Discovering Nara can be easily done on a single day, from Kyoto or Osaka for example. The counterpart is that many visitors limit themselves to some very touristy spots, often located around the large city park (Nara-koen) in its center. Nonetheless, it's easy to get outside of this area to reach a whole new perspective on the ancient capital. Wakakusa-yama may be the perfect example to this end.
To get there, you'll just have to cross the park completely from the train stations, since the entry of the hill is at its eastern end, between the famous Todai-ji temple and Kasuga Taisha shrine. A traditional shopping street, lined with sakura cherry trees, opens towards the entrance. Wakakusa is divided into several levels and an important number of visitors seem to choose not to start the hike, but rather stay on this vast expanse of steep grass just past the entrance.
Our advice is to start the ascent, which remains extremely accessible. In about twenty minutes, you'll have arrived at the first level from which the panorama of Nara is striking. The city's different main attractions are available in a new light and one can easily recognize all of its hotspots, probably visited shortly before or after the ride.
From there, two routes are available: either complete the loop back to the starting area, or continue climbing away from the city center to reach other mountains. Wakakusayama rises at 342 meters high.
A small warning though: access to Mount Wakakusa is possible only half of the year, during spring and fall, to protect its herbs which are burnt every year in January after some fireworks are lit.
How to get to Wakakusayama
On foot :
- 45 minutes from JR Nara Station
- 30 minutes from KintetsuNara train station
By taxi, about 10 minutes
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Adults : 150¥ (~US$ 1.40)
Children from 3 years old : 80¥ (~US$ 0.70)
Open every day from 9am to 5pm
Closed in summer (mid-June to mid-September) and winter (late November to late March)
How long / when to visit
One to three hours
Recommended period: sakura blossom