asuka-dera temple

Japan Heritage—Asuka

Discover ruins and relics dating back to the dawn of a nation

The ancient burial mounds, archaeological sites, Japan's oldest temples and monuments dating back over 1,300 years mean a visit to Asuka is to tread in the footsteps of the rulers — many of them women — who helped shape the modern nation of Japan. And while Asuka is a living, breathing history book, it is also a picturesque slice of rural Japan ideal for a day of cycling and sightseeing.

Don't Miss

  • The intriguing monoliths scattered throughout Asuka and neighboring areas
  • Touring the burial mounds, former palace sites and relics of ancient Japan by bicycle
  • Kasahara-jingu Shrine and the old merchant town of Imaicho—other attractions in the area

How to Get There

Asuka is easily accessible from Osaka and Nara City by train. Depending on where you want to visit, Okadera or Kashiharajingu-mae stations may be more convenient.

For Asuka Station, take the Kintetsu Line from Kintetsu-Nara Station (around one hour). From Osaka, take the Midosuji Line from Namba Station to Tennoji Station followed by the Kintetsu Limited Express from Osaka-Abenobashi Station (about one hour).

Quick Facts

Japan was established as a unified state in the Asuka period (592-710)

Asuka is where Buddhism began in Japan

Women played a pivotal role in the sculpting of Japan as a nation

You can get around Asuka by bicycle or the Akakame Loop Bus

Asuka by bicycle

With its quiet, level roads and open fields, a rented bicycle is a pleasant way to sightsee in Asuka. It's also the best way to cover the most distance as the sights are quite spread out. Asuka Rental Cycle has several branches in the area, and you can return bicycles to any of the locations.

Cycling past rice fields and the former sites of ancient palaces, you will come across temples, burial mounds and impressive megaliths similar to those scattered across Europe; some, like Ishibutai Tumulus , are tombs, others such as the Monkey Stone at Takatori Castle remain quite mysterious and are believed to have been commissioned by Empress Saimei (594–661).

Temples and treasures

Of the temples in the area, Okadera Temple and Asukadera Temple are the most impressive. Founded in 663, Okadera is an ancient temple with beautiful gardens, a three-storied pagoda, and a five-meter tall clay Buddha. Asukadera dates back even further and is one of the oldest temples in Japan, founded in 588 shortly after Buddhism was first introduced from China and Korea. Built under the direction of craftsmen from Korea's ancient Baekje Kingdom, the main hall and many of its statues show a strong Korean influence. Among the statues is Japan's oldest great Buddha measuring nearly three-meters tall and dated to 609.

Ruins and relics

Between 592 and 710, the Asuka area was home to numerous emperors and empresses and their palaces. Although none of the palaces remain today, the grounds where they once stood are protected. At the site of the Fujiwara Palace, there are several red columns that mark the original foundations, giving you an idea of the scale of the imperial residence.

In between Asukadera and Okadera, the site of Itabuki Palace is an active archaeological site with ongoing excavations. To date, a stone-paved plaza and large water well have been uncovered. Visitors are free to explore the excavated ruins.

Also in the area, the Sakafune-ishi Ruins are worth a visit for their peculiar stone works. These comprise a giant granite slab marked with circular dents and grooves and a tortoise-shaped object that was most likely used to hold and release water. It is believed that Empress Saimei performed fertility rites and other ceremonies here.

Women of the Asuka period

Historical records and artworks found in burial mounds suggest that the Asuka period was one dominated by strong, determined women. From Empress Suiko (554–628) who gave official recognition to Buddhism and Empress Saimei who devoted her energies to public works projects to Empress Jito (645–702) who oversaw the construction of Fujiwara Palace, you can learn about these key figures and their involvement in the shaping of Japan as a nation on a visit to Asuka.

Further afield

After visiting Asuka, check out Kashihara-jingu Shrine or the picturesque merchant town of Imaicho , both nearby. To explore further afield, take a train to Nara City for the deer and top attractions like the Great Buddha at Todaiji Temple . Alternatively, head for the bright city lights of Osaka, just an hour away.

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