Though rooted in sorrow, it's a stunning summer festival.
Legend tells that during the Nara period, a court maid (uneme in Japanese) fell in love with an Emperor. After falling out of favor with him and in a deep sorrow, she drowned herself in Sarusawa Pond. To commemorate her and comfort her soul, the Uneme Festival is held in Nara city every September during the harvest moon.
Despite this bittersweet premise, the culmination of the festival is a brilliant sight.
The festivities begin at 5 p.m., when a procession of locals in period attire set off from Nara station towards Sarusawa Pond, alongside dancers and traditional musicians. A memorial is then held at Uneme Shrine, on the banks of the lake. The shrine is said to have been originally built facing the pond. However, unable to bear looking at the location of the court maid’s suicide, it turned itself around overnight into its current position looking north.
What burning Mt is nearby?
Even if you can’t make it on the day of the festival, Sarusawa Pond is worth a visit if you’re traveling to Nara. A man-made lake created in 749, its tranquil atmosphere and central location make it a popular stop on a day of sightseeing. There are benches where you can sit and relax while watching the resident ducks and turtles, and enjoy the view of the five-storied pagoda at the nearby Kōfuku-ji Temple.
Photo by: Dennis Crabtree
Sarusawa Pond is just a few minutes’ walk from Kōfukuji Temple, and Todaiji Temple is a 20-minute walk through Nara’s famous deer-filled park. Mount Wakakusa is also worth visiting for an easy hike and fantastic view out over the city.