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Photo By: Gary Luscombe
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Oka-dera Temple

A Prison for a Dragon.

The village of Asuka in Nara Prefecture could almost be considered one of the birthplaces of civilization in Japan. Close to Kashihara Jingu, a large shrine built close to what is believed to be the place where the first Emperor, Jimmu-tenno, had his palace, and dotted with ancient temples.

Legend has it that when the stone lid begins to shake, a rainstorm will soon appear.

One such temple is Oka-dera, also known as Ryūgai-ji, which loosely translates as Dragon Lid Temple. This unusual name comes from an old tale which tells that an aggressive dragon once terrorized the nearby countryside. A devout monk (possibly Gien, who founded the temple) defeated the dragon and trapped it in a small pond on the temple grounds then covered it with a stone lid.

Legend has it that when the stone lid begins to shake, a rainstorm will soon appear.

Later, the legendary monk Kūkai, founder of Koyasan, came to Oka-dera to study. While here, he fashioned a statue of the Wish Granting Buddha, Nyorin Kannon Bosatsu, out of clay. This once colourful statue has faded over the last 1,200 years but is nonetheless counted among the Three Great Buddha Statues (the others being at Todai-ji in Nara and Shōhō-ji in Gifu).

Oka-dera is the 7th temple on the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage and, like many places around Asuka, is especially beautiful during Autumn. The temple is also known for a rather unique spherical charm which you can seen hanging from some of the trees and may well have been the inspiration for the popular DragonBall anime series.

Around the temple

A post shared by Gary Luscombe (@gary_luscombe) on Jul 29, 2017 at 3:50am PDT

Asuka-mura has many other interesting places including Asuka-dera, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan and several archaeological sites including former palaces. There are also a number of Kofun tombs including the partially uncovered Ishibutai-Kofun, the colourfully decorated Takamatsuzuka Kofun and the tombs of Princess Kibihime and Kinmei-tenno, the 29th Emperor of Japan.

If you venture off the beaten track a little, you may even come across some more unusual objects such as the “Sake Stone”, a large flat rock with unusual cup and channel carvings.

As Asuka-mura covers a large area and Oka-dera is a few kilometers from the nearest station, it is well worth renting a bicycle and spending a day exploring.

Things To Know

Hours and Fees

Opening Hours: April – September 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., October – March 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entrance fee: ¥400

How To Get There


806 Oka, Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara-ken 634-0111, Japan

By train

Take the Kintetsu Minami-Osaka Line from Osaka Abenobashi Station to Furuichi and then change to the Kintetsu Yoshino Line. Take this as far as Asuka Station or Oka-dera Station. Oka-dera temple is approximately 3km from either station.

Where To Stay

Hotel Nara Sakurai no Sato
  • 2220-1 Taie, Sakurai-shi, Nara, 633-0044 Japan
  • ¥12,000 - ¥28,400
  • 4.13/5 (39 reviews)
  • 2.2 km
Tonomine Kanko Hotel
  • 432 Tonomine, Sakurai-shi, Nara, 633-0032 Japan
  • ¥10,100 - ¥32,200
  • 3.1 km
Candeo Hotels Nara Kashihara
  • 1-1-50 Naizencho, Kashihara-shi, Nara, 634-0804 Japan
  • ¥12,375 - ¥87,120
  • 4.43/5 (1,135 reviews)
  • 5.5 km
Rita Gosemachi
  • 1069 Nishimachi, Gose-shi, Nara, 639-2215 Japan
  • ¥31,255 - ¥97,660
  • 8.6 km
NIPPONIA Tawaramoto Maruto Shoyu
  • 170 Iyodo, Shiki-gun Tawaramoto-cho, Nara, 636-0243 Japan
  • ¥36,955 - ¥52,535
  • 4.82/5 (13 reviews)
  • 8.8 km

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