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Green Tourism in the rural and historical village of Asuka, Nara


Sponsored by Asuka Mura village, Nara

Asuka (飛鳥) is a place steeped in history: the first capital of Japan was established there more than 1400 years ago. This village in Nara Prefecture has now become a peaceful rural location, dotted with ancient remains that bear witness to its past grandeur: Buddhist temples, tumuli and archaeological sites from the ancient capital. It is also a dream destination for those who wish to discover nature and local agriculture, a place where a slower pace rewards travelers with discoveries that would be easily missed if you tried to cram too much into your travel itinerary.

Walking or cycling in the heart of Asuka village 

The village is not very large, and it is possible to walk to its main sites. However, I advise you to rent a bicycle because there is a lot to explore in Asuka and being able to move faster allows you to leave the marked routes to explore areas off the beaten path.

Two people cycling through the rice fields in Asuka village, Nara prefecture

The landscapes of Asuka are protected because of their historical importance. As a result, no modern buildings are visible on the horizon. The village is full of charm and exudes a timeless atmosphere. It is not necessary to travel far from the center to discover beautiful rural Japanese landscapes: endless rows of rice fields and traditional houses along roads too narrow to be navigated by cars.

A view of Asuka village, Nara: rice fields and traditional houses.

A small road bordered by traditional houses in Asuka

I describe the different sites of Asuka in more detail in this article on the history of Asuka.

The terraced rice fields of Inabuchi Tanada

Slightly further south of central Asuka, we reach the terraced rice fields of Inabuchi Tanada. The rice fields follow one another over a large hilly area, and the landscape changes in beauty through the seasons and times of the day. The most popular times to visit them are in early summer, when the sunset is reflected on the flooded plots, and from the middle to the end of September when they are covered with red flowers called higan-bana. At the time I visited, the fields were lush green under heavy summer rains, which did not distract from their beauty in the least.

The terraced rice fields of Inabuchi Tanada in Asuka (Nara), crossed by a small path

The flooded rice fields of Inabuchi Tanada on a sunny summer day in Asuka
Inabuchi Tanada rice fields at the beginning of Summer.
Inabuchi Tanada rice fields covered with red flowers on a sunny Autumn day in Asuka
Inabuchi Tanada rice fields covered with higan-bana flowers in September.

To discover the most beautiful views, don’t be afraid to leave the main road for the small paths that weave through the fields. But please be considerate of the farmers by staying on the paths and not entering  private property or walking on the edges of the fields. 

Asuka: a view of the terraced rice fields of Inabuchi Tanada under the rain

A wooden sign indicating the route of the scarecrows in Asuka
One of these paths is called “かかしロード” (kakashi road), the “scarecrow route”, because a scarecrow contest is held there every fall.

 

Colorful scarecrows in Inabuchi Tanada rice fields in Asuka, Nara
Scarecrows in Inabuchi Tanada rice fields during the contest.

 

In addition to rice, Asuka strawberries are also famous, and it is not uncommon to see greenhouses on the side of the road. If you want to taste them, some farms offer visitors the opportunity to pick them themselves.

Greenhouses where strawberries are grown on the side of a road in Asuka

The famous "ruby" strawberry, grown in Asuka, Nara

In the footsteps of filmmaker Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase, the director of the film Sweet Bean (An), is from Nara. One of her films, Hanezu no tsuki, is set in Asuka. When I asked the tourist office where to find the locations where the film was shot, they immediately indicated the one I had in mind: the little shrine with the big name: Asukagawajozauzutakihiuinochi Shrine. By bike, it is a short distance from the Inabuchi Tanada rice fields — I indicate the location on the map at the end of the article.

The steps of the sanctuary that is seen in Naomi Kawase's film, which sink into the forest at Asuka

It was under heavy rain that I arrived at the foot of the flights of stairs leading up to the shrine. This small sanctuary nestled in the heights of the forest, slightly overgrown but not abandoned – as evidenced by a few cans of sake left as an offering -, exudes a breathtaking mystical charm and power. There are many small shrines like this one in the Japanese countryside, hidden away for the most diligent travelers to find.

