There’s more to Nara than the Great Buddha and a day in the park. When the crowds get too much, why not head out into the Nara countryside? About 30 km south of Nara City is Hasedera, an 8th century Buddhist temple of stoic nobility also famous for its flowers. You can get there by train from Osaka in 50 minutes, or in 1 hour 16 minutes from Kyoto.
How to Get to Nara Hasedera Temple
Hasedera (not to be confused with the slightly better known Hasedera in Kamakura) is tucked away at the end of a long, narrow valley leading off from Sakurai City in Nara Prefecture. From Hasedera Station (長谷寺駅) it’s a 10-minute-walk down into the valley, and then another 10 minutes up to the temple. There are souvenir shops, local eateries, and roasted mochi to enjoy along the way. The standard entrance fee is ¥500.
- From Kyoto: 1 hour 16 minutes, one change, and ¥1,020. Take the Kyoto Kintetsu Line express for Kashiharajingu Mae (橿原神宮前) and get off at Yamato-Yagi (大和八木). Change to the Kintetsu Osaka Line bound for Aoyamacho (青山町), Haibara (榛原), or Nabari (名張市) .
- From Osaka Uehonmachi: 50 minutes and ¥770. Take the Kintetstu Osaka Line express for Aoyamacho, Haibara, or Nabari. Or, connect at Kintetsu Tsuruhashi from the Loop Line interchange.
- From Nara: 1 hour 4 minutes, two changes, and ¥640. Take the Kintetsu Nara or Kyoto line to Yamato-Saidaiji (大和西大寺). Change to the Kashihara Line, get off at Yamato-Yagi, and switch to the Kintetsu Osaka Line.
Things that make Hasedera a great day out
Hasedera is a temple worth visiting at anytime of year. The hilly grounds encapsulate all seasons with an array of blooms, while autumn leaves give way to snowing coverings for a brief period in winter.
Exquisite and noble architecture
There are a lot of temples to visit in Japan, but Hasedera is memorable for its uniquely engaging design. The way up is through three interconnected wooden pillared corridors. They form a kind of dragon’s tail with peony terraces, hydrangeas, and cherry blossoms along the way.
Hasedera is also distinctive for its scaffolded platform similar to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. The viewing area for the Buddha is along an open stone corridor which backs onto an open-air stage. Nara Hasedera exudes a sense of stoic nobility, with plenty of shade and places to explore.
The great standing Kannon
The main Buddha statue of Hasedera is a magnificent 11-headed Avalokitesvara, or Juichimen Kannon. It’s the largest wooden statue in Japan and dates from the year 1538. The 10 small heads around the main visage are said to emanate compassion in all directions. They can also represent the 10 stages of enlightenment in the esoteric or tantric tradition.
From March to July 10, if you pay an extra ¥1,000, you can go inside the deity chamber. It’s an impressive sight close up and you can see some other treasures and art works too.
From March to June 5, their treasured 16m hanging scroll is open to view at ¥500. An all inclusive ticket is available at the lower gate for ¥1,700. If you’re short on change, you can duck into their little museum of artifacts from March to May and October to December at no charge.
Seasonal Flowers at Hasedera Nara
Hasedera exudes wealth in more ways than one. The temple is particularly loved for its seasonal blooms. Of course, there are plenty of cherry blossoms here, and some of them bloom as early as the first week of March.
However, the temple is more noted for its gorgeous peony displays. If you can, check out their delicate winter peonies with cute little straw hats! Here are the times of their main blooms:
- Peony Trees: Jan. into late Feb.
- Plum Blossoms: Feb. into end March
- Spring Cherry Blossoms: early to mid March into mid April
- Wisteria: early April into Mid May
- Chinese Peony: mid May to mid June
- Hydrangea: mid June to mid July
- Lotus and Lily: August
- Camellia: mid Dec. into early Feb.
- Winter Cherry Blossoms: mid Dec to mid Jan
From its scaffolded platform tower, there are pretty contemplative views over the valley below. In winter, if there’s good snow fall, it’s particularly scenic. To one side you can see the 5-story pagoda, and to the other you can see the dragon tail staircase.
Continue to Muroji from Hasedera
Another great Nara destination is Muroji Temple — a couple of stations further down the line from Hasedera in Uda city. It’s home to 3,000 rhododendrons flowering from mid April through early May. And, it has the smallest 5-story pagoda in Japan!
You get off at Muroguchi-Ono Station and then take a bus (¥440) to Muroji. There are only three buses in the morning at 09:20, 10:20, and 11:20, and then on the hour from 13:00 through to 16:00 in the afternoon. On weekends and holidays there’s an extra bus at 08:20. The bus back is the same except it’s 09:45, 10:45, and 11:45 in the morning. The afternoon return buses depart once an hour from 13:25 until 16:25. The entrance fee is ¥600.
Hasedera, however, can be particularly captivating in the early evening when the lanterns come on. So, it’s often a good idea to go to Muroji first, and then you don’t have to worry about the last bus back.