Traveling to Nara prefecture in the fall often means sharing loving-kindness (metta). Do you know why? Nara is home to many beautiful sacred temples including hundreds of sacred deer with fawns. They mostly roam around Nara Park freely while on the hand, the park itself very popular place to view autumn foliage. When you visit Nara park alone, there is no chance to be lonely as friendly peaceful deer would accompany you. You can show your kind affection to them just by feeding them. Buy deer crackers from the street vendors. You could spot sellers very easily as they shout to visitors to sell the crackers. In fact, when you feed them, loving-kindness is right in there! It is peaceful being friendly to animal then hurting them. Please note that this is not a perfect place for DEER HUNTERS since their hurts do not belong to the word “Loving-Kindness.”
Nara is an ancient city of Japan as it was the capital of the country from 710 to 794. It is blessed with stunning traditional architecture, giant Buddha statues, temples, shrines and natural beauty of four seasons. I love visiting Nara as its history makes me curious of it. Though, fall color here is breathtaking, I especially like feeding the deer I see around the town. I heard people saying that they can be aggressive; I think it is true but honestly I have never ever experienced such a thing here before. They were always friendly to me. Watching them roaming around under the shade of deciduous trees in autumn is a typical scenery in Nara. It reminds me of Miyajima Island where similar kind of deer can be found. Let’s go discover the fall foliage of Nara!
What is the Best Time to View Autumn Foliage in Nara?
To experience magnificent fall colors in Nara you have got to come here on time. If you arrive here early you would miss the best colors it offers, while if you embark on fall foliage tours a bit later than usual time then you experience nothing but fallen leaves on the grounds. I want you don’t miss a thing that we see during the peak season. Check out the 2016 Japan autumn foliage forecast right away and when you are done, get back here again.
Last couple of years of Nara’s autumn foliage reports says that green leaves begin to change colors slowly in early November. Also my previous trips to Nara in fall and the reports decide me to inform you that the best time to view autumn foliage in Nara is between late-November to early-December. Therefore prefer this time golden time of the year for hunting fall colors in Nara. If I am right then you would be thankful to, wouldn’t you be?
Where to View Autumn Leaves in Nara?
Prior to visiting Nara for the first time of my life in autumn, I was frequently asked this question by myself. Though, it was not a big deal as I like exploring a certain place on my own. I hardly need a map but road signs are always useful to me. They guide me leading to the best attractions I wish to go. However, it is time to introduce the most beautiful places to go for hunting momiji in Nara.
Autumn Leaves in Nara Park
Nara Park is a spacious park and said to be one of the oldest public parks in Japan. It is located in the center of Nara city, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Inside the park area you could visit Todai-ji Temple, Nara National Museum, Kasuga Shrine, Kofuku-ji, pagodas, gardens with ponds, streams, and many other historic structures. All these hidden gems can be discovered in fall season. Apart from all these things your meet with the sika deer and spectacle the glorious fall foliage. In addition, the park is home to many deciduous trees such as maple and ginkgo that leaves begin to transform and take on a new life, making the park an ideal place for spending some time.
1) Todaiji Temple
When you are in Nara Park, assume that you are in the land of a historic landmark and scenic beauty. Here you can plan for the last picnic party of the year before winter arrives. I think spending a whole day in the park is quite reasonable as you are offered to do so many things there. For example, when you pay a visit to Todaiji temple, an hour is not enough. The temple’s ground is so spacious that features the Todaiji main hall, Todaiji museum, Shosoin Storehouse, Nigatsudo Hall and etc.
Todaiji main hall, Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden structure, built by the Emperor Shomu in 728. This is about 57 meters long and 50 meters wide. Inside the main hall, there is a giant seated bronze Buddha statue (Vairocana Buddha) flanked by two Bodhisattvas. It is 15 meters tall and weighing about 300 tons. The temple is a quite popular tourist attraction in Nara and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the Eight Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.
As I am a Buddhist, just right after entering the hall, I pay my respect to the Buddha statue and pray for having a good peaceful life. After you come out of the main hall, you are suggested to roam around its grounds so that surrounding trees may overwhelm you with fall colors.
