Warming Up at Hasedera Temple

Many famous shrines and temples in Japan have an “omotesando” street, a street with many traditional foods, souvenirs, snacks, etc. that leads everyone up to the entrance. Hasedera Temple in Sakurai City, Nara is no different. After my first visit to the temple yesterday, I strolled down this street and enjoyed the sights, smells, and sounds of all of the local specialties unique to southern Nara. As the short season of colorful leaves comes to an end, the days become a little cloudier and colder. Thankfully, there were a few local dishes that helped keep me warm.

Somen noodles originate from an area called Miwa in Sakurai City, so Miwa Somen is a popular choice for people who visit this region. Though ramen, udon, and soba are well-known abroad, somen noodles are very popular in Japan. They are thin, light, and versatile, as they can be served chilled as a cool summer meal, or in a warm broth with other ingredients in the cold winter days.

I also found a quick, warm snack in kusa-mochi, or “grass mochi”. It is made by mixing mochi with wormwood leaves, giving it a crisp flavor and soft, green color. They are filled with purple anko bean paste, which is common in other traditional Japanese sweets as well. Though you can packages of kusa-mochi in some grocery stores or souvenir shops, my favorite way to eat them is hot off the grill.

The owner of the shop spoke with me while cooked up a few pieces for me. These small treats may not make it into a Michelin guide or travel documentary, but for me, this is what the Japan experience is all about.

Sitting on a bench outside the shop, eating kusa-mochi, and drinking bancha tea, I felt like I caught a glimpse into how locals appreciate daily life.

On this same street is also a gallery called Hase-kura, or “Hase Storehouse”. In addition to displaying many original creations, this gallery also offers a program for visitors to design their own hand-made lantern. Visitors can take their time cutting their own traditional words or designs for the lanterns, and can easily take it home with them as their very own personal gift. If you are interested in giving it a try on your next visit to Hasedera Temple, please check out the page below for more program information (sorry, we currently only have information in Japanese).

No. 452 Hand-made Lantern Experience near Hasedera Temple

Climbing the Steps of Hasedera Temple

Located among the hills of Sakurai City, Nara, the historic Hasedera Temple is beautiful year round, but it is especially popular as a place to see the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn leaves. As I climbed the long, wooden staircase, I was gradually surrounded by more and more colorful leaves, with some still on their branches and others scattered across the mossy ground.

The 399 total steps seemed to lead me through thin clouds of red and orange. With every few steps, I made another beautiful discovery. As I climbed higher and higher, I could see even more of the natural beauty that I had passed through, with a few temple roofs mixed in.  

The long staircases and steps lead us all to the Main Hall, perched high up on a precipice. The Main Hall includes a famous deck, from which we could see Hasedera’s famous 5-story pagoda, as well as all of the colorful scenery we had passed through. This was my first time to this wonderful temple. Though this post focuses on the seasonal beauty of the temple, it has played a very important historical role in the region, and is a destination of both tourists and pilgrimage visitors year round.

If you are interested in coupling this temple with an experience, we offer a program nearby in which you can design your own hand-crafted lantern! The shop is on the road that leads up to Hasedera Temple, along with many snack shops and cafes. I look forward to writing more about those in another post, but for now, here is a link to the program!

Program No. 452 Craft Lantern

New Shades of Mountains

As persimmon season in southern Nara comes to an end, and just before the long winter begins, we are briefly greeted by the pleasant autumn colors sprinkled throughout our mountains.

Takumi-no-mura is a small community of artists in Kawakami Village. From ceramics to wood carving to traditional painting, they have both their residences and studios in this unique area atop a mountain, surrounded by trees and views of endless mountain ranges.

I took a stroll in the “geijutsu-no-mori”, or “Art Forest”, that is located just above the cottages for guests to stay in.

The higher I climbed through the fallen leaves, acorns, and chestnut skins, the more of the surrounding mountains I was able to see. At the end is deck made of logs that allows you to see the full expanse of the surrounding mountain ranges, and just how high up I was.

After my stroll, I had lunch at the recently re-styled cafe in the Takumi-no-mura gallery. Sitting at the counter along the broad windows, I had a great of both the expansive mountains and the artist community below.

The artists in Takumi-no-mura offer a variety of art experiences, including pottery, wood carving, jewelry making, and painting. It is a place where people can enjoy the slow flow of time, admiring nature, and creating something new.


Yoshino’s Kunisu Shokudo

Located in the eastern part of Nara’s Yoshino Town, the area of Kuzu is full of legends, stories, and history that has been passed down for hundreds of years. This old community is centered around a road that winds down in the valley along the Yoshino River, long-known for its production of traditional Japanese washi paper. It is here in this community that a new arrival and experienced locals have come together to turn a vacant pharmacy into a delicious intersection of the old and the new.

Kunisu Shokudo is a cafe started by a young man new to the area, along with some older, experienced locals. The young man moved to this area through a national program to help revitalize rural areas, and renovating this former pharmacy into a cafe has been part of his work. He officially opened Kunisu Shokudo this month.

It was naturally born from the desire to have a place to eat lunch and drink coffee. Though there are fewer and fewer people and shops in this area, there was still a demand for this kind of space. Locals from nearby, people from neighboring towns and villages, and other visitors have made the effort to stop by.

The lunch special is written in friendly characters on a chalkboard in front of the cafe. Consisting of standard Japanese diner favorites, with a bit of local wisdom mixed in, you might see grilled pork, marinated and pickled vegetables, and their famous enoki mushroom and tofu miso soup. Kunisu Shokudo uses locally grown vegetables and does its best not to use any unnecessary additives.


But this place wasn’t just started to serve food to people. It was born from a desire for a space where people can eat lunch, drink coffee, and come together. With a selection of coffee and desserts, countless floor pillows, and warm stove heaters, Kunisu Shokudo has quickly become a favorite of many to take a break from the day-to-day and warm up with cake, coffee, and conversation.

We offer an experience just around the corner from Kunisu Shokudo that allows you feel the local culture with your own hands. As this area is well-known for its production of traditional Japanese washi paper, you can try making it yourself, and design your own “one and only” postcards. After enjoying the flavors and scents of the cafe, and the sights and sounds of the Yoshino River, how about feeling the texture of tradition passed down from generation to generation to your hands?

Please click here for more information on the program.

Little Ball of Nara

Have you had enough persimmons yet? If you’ve spent anytime in southern Nara, met someone from southern Nara, or even just heard about southern Nara in the past few months, there is a good chance that you’ve heard about our specialty, persimmons! If you haven’t received them or eaten them, you have probably at least seen them. While I am always happy to have a few more persimmons around, I was pleasantly surprised to find them transformed into a traditional snack at a local sweet shop.

The Kaki-an-dama, or “persimmon-bean paste-ball”, is a sweet little snack that brings together two of the foods that southern Nara is most famous for. In addition to persimmons, it uses the Yoshino region’s famous kudzu, powder ground from the roots of kudzu plants. Combined with white bean paste into small sugar-coated balls, they are soft and doughy like many traditional bean paste snacks, but perhaps a tad bit sweeter.

Just like persimmons, kudzu, and the numerous snacks they’re in, the Kaki-an-dama is a quick, delicious introduction to the traditional culture of southern Nara. Though they are made down here in Yoshino Town, you can probably find them in other parts of Nara too, so please keep an eye out!