Hasedera Temple – Nara’s prettiest temple?

Hasedera Temple – Nara’s prettiest temple?

Hasedera Temple (長谷寺) has to be one of Nara’s prettiest temples, and I have not even visited it at the prettiest time of year! This temple is another one of the places that is super famous to Japanese people, BUT very few foreign tourists bother to trek South of Nara city, so most people miss out on this gem! Now, there isn’t much of a hike to get to this temple. It is only 15 minutes walk from Hasedera station. But once you get there, there is a lovely walk around the temple, including 399 steps up to the main hall, so you’re legs will get a bit of a work out.

This is a truly ancient temple. It first built in 686 when Buddhism first arrived in Japan. It is mentioned in the Tale of Genji 源氏物語 (published before 1021) and Nara’s famous Man’yōshū 万葉集 (Myriad Leaves Collection), which is Japan’s oldest known collection of poetry (the latest date-able poem is from 759.)

Hasedera Temple – How to get there

It is actually really easy to reach this temple. You just need to head to Hasedera station (長谷寺駅). As always the easiest way to plan your route is to use Hyperdia. If you’re coming from Kyoto, take the Kintestu line to YamatoYagi, then change and take a train towards Haibara. From Nara you can take a Kintestu train to Yamato Saidaiji (it’s only two stops) then head South to YamatoYagi, and then change for the train towards Haibara. Or you can take the JR train to Sakurai, then (as with the previous options) take the Kintetsu line towards Haibara.

Once you arrive, it is a short walk through the lovely town to the temple. You will be able to look up and see the main hall up near the top of the hill, overlooking the rest of the town.

Nio-mon Gate and the Noborirou covered staircase

One of the first things you’ll see when you arrive at the temple, is the beautiful Nio-mon gate. This was built in 1894, and it has some scary looking guardians staring down at you. Once you’re through the gate, you need to wander up 399 steps on a covered staircase. Hasedera temple is a working monastery, so although many of these building are ancient, they are still looking after it, and adding to it. While we were walking up the steps, some young monks were pulling a new statue up a walkway to add to an area higher up the hill. It looked like hard work!

As you can see, the steps are pretty small, even if there are a lot of them. It’s not too tiring. I really love the oval lamps that hang from the walkway. These are lit during some festivals, which I have only seen in photos, but it looks stunning.

Hasedera’s Seasonal flowers

Hasedera temple is most famous for flowers. If you visit in April, they have a fantastic display of cherry blossoms. In May, the walkway is lined with hundreds of peonies. In June the temple is surrounded by hydrangeas. Most of my photos are from when I visited in the autumn, when the display of momiji (autumn leaves) made the temple glow with red and yellow leaves. I have also been here in winter to see the winter peonies and the plum blossoms.

There are loads of gorgeous temples and building dotting the hillside. If you can, spend plenty of time exploring them all.

Eleven-Faced Hase Kannon

The most famous of the statues at Hasedera temple is the Hase Kannon. The current statue was carved in 1538. It is 10 meters tall, gilded with gold and is used as a model for all other Kannon statues in Japan, including the one in Kamakura. In the springtime (February to June) and in the autumn (November) you can pay ¥1000, to touch and kiss the statue. It is really smooth from all this human contact and love.

What is the link with Hasedera temple in Kamakura?

There is another Hasedera temple in Kamakura, which is closely associated with this one. There is a legend that the tree for this statue was so massive that the monk who caved it (called Tokudō) carved two massive statues from it in 721. One Kannon was enshrined here in Nara, while the other was sent out to sea, as the monks hoped it would find a place with a karmic connection to Nara. It eventually washed ashore in Kamakura, where they built a second temple for it in 736.

The Hondo – main hall

My favourite building at Hasedera is the main hall. It is gorgeous all year round, but I really love it in autumn when the colourful leaves from the trees around it make it look like it is glowing.

Once you walk through the hall, you can go out onto a platform that looks down to the rest of the temple and down to the village. It is a little like the gorgeous platform that everyone visits in Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, it’s just there never seems to be as much of a crowd.

I love the view over to the five storied pagoda.