2) Kofukuji Temple
Kofukuji temple is another historical landmark of Nara, built in the early 8th century by the Fujiwara Clan. Just like Todaiji temple, it is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you find the second tallest five story pagoda in Japan. It is approximately 50-meter high five story pagoda that is considered to be one of the symbols of Nara city.
The main highlights of the temple are: Five Story Pagoda, Three Story Pagoda, Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum, the Eastern Golden Hall, Octagonal Halls, and the Central Golden Hall. Please note that the main hall (central golden hall) is under construction. The reconstruction process is expected to be completed in 2018. Next to Kofukuji, there is lovely pond called Sarusawa-ike. Reflection of the pagoda and fall foliage on the surface of the water is truly magnificent. In addition, enjoy the surrounding fall colors as you take a stroll around its grounds.
3) Kasuga Taisha
The path that leads to Kasuga Taisha (a shrine in Nara Park) is very amusing as you will be witnessing autumn leaves and stone lanterns along the way. This is said to be the most celebrated shrine in Nara city. Different kinds of lanterns on the shrine grounds makes it very unique place to visit to.
Over hundreds of bronze lanterns can be seen hanging from the temple buildings. On the other hand, there are many stone lanterns line its approaches. Every year, two lantern festivals are held here, at the time all the lanterns are lit up.
If you are looking for fall colors in their full glory, a visit to this shrine is in order. You must come here to explore the autumn beauty. The view of fall colors along with the stone lanterns is breathtaking. I know you don’t want to miss it, do you?
4) Isuien Garden and Yoshikien Garden
Inside Nara Park, there are two beautiful gardens: Isuien Garden and Yoshikien Garden that I really like to visit only in the fall. They both provide outstanding fall colors to make you just “Wow”. Isuien garden can be divided into two categories: Front Garden and Back Garden. From the garden you could see Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon Gate and Mount Wakakusayama. Actually these features are brought here as borrowed scenery. Other features such as the plants, shrubs tiny man-made island, stone paths, and pond make the garden so photogenic. You can only feel the autumn atmosphere “how actually does it look like?” once you get in there. Please when you visit it; pay a visit to Neiraku Museum.
Yoshikien Garden is located adjacent to Isuien garden. It is another beautiful traditional Japanese-style garden featuring most picturesque scenery in the fall. The garden name is named after the Yoshikigawa River. It is a small river runs beside the garden. Within this garden there are three distinct styles gardens such as a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden. The garden offers visitors to experience three different kinds of Japanese gardens. I enjoy walking along the moss garden path as the surrounding deciduous trees turning many shades of red and gold.
Hunting Momiji outside Nara City
Nara prefecture is stunning all year round, but in the autumn, nature decorates it with vibrant colors on its own way. We don’t have any contribution to it. All credit goes to the mother of nature. So far, you have discovered mainly the Nara park areas of which some of the spots show the best colors in autumn. It is time to take you outside Nara city. Are you well prepared to make this trip?
1) Tanzan Shrine
“What a place!” Yes it was my first impression about this place once I saw vividly colored fall foliage all over the Tanzan shrine. It was stunning and still the views I experienced there often come to my mind. I think it is a classic place to see autumn leaves not only in Nara prefecture but also in Japan as well. This is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, founded in 678 during the Asuka period (538 – 710). The shrine is located in the hillside, in Sakurai city of Nara Prefecture. Once the shrine was a temple but during the Meiji Period it was converted into a shrine. One of the main highlights of this beautiful shrine is the 13 story pagoda (stands 17 meters tall) and the main hall with an attractive open balcony to enjoy the autumn colors. Viewing the shimmering color of fall leaves from the balcony is gorgeous.
Hence, the shrine is quite a popular autumn leaves viewing spot in Nara, a lot of nature enthusiasts come here in mid-November. Though, early-November to late-November is the perfect time to escape to this shrine. On the grounds of the shrine, there are approximately 3,000 maple trees shine their beauty as fall rolls in here. The path that leads you to the shrine is usually lined with many food stands and temporary shops. You can try the street foods from the foods stalls and buy souvenirs from the shops. You can take the local buses (8-10 buses per day) to get to Tanzan Shrine from Sakurai Station. Get off the Tanza-jinja bus stop, and it is a-25 minute bus ride.
