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!
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 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.
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!