Hasedera Jizo statues

When I visited Hasedera temple in winter, each of the teeny jizo statues had been well cared for with teeny scarves, hats and cloaks. Aren’t they cute!?

Hasedera Temple’s five storied Pagoda

This pagoda was the first built after World War II, in 1954. It may not be as old as the rest of the temple, but I love it, especially when it is surrounded by momiji leaves in autumn.

I even brought my dad here when we came to Japan. He only had a couple of weeks, so I only took him to my favourite spots!

Winter Peonies

If you walk around the back of the temple in wintertime, you might see these lovely winter peonies. Each one has a little shelter to protect it from the snow. That is a whole lot of care for a single flower!

Food near Hasedera temple

There are quite a lot of tasty treats on the path up to Hasedera temple. You can watch people making kusa mochi (they bash the rice into mochi it with that huge hammer.) If you didn’t already try it in Nara, you should also munch some kakinohazushi. It is mackerel and salmon wrapped in persimmon leaves (kaki-no-ha).

The available snacks change with the seasons. My favourite dish so far was matsutaki (super tasty mushrooms) rice, which was served in a steamed bun. We tried this in November.

Kaki time

Kaki are the tasty persimmons (Japanese people use their leaves to wrap the kakinohazushi I mentioned above.) If you see any kaki for sale, try them! The fruits are super sweet and juicy. If you walk around Japan in the autumn, you’ll see kaki hanging from people’s houses. They dry them out, to make them even sweeter. This sight makes me really nostalgic for Japan.

Hike from Hasedera to Sakurai

If you fancy a bit of a walk after visiting Hasedera, you can hike back to Sakurai city. The walk is pretty easy and takes just under an hour and a half. It is not quite as epic as the beautiful walk to Muroji Temple. Still there are some lovely views on the way.

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My dad did seem a little knackered by the time we made it back to Sakurai, so we stopped off for some desert. It was the perfect way to finish off a pretty perfect day.

Marc and I can’t go out this weekend as we both had our wisdom teeth out. So as I can’t tell you all about a skiing or hiking adventure, so I hope you liked hearing about Hasedera instead. Please do spread the love with a pin or any social share!


51 thoughts on “Hasedera Temple – Nara’s prettiest temple?

  1. Dearest Josybean, what a lovely post. It has made me curious. What do the people who use this temple for religious purposes rather than tourism, believe n and what sort of rituals do they practice?. The statues wrapped in wool are just so touching and the small house for what does not look much like a peony at all to me, are a delight, Get better soon, lesser toothed person. f any one else wants to help enlighten me I will happily read what they send. You are welcome to share my E mail address, if you know the person. Lis

    1. Well, the monks that live in the temple look after it (and all the flowers) They perform Buddhist rites, like weddings and funerals. They meditate and chant mantras every morning. Some people become monks for just a few years, some stay in it forever (more like Christian priests.)

      Japanese people tend to visit temples in times of hardship, when they would like to pray for something. Or to pick up charms (so say you buy a new car, you’d come to a temple to buy a charm to help protect your new car.) They also do pilgrimages to visit important ancient temples like Hasedera. Lots of poeple have a Buddist or a Shinto shrine (or both) in their homes.

      The jizo statues are there to protect travellers, as well as look after babies who have died far too early. That is why those statues are always really well cared for, with little bibs or scarfs.

      If you’d like to read a bit more (with better explanations than I have,) I found a pretty good guide here: https://www.buddhanet.net/nippon/nippon_partII.html

  2. Very pretty! I know my friends in Japan make a point of going to Nara every year, but didn’t ever know why. I’m guessing this is at least part of the answer. Do you know what are the jizo statues are for?

    1. Oooh I wonder if they head down here. Please feel free to send them the link if they don’t. Nara city is also full of gorgeous temples and parks, so most people love to just spend their time in the City.

      The Jizo statues are believed to protect travellers, as well as children and unborn babies. They are often looked after by women who lost a child, that is why they always seem to be wearing bibs or kept warm in winter.

