The village of Hase in central Nara lies in a deep valley with spectacular scenery. It is especially popular when the mountains blaze red and gold in autumn. The main draw is Hasedera Temple, accessed by an impressive covered stairway, flanked by thousands of peonies in May.
Hasedera Temple is an easy half-day trip, roughly an hour by train from Nara City. It’s an ideal destination to explore in the morning, followed by lunch at one of the many traditional restaurants that line the approach to the temple. Nearby, Sakurai has significant temples and shrines and some of Nara’s oldest sake breweries, that you can tour in the afternoon.
The walk down from the station is steep, but there are always taxis in front of the station, if needed. The town is quite compact, arranged along one main street by a river, so you can easily cover the area in a few hours.
Small cafes and shops line the approach to the temple, selling local produce and sweets such as kusamochi, made from Japanese mugwort. The town hosts several inexpensive ryokan, ideal if you want to experience the overnight festivities on New Year’s Eve or join morning prayers.
As you approach the main gate to Hasedera Temple, you will see signs with QR codes to access information in different languages. The whole complex also has free Wi-Fi. The grand, covered stairway lined with stone lanterns and flowers is an attraction in itself.
Hasedera Temple was a favourite of the court ladies of the Heian era, as described in the novel “The Tale of Genji.” Known as the temple of flowers, it is beautiful in all seasons and famous for its lavish displays of peonies in May, hydrangeas in June and vivid autumn leaves in November. After climbing to the top, you can enjoy sweets and tea at Hasedera Kissako.
At the base of the temple complex, there are many options for lunch and tea. The local ryokan also open their dining rooms to visitors at lunch time. In peak season, these places can be quite crowded, but there are more options as you walk back towards the station. Yamatobito-no-Kokoro, a cafe run by a local group promoting the area, is a good place to try simple meals and local specialties in a relaxing atmosphere.
The festivals at Hasedera Temple are spectacular. Some events, such as the Kannon Mantoe, a ceremony on New Year’s Eve with 10,000 lanterns lining the stairways to the temple, and the Dadaoshi Festival with costumed devils and fire displays, are held in the evening. Staying at one of the local ryokan is the easiest way to enjoy these unforgettable events. You can also join in morning prayers, held every morning at the temple. The sound of monks chanting sutras in the misty air is a great start to the day.
Held on February 14th, the Dadaoshi Festival is a colourful festival, both exciting and slightly scary. Meaning “kick out devils”, it entails young monks, disguised as devils with fearsome masks, running through the crowds, until successfully chased away with giant flaming torches.
With easy access from Nara City by train, Hasedera Temple is an ideal half day trip. Sakurai Station is just five minutes away, with beautiful Tanzan Jinja Shrine and grand Ohmiwa Jinja Shrine. If relaxing is on the agenda, you can soak away the afternoon at Asuka-no-yu Onsen near Yamato-Yagi Station, less than 15 minutes away.