out of the ordinary, but is in fact quite unusual.
Introducing Kashihara's Yellow Postbox
Yellow represents happiness and the fulfilling of wishes.
This post box, which is the same as the one in the Aoshima Shrine in Miyazaki City that is famous for match-making, was installed in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sister city agreement with Miyazaki city.
Post a wish - and it just may come true.
If you'd like to see even more weird and wonderful Japanese postboxes, check out our article on them in which we have compiled some of the best examples from all over the countrty.
Address: 618 Kumecho, Kashihara, Nara0744-27-2070 (Kashira Tourism Information Center Jingumae)
Address: 618 Kumecho, Kashihara, Nara
Masuda Iwafune is a giant megalith located in a quiet corner of Kashihara city, just north of Asuka village. Its name literally translates to "Masuda Rock Ship" and no one knows what it was for, who made it, who put it there or how long it has been there, although many historians date it back to the Kofun period (250AD - 550AD).
Masuda Iwafune is a giant basalt boulder weighing approximately 800 tons. It measures 11 meters in length, 8 meters in width and 4.7 meters in height and sits atop a small hill surrounded by bamboo trees. The way to Masuda Iwafune is signposted but you'd be forgiven for missing the little stair pathway that marks the start of the ascent to the top of the hill. However, there is small statue of a rabbit at the bottom of the stairs
We are not sure why it's there, but there it is and it works as a good visual marker.
On top of the megalith there are 2 square chiseled out holes which are both under 2 meters in depth with one usually half full of rain water. The fact that the other one doesn't fill up indicates that a crack is present and may suggest that the rock was abandoned part way through its completion.
The first part of the name of the megalith refers to Masuda Lake, a body of water that was once located nearby but drained as the area developed. One theory suggests that the rock was built to commemorate the establishing of the lake. It's a reasonable assumption considering the name, "Masuda Rock Ship".
The rock could have also been created to be used as an astronomical observation point.
The ridge line across the top of the rock runs parallel to a mountain ridge in Asuka which lines up with the sunset on a day that signals the beginning of the agricultural season on the old Japanese lunar calendar. Mainstream scholars though overwhelmingly reject this premise, romantic though as it may be.
One other theory suggests that it was a stone monument to the prominent monk Kobo-Daishi.
If you would like to entertain the idea of some more esoteric origins, we suggest you check out Episode 14 of Season 12 of Ancient Aliens.
Whatever the case may be, we highly recommend you visit Masuda Iwafune and take in its grandeur for yourself.
Address: 8 Chome-20-1 Shirakashicho, Kashihara, Nara 634-0051
Hours: N/A (The area is not lit up at night so we strongly advise you to only visit during the day )
Kaban Kobo Yamamoto 'Randoseru' School Bag Showroom
Elementary school children walking down the street in yellow hats with giant square "randoseru" backpacks on their backs is a quintessential image of modern day Japan.
But what are "randoseru" backpacks and why do all kids have them?
The use of the randoseru began in the Edo era with the Japanese military introducing a Netherlands-style rucksack called ransel for the foot soldiers to carry their baggage.
Several decades later, the backpack was adopted as the ideal school bag for elementary schoolchildren after one was gifted to the future Emperor Taisho on his entrance to the Gakushuin School by Hirobumi Ito, the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Leather Workshop Yamamoto was established in 1949 when Yamamoto Shosuke set up a leather manufacturing business with his brother, but it wasn't until 20 years later that they started to make randoseru backpacks.
In the year 2000 they started selling direct to the general public and taking custom orders, everything from the type of leather used to the metal fittings used could all be made to order.
Not long after, they won their first of many awards within the hotly contested randoseru industry.
In 2012 they stopped accepting custom orders but combined all those years of knowledge and experience into creating a line up that perfectly fits the needs of modern day school children. The bags were slightly widened to accommodate A4 sized files, an artificial leather line up was introduced in a effort to keep the bags as light as possible along with bags with a more feminine design which were greatly influenced by the current CEO's daughter.
We were invited to take a tour of their factory and it was just like a Santa's workshop. Yes, it was busy and noisy, but there was a sense of family, purpose and dedication to craft that unmistakably filled the air. It was extremely impressive.