2) Hasedera Temple
Don’t mess it up with the Hasedera temple, located in Kamakura. Their name could be similar but their structures and locations are different. The hasedera temple that you will be learning about here is located in a valley in Sakurai city, Nara prefecture. It is a beautiful Buddhist temple which was built in 686. It has over 30 buildings scattered along the hillside of the valley. There is a perfect place for looking at the surrounding fall foliage. Actually, that is the main hall of this temple. It has a wide open balcony from where visitors can view picturesque landscapes of fall colors in fall and cherry blossoms in spring. It also offers you observe most of the buildings located within the temple’s grounds. Please note that you have to walk 15-18 minutes to reach to the temple from Hasedera Station. You can visit Hasedera from the mid-November through the first week of December in order to catch the peak season.
3) Muroji Temple
If you ever visit Hasedera temple in Asuka, never hesitate to visit its neighboring temple called Muroji. It is a sacred place, located on a steep slope to the north of the Muro-gawa River and surrounded by the deep forests. There is an old saying that sacred dragons dwell in the forests. The temple has many giant trees and attractive buildings within its grounds. The most important and holy statue of this temple is Shaka Nyorai (the Buddha of Enlightenment), a height of 234.8 cm and enshrined in Kon-do Hall. The hall was built in the middle of the 9th century. In addition, there is a nice looking five story pagoda, a height of16 meter and is said to be the smallest of its kind in Japan. In fact, there are more to explore here including other Buddha statues and old buildings. The whole area magically transforms into a new world of vivid colors in autumn. From mid-November to early-December is the best time to view foliage here.
How to get to Nara?
If you have a valid Japan Rail Pass then visiting Nara from Kyoto would be convenient and reliable. JR West and Kintetsu Railways provide train connection between Kyoto and Nara. Please note that Japan Rail Pass is not valid on Kintetsu trains. I don’t care which train I take because Japan Rail Pass is only valid for foreign visitors to Japan. Though I usually take Kintetsu trains that are very frequent and they provide multiple trains per hour. If you use JR Pass then you can get in to Miyakoji rapid trains that operate every 30 minutes between Kyoto Station to Nara Station. In that case, you don’t have to buy ticket.
When you are to visit Tanzan Shrine, Hasedera Temple, and Muroji Temple, the best choice for accessing these from Nara is by train. You have to travel along the JR Sakurai Line, get in the train at JR Nara Station to reach to Sakurai Station. The entire journey takes about 30 minutes and it costs you 320 Yen.
Where to Stay in Nara?
Nara is a four season destination in Japan. A lot of tourists come here all year round for Nara Park exploration as well its neighboring cities. Those who come to Nara from either Kyoto or Osaka for a day trip they don’t usually stay overnight here. However, if your itinerary makes you stay here a night, then book a room online in advance especially during spring and autumn seasons. You really need one day for exploring Nara Park and when you plan on visiting Tanzan Shrine, Hasedera Temple, and Muroji Temple then staying a night in Nara is highly recommended. Below are the best cheapest hotels in Nara city.
Welcome to Nara and Enjoy the Fall Colors
Nara is home to many historic sacred temples & shrines. When autumn turns up it begins to creep all over Nara, promising to transform the landscape into a magical world of red, yellow, orange, and gold. Autumn in Nara almost made me want to live there forever; it was hard to say “goodbye” to the deer and the historic landmarks I have experienced. I don’t know when you would be able to visit Nara but think of this year autumn! And please pay a visit to this peaceful place, it is worth visiting!
Nara sounds to me a paradise in which harmony is alive every now and then. The teachings of the Buddha say us to show our purest Metta to all living begins with no bloodshed. I like the view of feeding Sika deer in Nara Park. People actually feed them every day and this is one of the best effective ways of cultivating loving-kindness. In this post, I have described my best to help you make your own Nara itinerary for autumn season. Before you arrive in Nara, make sure you check out the weather forecast as it is always better to go for an outdoor trip when it is sunny but not rainy. Bring real cash here as you will have to pay admission fee before entering to the temples & shrines. Thank you very much for reading this.
Copyright 2016 @ takkhis