  3. Aww the little statues have scarves and hats! That is the cutest thing!!

    but WOW to both of you getting your wisdom teeth out! I hope that the following few days go well for you guys! Take it easy!

    1. I know right!? I love those little statues. Almost all temples have them, and they are always so well looked after. See my comment above for more information about them. It is sort of bitter sweet, but they can really help women come to terms with miscarriages or the loss of a child. 🙁

      Don’t worry. We’re both feeling much better. We might have to go for an easy walk today!!

    1. Thanks Geoff!

      We will be! We’re planning a mini skiing adventure next week, so we’ll have to be better by then! 😀

  4. I can’t believe the immaculate shape the temple is in, especially when it was built in 686! How wonderful is that?!? Another wonderful post, lovely pictures, and great information, Josy.

    1. I don’t think any of the buildings are that old. Japanese temples and castles are often like human bodies. We renew our cells, they keep replacing wooden beams etc. so it’s not often that the buildings are actually ancient.

      Apart from Horyuji (also in Nara), which has the oldest wooden buildings in the world (they were built before 710…)

  5. First of all, hi! It’s been a while. Please know I am inconceivably jealous right now. I was planning on visiting Japan this year and it’s not going to happen. Second, matsutaki looks delicious. I love Japanese cuisine. Third, it is definitely beautiful. Pagodas are magnificent, especially in that signature red. The view to the five-story pagoda is an amazing photo due to the matching autumn leaves. Like really, what a shot!

    Other questions for you: how are you liking the new block editor? I forget if I’ve asked before. Second, I love how you make pinnable photos! Do you find that helpful for your blog? (and would I be a terrible copy-cat if I started doing something similar?)

    Hope you’re having a great day!


    1. Heya lovely! Long time no chats!!

      Don’t worry, if it’s on your list, I bet you’ll get to japan at some point! If I have more days stuck inside, i’ll be able to keep writing guides like this, so you’ll have more possible places to visit. 🙂

      For the block editor, I didn’t actually bother with it. I just switched back to the old editor. I guess I’ll have to deal with it eventually. 🙁

      Totally copy away for pinterest pins! I found similar advice from blogging groups. I don’t get a tonne of traffic from pinterest, but it is quite fun to make them. I use Canva (www.canva.com) to make them. <3

      1. (first off, sorry if this double-posted. WordPress is being annoying)

        Yes there’s always next year. It sucks being in college cause my travel time is limited and it’s hard to work and go to school, so I don’t always have the funds (or I mean, I technically do, but I’d like to be responsible and not deplete my savings). And I can’t work on breaks if I’m traveling. It’s a cycle.

        I do actually like the block editor. It’s supposed to help with alignment, and I find it does. It was frustrating at first but now I’m enjoying the benefits. For example, you can move any “block”, like a paragraphs, without having to copy paste them. It’s easier to insert photos from my hosting sight (with photo url), rather than having to switch to the code tab and then back to the text to see if it’s aligned properly. If you need any help, let me know haha, though I am far from an expert.

        Yes it looks like fun, that’s kind of half the reason I want to start making them.


        1. I know the feeling! I only did cheap as chips adventures when I was a student. Don’t worry. Things get easier once you finish college (Well, easier-ish you have to do more adulting…) It’s so hard when you have to work for most of the summer to not be totally broke the next year!

          I can’t wait to see your new pins. I think they’ll work well for your fashion posts too. 🙂

    1. Thanks Susie!
      I lived there at the time, but my dad arrived at the perfect time of year! I looove all the crazy colours of autumn in Japan. <3 <3 <3

  6. Josy, I would be up for a visit during June to enjoy the hydrangeas, which are a favourite of mine! It looks like any month would have something to enjoy. You must miss living in Japan!

    1. Oooh I do love hydrangeas too, although June in Japan can be veeery hot and humid. I still like it, but you have to know what you are letting yourself in for!!

  7. Another interesting post, love your photos and that dessert has just given me a craving for cream and chocolate. Hope your teeth are ok, I had to be put under concious sedation when I had a wisdom tooth out, not nice.