Their oldest employee is a lady in her 90s. She became something of a local celebrity recently after appearing on TV during a piece on the company. Yamamoto's randoserus are known nation wide with a reputation for quality, lightness and seeming indestructibility. Even after 6 years of daily use, they remain in almost tip-top condition.
The showroom is bright, modern and filled with an array of kids' randoserus as well as a collection of high quality bags and wallets for adults.
Address: 鞄工房山本ランドセルショールーム 873-1 Minamiura-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
Bistrot d'Imai is a small French restaurant nestled at the end of a street in a quiet residential area not too far from the Mausoleum of Emperor Jimmu.
The chef, who has worked in famous restaurants and hotels, opened Bistro d'Imai in 2003 with the hope of sharing his love of French cusinse with local people.
The full course meals, complete with seasonal and high quality ingredients are comparable to more higher-class restaurants, gorgeously decorated, as pleasing to the tastebuds as they as they are to the eyes.
Authentic French dinner courses are either ¥4,000 or ¥8,000. They also offer a number of options for lunch, with dishes ranging from ¥800 to ¥4,000. We stopped by there for lunch and ordered Dégène B course, which cost ¥2,300 per person. For that, we enjoyed a salad starter, soup, fresh bread, a main dish, dessert and a drink.
Address: Bistro Imai (ビストロ・イマイ) 25-9 Shijo-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM / 5:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Dégène b course: around 2,300 JPY~
Fukujukan uses the finest Japanese Black wagyu beef from a directly managed ranch in Yamagata Prefecture, ensuring the best possible environment to deliver safe and delicious beef.
The spacious Japanese style restaurant, conveniently located on National Route 24, contains several private rooms for small parties, many with garden views offering dinners an oasis of calm and luxury to indulge their senses.
The restaurant also has butcher shop with the premises and can deliver its product nation wide.
The video above shows our trip there to enjoy the "Yakiniku" lunch, which cost ¥5,500 per person at the time of writing (summer 2022). Dinner courses start from a similar price with the most expensive priced at ¥16,500.
Certainly not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but for steak aficionados or those who want to experience wagyu at its finest, it's worth every penny.
Address: 425-1 Toichi-cho, Kashihara
City, Nara 634-0008
Hours: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM / 5:30 PM –
SNACKS & TREATS
Just a 1 minute walk from Kintetsu Bojo Station proudly stands Dangosho, a traditional kinako dango store that dates back to 1891.
What are dango sweets?
Dango sweets are small sticky rice dumplings made from glutinous rice flour. They are usually served on a skewer in groups of 3 or 5. There are well over 10 different types of dango with some of the most common varieties being the three colored hanami dango eaten during cherry blossom season, mitarashi dango covered with a sweet soy sauce and kinako dango, dango covered in roasted soy flour - Dangosho's speciality.
Dangosho's method of making their dango has remained unchanged for 140 years. Each one is handmade using carefully selected high-quality rice and a traditional dhenki rice mill. The unique and rich taste that each bite provides has been loved by the locals of Kashihara City ever since its foundation. We were only in the store for 10 minutes, but during that time there was a constant stream of customers coming in to make a purchase.
Dangosho also has a car park just a few meters down the street and a small space inside their store for customers to take a seat and enjoy their dango with a nice cup of tea. The dango shaped table is also a nice touch. At the time of writing, one dango skewer costs ¥80, 6 skewers will set you back ¥640 and if you're really hungry, you can pick up a 50 skewer set for just ¥4,000.
Address: Dangosho (だんご庄本店) 860 Higashibojo-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM (*limited quantity)
Closed: Tuesdays & every first Wednesday
SNACKS & TREATS
Haniwa Manju was established in 1940 and has firmly established itself as one of the go-to souvenirs for visitors to Kashihara.
What are Manju?
For those of you that don't know, manju are sweet and moist traditional cakes made of flour, rice powder, kudzu, and buckwheat with an anko (red bean paste filling). Although they come in a myriad of varieties, it may be easier to think of them as mini castellas with a red bean jam filling.