The small sanctuary that is seen in the film Hanezu, surrounded by trees and mosses. Asuka, Nara

The glassmakers of Asuka: discovery of local crafts

It was in Asuka that the first glass workshop of Japan was established and the original techniques and traditions have been perpetuated to this day. There are still many workshops of glassblowers and other glass craftsmen. I had the chance to visit the village during an exhibition of their creations, but you can see them all year round in the shops and restaurants of Asuka.

Glasses and other blown glass pieces made in Asuka, displayed in a traditional house

 

Farmstays in Asuka

When we talk about green tourism, one type of accommodation comes to mind right away: the farmstay. I had the chance to spend a night at Tomaryanse. The house, which is more than 200 years old, offers a timeless environment ideal for relaxation. A delicious cuisine is served, prepared with fresh, local produce and it is even possible to accompany the owners to work in the fields.

Views from the inside of Tomaryanse, a guest room in a traditional Japanese house in Asuka

 

Gourmet breaks to discover local products

As you explore the Asuka countryside and its many farms, you will likely develop a desire to sample the local products, not to mention a big appetite from walking or riding a bicycle around the village.

In my two days of exploring Asuka, I came across four locations that are both restaurants and cafés: two where I had lunch, and two where I took a coffee and pastry break. Although not all the products are 100% local, in each place I was able to appreciate the quality of the cuisine and the lovely atmosphere.

Café Kotodama (カフェことだま)

Undoubtedly Asuka’s most popular address, and we understood why after trying a delicious meal prepared with local products: a creative and subtle cuisine that blends typical Japanese flavours with Western inspirations. (lunch menu at 1620¥,). This cafe is also a shop selling crafts.

Café Kotodama's lunch menu: varied Japanese and Western dishes

A dessert at Café Kotodama: gourmet coffee

Coffee Sanpo (珈琲さんぽ)

This small restaurant set up in an old house is a real favorite, for the cooking and decoration as well as for the hospitality. The simplicity of the meal belies the attention paid to the smallest details and to quality. Hainan chicken, a dish from Southeast Asia, is a subtly flavored treat, and the coffee is excellent. (1350¥ for lunch with coffee)

 Hainan chicken at Coffee Sanpo, in a light wood decor

Matsuyama Cafe

Located in an old warehouse near the station, Matsuyama is undoubtedly Asuka’s trendiest café: a spacious area decorated entirely in wood and metal, and homemade cuisine based on local products. (lunch menu at 1350¥, cakes at 480¥)

Cafe latte and lemon cheesecake at Matsuyama cafe

Misono Cafe (珈琲の館御園)

Misono is a real café, serving customers near Asuka station for 40 years. The British accent decor is in fact quite typical of this type of establishment in Japan from that period. You can enjoy a coffee prepared in a siphon while relaxing to the sound of soft music. (coffee from 430¥)

Coffee and chocolate pastry at Café Misono, in a dark wood decor

More information

More information can be found on the Exploring Asuka website and on Asuka Navi (for a consultation in English on the phone). Download the brochure “Asuka, birthplace of Japan” available in pdf.

You can also follow @asukanavi on Instagram.

I also advise you to read the copy of the “naranara” guide dedicated to Asuka, you can easily find the paper version in Asuka but also download the pdf version (in English and Japanese).

Access and transportation

Asuka is located less than 50 minutes by train from Nara. From Kintetsu-Nara station, take the limited express train to Asuka station. Asuka stations is accessible in less than 80 minutes from Kintetsu-Kyoto or JR Osaka.

In Asuka, it is most convenient to ride a bike or in a mini electric car called michimo (rental is available near the station). It is also possible to walk or use the Asuka Aka Kame bus (schedules and information here in Japanese)

Small electric car called "michimo" passing through the rice fiels of Asuka

 

    
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