On the site where Japan’s first Emperor Jimmu ascended the throne, Kashihara Jingu Shrine and its surrounds played a key part in Japanese history. It was built in the Meiji period as the samurai class lost its power and the rule of the Imperial Family was being reinforced.
Beautiful all year, the shrine holds major festivals in spring and autumn. Don’t miss visiting on weekends in November, when whole families come to the shrine with their kids in kimono for the Shichi Go San Festival.
Start your visit early to capture the majestic atmosphere before other visitors arrive. Close to the station, the shrine can be seen in about an hour, leaving time for further exploration of this area which includes some of Nara’s oldest sites. The area around Kashihara Jingu Shrine is semi-rural with wide avenues, so a bicycle is a good way to get around. There are several rental shops next to Kashiharajingu-mae Station.
The wide avenue leading to Kashihara Jingu Shrine is lined with tall gingko trees. In autumn, when the leaves turn a bright yellow, they contrast beautifully with the clear blue sky. In summer, they provide ample shade. Along the same avenue at the Kashihara Oak Hotel, you can buy a modern version of So, a traditional sweet cheese dating back to the Asuka period around 1,500 years ago.
Arriving at the shrine grounds you will notice the enormous torii gate, marking the entrance to a sacred space. Bicycles can be left at the bicycle park just in front. From there, the inner courtyard, which houses the haiden worship hall and other shrine buildings, is a short walk along a wide gravelled path flanked by trees.
- The buildings around the inner courtyard are connected by beautiful wooden cloisters.
Cycle paths lead north past the shrine towards Imaicho, a historic merchant town. Like a scene from a Japanese period drama, the streets are well-preserved and lined with old houses, many of which are open to the public. Several machiya houses have been converted into stylish restaurants and cafes. For lunch, you can try Suian, a popular local soba restaurant or stop in for coffee and cake at Cafe Hackberry.
If you head south towards Asuka Station, you reach an ancient area full of tombs and monuments dating back to the time when Buddhism first reached Japan. The quiet streets and terraced rice fields around Asuka are ideal terrain for cycling. Some of the bicycle rental firms in Kashihara even allow bicycles to be returned at certain Asuka locations.
In late summer, the fields around Asuka are full of wildflowers. The grounds of the Fujiwara Palace Site are thick with pink and purple cosmos flowers in September, while vivid red amaryllis flowers dot the fields and rice paddies. For a spectacular sunset, ride up to Inabuchi to see the tanada, terraced rice paddies.
Cafe Kotodama in Asuka is one of the most popular local lunch spots, set in an old sake brewery. Situated in the old part of town between Okadera Temple, Asukadera Temple and Ishibutai Tumulus, it’s perfectly located for a lunch break while sightseeing.
The two most famous temples in the Asuka area are Okadera and Asukadera. Located on a hill, Okadera has beautiful grounds and commands views over the plain below. Asukadera, Japan’s first full-scale Buddhist institution, houses the nation’s oldest Buddha statue.
Also drawing visitors to the area is Ishibutai Tumulus, an impressive megalith believed to be the tomb of Soga no Umako, a powerful figure who worked to promote Buddhism in the Asuka period.