It impossible to go anywhere in Nara and not be confronted with a rich history and culture, and the towns of Oji, Heguri and the surrounding areas are no different.
Oji town was the first area in Nara to be connected by railway during the Meiji period and remains a vital transport hub between Nara and Osaka to this day. It also boasts deep historical ties to Prince Shotoku, an extremely influential figure in the 7th century, credited with drawing up a new constitution for Japan, modernizing the government and for promoting Buddhism in Japan.
Yukimaru was the beloved dog of Prince Shotoku.
Legend has it that his dog, Yukimaru, could understand human speech, read Buddhist sutras and indicated before he died that he wanted to be buried to the northeast of Bodhidharma's grave (now Daruma-ji Temple.)
He is today the official Yura-chara mascot of Oji town, and you will find statues and motifs of him all over town. Yukimaru isn't quite as famous as the deer of Nara park, but he's not far behind.
In 2017, Oji town debuted their Yukimaru drone. In the competitive world of Yura-chara mascots, it is getting increasing difficult to stand out and get yourself noticed, but Oji did exactly this with their drone, creating quite a buzz online with many people questioning whether the video was actually CGI.
We can attest that the drone is 100% real. Not long after the release of the video, we were lucky enough to have the drone on display at our center for several months and see it in action for ourselves.
Starting from JR Oji Station, you can follow a 1km path to Daruma-ji Temple of Yukimari paw prints. The trail takes you across the 147m Kudo Ohashi train track Bridge, past the Katsuge River, along Route 168 which is adorned with seasonal flowers and Yukimaru tapestries.
The route back from Daruma-ji Temple also passes lots of shops and restaurants.
As equally historic as any other temple Nara, Daruma-ji Temple, which was mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, offers impressive artworks, excavated relics, zazen meditation workshops and a stone statue of Yukimaru to commemorate his final resting place.
Documents at the temple attest to Prince Shotoku's beloved canine being able to speak human language, read sutras and how he made clear his dying wish was to be laid to rest at Daruma-ji Temple, with Bodhidharma.
According to legend, Prince Shotoku came across Bodhidharma whist he was under the guise of a starving beggar. The Prince showed compassion to the unfortunate man, providing him with food and drink, finally covering him with a purple garment.
Struck by the starving man's presence, the Prince sent a message to him on the following day, only to be told that he had already passed away. Greatly saddened, Prince Shotoku ordered that the beggar be properly buried, but shortly after came to the realization that the beggar was no ordinary man, but the reincarnation of Bodhidharma,
Upon opening the beggar's tomb, they found it void of the beggar's body with only the Prince's purple garment lying neatly folded on top of the coffin. Prince Shotoku reclaim the garment and he continued to wear it just as before.
This legend is linked with the temple as a stone stupa was discovered under the main hall, an exceedingly rare case. A stone stupa which is said to be the grave the beggar upon whom Prince Shotoku showed compassion, a beggar who was the reincarnation of Bodhidharma.
The temple's treasures include a 1000-armed Kannon statue of intricate beauty, a seated wooden Daruma from the 15th century and a wooden statue of a seated Prince Shotoku from the 13th century.
Address: 2 Chome-1-40 Honmachi, Oji, Kitakatsuragi District, 636-0012
Hours: 10:00 - 15:00
Heguri & Strawberries
On our way to Oji town, we stopped by "Yamatoji Heguri Michi-no-eki" in Heguri town.
"Michi-no-eki" are road stations with shops that predominantly sell locally grown produce, seasonal fruits & veggies and flowers.
Over the past decade, Nara has built a reputation for growing delicious, high quality strawberries, many of which are grown here in Heguri town. There are several original varieties in Nara, but perhaps the 2 most popular brands are Asuka Ruby and Kotoka.
The Asuka Ruby is large, bulbous and juicy with a nice balance of sweet and sour. Its shape and vivid red color are reminiscent of a ruby, hence the name. The Kotoka is a newer kind of strawberry with a higher sugar content and concomitant sourness which gives it its rich flavor. It has rapidly become the go-to strawberry for patissiers and confectioners throughout the prefecture.
Address: 75-1 Byodoji, Heguri-cho, Ikoma-gun, 636-0903, Nara Prefecture
Hours: 8:30 - 17:00
At 273m, the summit of Mt. Myojin provides a fabulous 360° panorama with views that stretch over Sakurai city and Tenri city to the south, down to the three mountains of Yamato. To the North, you can see all the way past the giant Great Buddha Hall to Mt. Wakakusa. On the Osaka side, you can clearly see the 300m tall Harukas skyscraper, out as far as the Kobe metropolis and Awaji Island.
The hike up the side of the mountain is a continuous gentle incline and the pathway is well defined and concreted for the most part. You will often pass locals out for their daily stroll or walking their dogs. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top, where there are a set of very clean public toilets and a vending machine. (That's Japan for you.)
From the observation decks, a total of 5 World Heritage Sites can been seen, namely Horyu-ji Temple’s five-story pagoda, Todaij-i Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Mount Hieizan, on which Enryaku-ji Temple stands, and the Omine mountain range which is part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
That number could soon rise to 6, should Nara prefectural government's application to have the Asuka-Fujiwara area registered as a World Heritage site be successful.
Sticking out from one of the viewing platforms is "The SORANI Promise Terrace" and its "Yukyu-no-Kane "The Bell of Eternity." The terrace has become a firm favorite among young couples who come to sound the bell together and exchange symbolic vows, even propose! In 2019, it was designated as one of the “Lover’s Sanctuary” spots well suited for marriage proposals by a nonprofit organization.
What do think? Would you consider proposing here?