Haniwa are terracotta clay figures that were made for ritual use and buried with the dead as funerary objects during the Kofun period (250AD - 550AD). Kashihara and the surrounding area are replete with ancient burial mounds, and combining one of the nations favorite sweets with the shapes of these important historical artifacts and proven to be a hit.
Haniwa Manju comes in a few varieties. There's the traditional red bean paste, white bean jam, cream custard and a special chocolate edition during valentines, limited to just 1,200 pieces.
Haniwa Manju come in the following four haniwa terracota figure shapes; doll, horse, pot and bell.
Address: 905-2 Kumecho, Kashihara, Nara 634-0063
Hours: 8:00 AM 8:00 PM
SNACKS & TREATS
This early Showa period terrace house has been remodeled into a quaint cafe and miscellaneous store serving light lunches and mouthwatering desserts.
Great care and attention are paid to all the ingredients used in their dishes, many of which are handmade and limited in number.
Perhaps their flagship menu item is the Koma-tsunagi Tiramisu pictured above, which is served in a Yoshino cedar container. It is made with layers of dried persimmon, matcha jelly, home-made red bean paste, cream cheese and more. We couldn't recommend it more.
Other stylish touches include the use of chopsticks made from the cedar trees from nearby Yoshino and Akahada earthenware.
The café was also one of the filming locations for the 2020 hit movie “Love, Life and Goldfish” (すくってごらん). The owner's cat event made the movie poster!
Address: Café Mutsuki (カフェ睦月) 1-9-12 Imai-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 12:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays
SNACKS & TREATS
Farm Nishikawa Gelato
Farm Nishikawa is a small family owned farm on the outskirts of Kashihara city that sells their own gelato - hand made on site from their own fruits. Farm Nishikawa is primarily a strawberry farm focused on cultivating and selling Nara's famed strawberry brands, "Kotoka" and "Asuka Ruby,"
At the store, there are usually 10 types of gelato on sale, non of which contain any artificial fragrances, flavors or colorings - which makes them healthy, right? Well, that was the excuse we mutually agreed upon for indulging in a second helping.
Their most popular flavor is "Kotoka milk," which is made up off 70% homemade Kotoka strawberries, a variety established in 2011 renowned for its superior taste, texture and sweetness. Refreshing lemon milk flavor is also popular in the summer. In addition, there are also rare flavors such as ginger and black edamame, as well as home-grown lemon and melon flavors.
Their gelato has also been recognized as an official brand of Kashihara city and is available at Kintetsu department store and via their own online store.
There are also many customers that visit Farm Nishikawa that live outside of Nara prefecture, especially those stopping by on motor cycle tours.
Address: 265-2 Kannonjicho, Kashihara, Nara 634-0825
Hours: 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM | Weekends 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Closed: Monday & Tuesday
Imai-cho was once a prosperous Edo period merchant town, so prosperous that there was a saying that "70% of Yamato's gold lies within Imai". Much of the charm and grandeur of the period remain, with approximately 30% of the 15,000 buildings in the area being of a by-gone era.
Imai-cho is often used as a location for period drams and walking around does often feel like you are in a living museum. The area nowadays is predominantly a residential area interspersed with traditional shops and modern cafes alike, all retaining a concomitant style and atmosphere.
Imai Skyline Exchange Center Hanairaka
This magnificent building sits on the southeast corner of Imai-cho and comes with a large coin-operated parking lot and public toilets, making it a great place to start your exploration of the area.
The building dates back to the Meiji period and now serves as an archival center which has a large scale 3D map of the area.
Imai Skyline Exchange Center Hanairaka (今井まちなみ交流センター華甍)
Address: 2-3-5 Imai-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Closed: Dec.29th – Jan 3rd
Tsuneoka Soy Sauce Brewery
Tsuneoka's soy sauce is still fermented in Yoshino cedar barrels and prepared in the same traditional way that dates back to the Meiji period.
Every spring a new batch is prepared and left to rest over the following four seasons to lock in its taste and umami. Their famed Murasaki soy sauce is brewed over 24 months, which gives it a distinctive rich and robust taste with added depth.
Depending on the season, a mini tour of their brewery is possible, but due to corona virus this has been suspended for the time being. Their showroom however remains fully open and retains the charm of the era in which it was built, some 120 years prior.