    1. Thanks Marian!

      Yeah, teeth are all good now. I was surprised by how easy and painless it was. I mean it’s strange to have someone drilling/breaking your teeth to get them out, but I didn’t feel a thing. (Phew!!)

        1. Lol oh no!

          I wasn’t really brave! I just had never had any dental procedures before, so I had no idea what to expect! Once I was in that seat, there was no turning back so I just let them get on with it!

    1. They are Jizo statues.

      I mentioned it the the comment above, but they are guardians for travellers, and they also look after miscarried children, or babies that lose their lives. That is why they are so well looked after. People take care of them to help themselves come to terms with the loss of a child. 🙁

  8. This is so beautiful. We have been discussing visiting Japan soon. I think I would love to go when the colors are changing. The beauty of that combined with the beauty of the architecture would be fabulous. Thanks for a great share!

    1. Yay! You will loooove Japan in the autumn Michelle! I hope you can make it there when the leaves change. 🙂

      Just be aware, the best colours are a little later than autumn in North America and Europe. I found the best time to visit is late October and November. The weather is often lovely and sunny at that time of year too. <3

    1. Yeah, the temples in Kamakura are gorgeous too aren’t they!? I think more non-Japanese tourists visit that area as it is so easy to get to from Tokyo. I really love both.

  9. You really did go during the best time of the year. The colors surrounding the area is so beautiful. I’ve never been to this temple in Japan and need to go some day when I visit my family in Japan. I agree that the statues wiith teeny scarves, hats, and cloaks are super cute 🙂

    1. Oooh where are your family based Candy?

      I lived in Nara for a few years, so I got to see the area in all seasons, but you’re right, autumn is easily my favourite. <3

    1. It’s amazing isn’t it! I mean, if this temple was in the middle of Kyoto, it would be swamped and so, so busy. I love that there are so many stunning sights where you can relax, take your time and not have to compete for photos!! 😉

  10. My son keeps on bugging me lately about visiting Japan. Of course, he wants to go there for his love of anime but i would visit for the amazing history, architecture and food. Adding this temole to our must see list.

    1. Oooh your son has good taste!

      In my old job, I promoted Japanese language education (giving money to schools that wanted to teach Japanese) you’d be surprised by just how many kids LOVE the idea of Japan (and learning basic Japanese.) If your son likes the idea, I’ll send you some links so he can start learning. It’s a language that boys do really well in for some reason too.

    1. YES!! There are a couple of really famous cherry blossoms trees here too. Although, if you make it this far in spring, you HAVE to keep going South to visit Yoshino. It’s a whole mountain covered in 30,000 cherry blossom trees. It is the best place to see blossoms in the whole of Japan!! <3

  11. I have read and heard so much about Nara and this post has really intrigued me to plan a trip to Nara very soon!

  12. Can’t believe how the temple has stood the test of time and actually looks in such good shape! Also, I truly agree that this is one of the prettiest temples!

    1. Thanks Sarah!

      I think lots of the buildings have fallen down/burnt down over the years…it’s just they always rebuild them! 😉

  13. The architecture of Japan is one of the main reasons I’ve wanted to visit Japan – but I also love how easy you seemed to think their train transportation was. Up until recently I wasn’t aware that It was such a prevalent form of transportation there. If there’s a train I can definitely figure out my way, lol.

    1. Oh Jasmine you would loooove Japanese trains. They work so well and leave exactly on time, so even if you can’t speak Japanese, they are very easy to use to get around. Plus, they are clean and safe!

      Even the train conductors wear white gloves and bow to each carriage before they walk through checking tickets.

  14. Love reading about this historical temple. How I wish to visit this place someday. Hasedera Jizo statues
    and their scarves, hats and cloaks are so cute. Can we buy such statues/replicas there as souvenir?

  15. I’m really enjoying your Japan posts and reading about some of the less-visited places (from a tourist perspective). Although spring seems to be the season everyone wants to go, your fall photos are absolutely gorgeous and making me think we’d like to visit at that time of the year.

    1. That is my favourite time of year (I think autumn leaves are even prettier than sakura blossoms) plus the food and weather is even better in autumn! 😉

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