Address: 2640 Hatakeda, Oji, Kitakatsuragi District, Nara 636-0021
Hours: 24 hrs
Nodoka-mura village is a sprawling farm complex that incorporates all-year-round fruit and veg picking with family friendly activities such as chicken, rabbit and goat feeding, BBQ spaces, picnic areas, an outdoor restaurant with a pizza oven and a cafe greenhouse which offers cooking classes.
The BBQ area is a large, roofed area where visitors can either bring their own food or buy ready-made BBQ sets of either Yamato-pork, Yamato-chicken, or Japanese beef. We opted for a Yamato pork set for 2 and were given a large portion of delicious meat, fresh vegetables and 2 rice balls.
The Yamato pork set for 2 people costs ¥4,900
The beef set costs ¥3,400 per person.
As you can see, the servings are more than generous.
BBQing in February is not ideal, but we were lucky enough to have visited on a mild day and our only regret was that we didn't have enough time to kick back and enjoy a few beers.
Along with the BBQ, our main goal of visiting Nodoka-mura was to enjoy strawberry picking.
As far we could tell, there were at least 7 huge strawberry greenhouses and were told that they were used in rotation to guarantee visitors could enjoy the ripest strawberries possible.
You pay the staff at the entrance to the greenhouse and get a small cup of water to wash your strawberries in. You then have 30 minuets to eat all you can and it's great fun hunting up and down the greenhouse for the tastiest looking strawberries you can find.
The cost is ¥1,500 for adults, ¥1,200 for elementary school children, ¥600 for kids over 3 and ¥200 for kids aged 1 and 2.
There's ample time for you to eat much more than your money's worth of Nara boutique strawberries.
You can enjoy:
40 types of seasonal fruits & vegetables all year round:
Strawberry picking from Jan-May
Shitake mushrooms picking from April to May and September to December
Melon picking from June to July
Blueberry picking from July to August
Sweetcorn harvesting from July to September
Grape picking from August to September
Sweet potato harvesting from September to November
Mikan (satsuma) orange picking from Oct-Nov
Nodoka-mura farm is a popular destination for families from all over the Kansai region and although access is easiest by car, if you call in advance, Nodoka-mura will dispatch their shuttle bus to come pick you up from Shigisanmon bus stop. (This is the same bus stop that can be used to visit Chogosonshi-ji Temple.)
There is a regular bus service running from both Oji station and Takayasuyama Cable Car Station to Shigisanmon bus stop. Services run just once an hour, so it's best to plan ahead to avoid waiting around to get a good connection.
Pick-up service telephone number: 0745-73-8203
Address: 1 Chome-7-1 Shigiminamihata, Sango, Ikoma District, Nara, 636-0833
March - November: 9:30 - 17:00
December - February: 9:30 - 16:00
Adults: ¥600（ Dec-Feb ¥300）
Children: ¥350 (Dec-Feb ¥100）
437 meters in elevation, Chogosonshi-ji Temple sits at the southern end of the Ikoma Mountains.
Legend has it that in the 6th century, Prince Shotoku, who was then at war, prayed to Bishamonten (Buddhist god of war or warriors and a punisher of evildoers) for victory. In the year of the tiger, on the day and hour of the tiger, Bishamonten appeared and gave Shotoku instructions on how to win - and he was victorious.
Shigisan Chogosonshi-ji, nicknamed the ‘Tiger Temple’, was built on the location of this event.
Chogosonshi-ji is located in the mountains that divide Osaka and Nara and its grounds are filled with tigers - including the world’s largest tiger papeir-mache.
In addition to tigers, there is a lot more to see within Chogosonshi-ji’s compound, which is built on various levels that are connected by staircases. It is sprawling complex, with a dozen temples and even several small Shinto shrines. Although Chogosonshi-ji Temple is popular with the locals, its location means it rarely gets overrun with tourists. It is very easy to become immersed in its spiritual atmosphere, especially at night and its not a stretch to say that the experience can rival that of its nearby counterpart Koya-san.
It is also possible to spend the night at the temple in one of either:
Here you can get a taste of a monk's life and experience exploring the grounds at night, Gomagyo - a fire purification ritual, morning prayers, Asokukan meditation, Sutra transcription meditation and Shojin ryori (vegetarian Buddhist cuisine.)
This is the Kaiun bridge high up Mt. Shigi, just next to Chogosonshi-ji Temple. It has been designated an Important Cultural Property and in the summer, you can bungee off of it.
The best way to get to the temple is by car, but public transportation is also possible. The nearest station Oji (Kintetsu or JR) from where you can catch a bus direct.
The Shigi-Ikoma Skyline is a 20.9km toll road that connects Mt. Shigi and Mt. Ikoma.
There are several spots along the skyline to stop and safely park your car and enjoy the views over Nara and Osaka.
The premier observation platform along the Skyline is the "Kane-no-Naru" observation platform.
The mountain on which it stands is over 420m high and the platform itself rises a further 12m in to the air.
Just like the observation platform at Mt. Myojin, "Kane-no-Naru" is a popular destination for young lovers. Midway up the platform there is a large metal heart which couples can attach a padlock to as a sign of their commitment to one another
The rope hanging down from the bell makes it very inviting to ring and the gentle chimes float innocently out over the wide expanse before you.
The views over Osaka from top of the platform are wonderful, especially at sunset.
There is another area further along the skyline which has no actual platform, but does have a small carpark, picnic area and clear views over the urban sprawl of Osaka.
It's no surprise that the views from the Shigi-Ikoma Skyline are regarded as among the best night views in the whole of the Kansai region.
[Mar.-Oct.] 6:30-24:00 [Nov.-Feb.] 6:30-23:00
One way: ¥1,360 Round trip ¥1,950
Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn