Feel the burn...
- Check out the "mountain roast" on the fourth Saturday of each January.
Luckily, the unfairly overlooked Mount Wakakusa stands right next to the main temple area. Venturing from Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga Shrine will lead to further exploration of the mountain that offers a lovely view of Nara, plus seasonal goodies and events.
While it is officially a mountain, most visitors will not find it a challenging climb at 342-meters high. A relaxed pace and a moderate amount of effort should be enough to ascend the slope to the lower plateau in 15 to 20 minutes. Thankfully, even a short hike is rewarded by a view that takes in all the major sites of Nara.
Most people are content with the view from the first spot, but the summit of the mountain can be reached with an additional 20-minute walk.
While the burial mound at the very top isn’t particularly attractive, the upper slopes are where the birds and deer congregate after a long day of eating the rice crackers thrown by tourists. In the evening, expect to see murders of crows packed tightly with herds of deer grazing on the grassy knolls.
Depending on the season, the area also has some special events worth checking out. Mount Wakakusa is famous locally for its cherry blossom trees during the hanami (blossom viewing) in the spring and as the location of a senbei (Japanese rice cracker)-throwing competition.
On the fourth Saturday of each January, the mountain’s dead grass is burned in a festival known as yamayaki (mountain roast), which is commonly known as a prescribed burn. Here, the whole mountain is lit up in flames and later fireworks are launched into the sky.
Mount Wakakusa will give travelers a different perspective on the major sites of Nara and to be seeing it all from the top is a unique view into a sacred world.
Interested in hiking more nature in Japan? Check out our hiking section.