Asuka is a name of the region which is known as the birthplace of Japanese imperialism. The history of Asuka is much older than Kyoto and Nara and that is a part of the reason why there are a lot of mysterious ruins and tombs you can find around the area. Also, you can see many oldest shrines and temples there so if you are interested in the history of Japan, Asuka is definitely worth a visit.
The best way to explore around Asuka is renting a bicycle because this area is also known for the beautiful rice terraces and farmland. You can enjoy both ruins and Japanese rural landscapes in Asuka where you can get an idea of what Japan used to look like. However, this area is not very known for many tourists which makes it perfect destination for someone looking for a hidden gem in Japan!
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Where is Asuka and how to get there?
Asuka is about 20 kilometers south of Nara city. It takes about one hour from Kyoto, Nara and Osaka by train, making it Asuka a perfect place for a day trip from each city!
This is our suggested itinerary for exploring Asuka, the first capital in Japan, by bicycle. There are a lot of mysterious ruins and old temples you can discover while enjoying the beautiful landscape. Let’s get started!
10.00 am : Asuka Station
Rent a bicycle at Asuka Rent-a-Cycle which is right in front of Asuka Station. Here, you could rent a bicycle for ¥900 per day (¥1,000 on weekends). Also, on their website, you can download the English map. After you have sorted out the bicycle, it is time to explore the beautiful ancient rural Asuka village!
10.15 am : Takamatsuzuka Tomb
Cycling on the gentle road with enjoying greenish side way, you’ll find a grassy mound. The glass-covered hill is believed to be the tomb for the ancient royal family. You cannot enter inside, but the museum hall besides the tomb that shows a replica of the tomb with the ancient wall painting.
11.00 am : Ishibutai Tomb and Lunch
This ancient stone monument is one of the most impressive spots in Asuka. The host of this tomb has still been a mystery, but it’s mainly believed as a chieftain of the most powerful clan in Asuka period (from early 7th century). The gross weight of this monument is around 2,300 ton! You can go inside of this ancient ruin. Read more about the tomb here.
Around Ishibutai Tomb, there is a great place to have lunch: Asuka-no-Yume-ichi.
You can try Kodai-mai (literally meaning ancient rice), the local specialty.
Also, on the way between Takamatsuzuka and Ishibutai Tomb, you will encounter a strange stone ruin named “Kameishi” which means turtle stone in Japanese. Can you see why?
12.45 pm : Inabuchi Rice Terrace
After lunch, head to south west from Ishibutai Tomb to get to Inabuchi Rice Terrace. This Rice Terrace changes its look by the season, the best time to go there would be autumn or spring because you can see the colourful scenery. Get more information from here.
1.30 pm : Oka-dera Temple
Since Oka-dera Temple is located on halfway up the small hill, it’s better to park your bicycle and walk up there. This is known as the first temple to start warding off evil spirits. There are certain ages considered as unlucky years in Japan and many people visit the temple to get rid of the bad luck.
Also, Oka-dera houses one of the three greatest Buddha statues in Japan as well as Todai-ji temple. In this temple, you can see a clay Buddha statue. That is quite rare because most of Buddha statues are made of the wood or bronze. In addition, you can enjoy autumn leaves in November or azalea in May there. Get more information from here.
From Oka-dera head to the next point, Asuka-dera temple. On your way let’s swing by the strange and enigmatic Sakafune-ishi ruins. It is said to be used to brew sake before, but whether this is the truth is still unknown..
2.30 pm : Asuka-dera Temple
As you may know, the birthplace of Buddhism is India and it was introduced to Japan in the middle of 6th century. Asuka-dera Temple is the first Buddhist Temple in Japan from the late 6th century. You can visit the temple, which was rebuilt in early 19th century, that houses the oldest Buddha statue Asuka Daibutsu in Japan. This over 1,400 years old Buddha statue has survived through a lot of turmoils and fires for centuries. The interesting point is, when you look at the Buddha statue from the different angles, the expression on the face looks slightly different. Check more information from here
3.30 pm : Amakashi-no-oka Hill
Amakashi-no-oka is a hill with 148 meters elevation. From 6th to 7th century, this hill was familiarized by nobles to enjoy the landscape. It is easy to reach the top and you can enjoy the beautiful view over the village with farmlands, mountains and rural houses from the observation deck on the top of the hill. More information from here.
Where to stay in Asuka
Asuka Guest House – Japanese style hostel with a friendly host and you can enjoy the delicious meals on site
Kotorian – Only 7 minutes walk from the station, a private cottage in the traditional Japanese style for anyone who wants to get the authentic Japanese experience
Hotel Wellness Yamatoji – Choose from the Japanese style room with futon or a Western room with beds, suitable for families or a large group trip
Popular tours in Nara
Our 8 hours private tour will take you to the world heritage sites and Nara Park, which is known as Deer Park, and other places. Starting from your hotel in Kyoto or Osaka, this day tour will cover everything you must visit in Nara!
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