Experiencing Nara Through the Seasons
It’s a cliche that Japan has four distinct seasons, but in Nara, it’s really true. With an abundance of nature, the changing seasons affect all aspects of life here. Every season has its pleasures, from soaking in a hot mountain spring on a cold winter's day, to joining in the frivolity of local village festivals in summer.
Spring Late Mar ~ Jun
Bright green shoots and flowers signal spring in Nara. Visitors flock to see the fleeting cherry blossoms from Nara Park to the mountains of Yoshino. It’s a time of renewal and optimism; of picnics, bike rides and visiting gardens in bloom. Late spring heralds peonies and newborn fauns and many shrines and temples hold colourful festivals.
Summer Jul ~ Sep
Long, warm nights are perfect for summer festivals and fireworks. In early summer, hydrangeas bloom and the rice planting begins in earnest. Many people return to their hometowns and rural areas come alive. Some temples hold evening illuminations, welcoming visitors with lanterns and candles. Escape to the cool mountains for hiking, swimming, rafting and watching fireflies.
Autumn Oct ~ Nov
As the days cool down, the mountains and rivers come alive with red, orange and yellow leaves. Koyo, autumn leaf viewing, is a favourite Japanese pastime, drawing hikers and photographers. It’s harvest time, when the new rice is celebrated and sake production starts. Rich orange persimmons and small radishes hang from house eaves to dry.
Winter Dec ~ Mid Mar
Traditionally the “off-season” for tourism, winter is a chance to unwind and enjoy local life. Sake tasting, onsen bathing and even some skiing can be enjoyed. With occasional snow, the mountain trails tend to close through until spring, but there are many pleasant walks still possible in the lower lying areas. Visit museums and temples without the crowds, explore the back streets and chat with the locals. Winter offers a more intimate Nara experience.
Summer in the mountains is beautiful, with comfortable temperatures, clear starry skies and the chance to see fireflies. Join Japanese families camping around Yoshino, Dorogawa Onsen and Totsukawa; many campsites offer tent rental and include shower and BBQ facilities. Near Soni Highland, you can opt for log cabins.
Brewery Tours & Sake Tasting
Sake production follows the autumn rice harvest, so the best time to see production is from November to March. Some busy breweries don’t open to the public at this time, but usually offer tastings in their retail space. Sipping atsukan, hot sake, will keep you warm in winter. Keep an eye out for hot spring ryokan that even serve sake in the bath.
Summer is the time for festivals and fireworks. Locals dress in cotton yukata and head to the nearest river or mountain to see one of the fireworks displays that run on weekends from late July to mid-August. With clear air and few high rise buildings, there are great views everywhere.
Hydrangeas, called ajisai in Japanese, are a popular flower around temples, blooming in June, at the beginning of the rainy season. Some temples like Yatadera in Yamato Koriyama, have thousands of ajisai, creating blue and pink floral clouds. Don’t miss the seasonal sweets crafted to mimic the flowers.
Lotus flowers have a strong significance in Buddhism. The flower is often compared to our lives; a lotus grows in mud, representing materialism and worldly concerns, yet the flower blooms beautiful and pure above the water, like a spiritual awakening. They bloom in ponds from mid August.
Often planted in fallow fields after the spring harvest, cosmos flowers seem wonderfully wild, tumbling across vast areas in a haze of pink and purple. Blooming in early September, they herald the beginning of autumn. Around the same time, higanbana, or red spider lilies sprout spontaneously, contrasting dramatically with the green rice fields.