Address: 3 Chome-1-12 Imai-cho, Kashihara, Nara 634-0812
Closed: Year-end and New Years holidays & irregular holidays
Kawai Sake Brewery
Although the origin of sake is unclear, it is believed that a rudimentary form of it was developed in Nara during the Nara period but was used mainly for ceremonial purposes. Nara is also the birthplace of modern day refined sake. Some 600 years ago monks from Shoraku-ji Temple developed more complex brewing techniques which allowed for a more consistent end product. These techniques laid the foundation for the sake we know and love today.
With a history stretching back almost 300 years, Kawai Sake Brewery is a prominent part of the Imai-cho landscape.
A tour of the the factory can be arranged but prior booking is needed, but within the shop you can see parts of the old house including the original kitchen.
Their flagship sake brand is the "Shusse Otoko," a popular and easy-to-drink sake with its name meaning "The Successful Man".
Address: Kawai Sake Brewery (河合酒造) 1-7-8 Imai-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Closed: Irregular holidays
Kashihara City Insectarium
Whether you’re a fan of insects or not, a venture to this attractive museum is time well spent. A sure hit for children into creepy-crawlies, this insectarium will also interest any fans of architecture. The back end of the building is a large angular greenhouse style structure which resembles the body of a beetle and it contains a tropical garden with many species of butterfly that can be enjoyed all year round.
Located in Minayama-cho in Kashihara City, just a little way into the countryside, the museum houses over 1000 insect specimens and fossils. The butterfly house is a delight and not fully appreciated until you leave the building and take a walk round to the rear where you can see the magnificent design of it in full. It's a shame that they couldn't incorporate this into the front of the museum, but that said, actually ending your visit with a walk round to the rear to take it the insect-themed design leaves a lasting impact.
In the butterfly garden you can see butterflies such as the nymph butterfly native to Okinawa fluttering year-round amidst the tropical and subtropical plants.
Along with the insect specimens and fossils, there are also periodical exhibits of insects from all over Japan and the rest of the world, offering visitors the chance to learn about the basics of insects, their place in nature, and the relationship between insects and humans. You can even take part in some insect origami.
The museum has a large carpark and a bus leaving from Yamato Yagi Station makes access via public transport quite straight forward. Buses leave hourly from the Konchukan-Mae stop. Bus timetables are available here.
Allow yourself about an hour for the full tour, but it should be noted that all the information displayed within the insectarium is in Japanese only.
Address: Kashihara City Museum of Insects (橿原市昆虫館) 624 Minamiyama-cho, Kashihara City, Nara
Hours: 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM – 5:00 PM(4:30 PM from Oct.-Mar.)
Closed: Mondays (expect during summer holidays), Dec. 28th – Jan. 2nd
Admission Fee: Adults: ¥520
University & high school students: ¥410
Children of 4 years and over - junior high school students: ¥100
Ofusa Kannon Temple
Ofusa Kannon's official name is actually "The Special Head Temple Kannon of Koya-san Shingon Sect of Buddhism". Something of a mouthful.
It is said the temple was founded by a local girl name "Ofusa" in order to worship Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy after Kannon appeared to her riding ion the back of a white tortoise.
People often visit the temple to pray for longevity and protection from disease as well as to enjoy the rose festival in June and the wind chime festival in July.
Ofusa Kanon Temple Wind Chime Festival
Along with its early summer rose garden, Ofusa Kanon Temple is also known for its Wind Chime Festival. The charming high pitched "chiri-chiri "sound of clinking wind chimes is an unmistakable features of summer in Japan. The refreshing tones are said to envoke a sense of relaxation and cool to counteract the oppressive heat of Japanese summers.
Throughout the festival, some 2,500 wind chimes are hung around the temple grounds creating a symphony quite unlike anything else. Approaching the temple and hearing the gentle chimes increase in volme and complexity is a joy in and of itself.
An exhibition and sale of wind chimes from around the country is also on during the festival.
Address: 6-22 Ousacho, Kashihara, Nara 634-0075
Hours: 9:00AM - 5:00PM (last entry at 4:30 PM)
Admission: Free (300 yen admission fee charged to view the interior of the temple's main hall)
Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn