The Hidden Temple Gardens of Nara
Nara was once the ancient capital of Japan 1,300 years ago before the imperial court moved to Kyoto. It is a place full of history and culture, and one of Japan’s most rewarding destinations with no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nara is famous for its deer park and numerous ancient temples, but you can also find beauty in its smaller, hidden temples, which are not as well-known as the larger more famous ones. Many of these temples have magnificent gardens in their precincts that are sanctuaries of peace and tranquillity from all the crowds and noise of the big cities in Japan. In this article, I will highlight some of the less well-known temple gardens in Nara that offer you a chance to experience this peace and tranquillity for yourself.
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Sekkoji Temple dates to the 7th century when Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital. The temple is also called the “Peony Temple” and is famous for its magnificent collection of peonies, which bloom in springtime. The garden features more than 3,000 of these beautiful flowers of about 500 different kinds, which bloom from April to May. You can also enjoy winter varieties which bloom from late November to early January. Peonies have been a popular flower since ancient times at temples across Japan with the roots being used to make medicine.
Address: 387 Someno, Katsuragi City, Nara Prefecture
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A short 10 minute walk from Sekkoji Temple is Taimadera Temple, which is famous for its historic buildings and Buddhist statues, many of which are registered as cultural assets or national treasures. The temple is located at the foot of Mount Futakami and was founded in 612 by Prince Maroko, a brother of the famous Prince Shotoku (legendary regent of Japan). It also has a beautiful secret garden that is literally like entering another world. The wonderful garden in the precincts of the sub-temple utilizes a narrow slope and comes alive with color in spring. The red and pink rhododendron flowers and peonies jump out of the garden against the backdrop of fresh green maples. It is very soothing and Zen like. It is the perfect place to enjoy some matcha green tea and traditional wagashi sweets.
Address: 1263 Taima, Katsuragi City, Nara Prefecture
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Chogakuji Temple is said to have been founded in 824 by Kobo Daishi, the founding priest of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. It covers an area of around 40,000 square meters and contains many historical buildings and treasures. This temple is also known as “The Flower Temple” with many seasonal flowers such as cherry blossoms, azalea, iris, hydrangea and camellia in bloom through-out the year. The iris pond in front of the main hall is stunning, as well as the azaleas around the grounds. The gardens here are filled with many different kinds of plants meaning that flowers are always in bloom no matter what season you visit
Address: 508 Yanagimoto-cho, Tenri, Nara Prefecture
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Hasedera Temple is the most famous temple on this list with the main hall a National Treasure of Japan. The historic temple was founded in the 8th century and houses beautiful Buddhist statues. The walk through the covered stairway from the foot of the hill to the temple above is breath-taking. The temple is also known as “The Temple of Flowers” or “The Temple of Peonies”, with the temple grounds filled with peonies, which have been planted by pilgrims to the temple for over a thousand years. There are around 7,000 peony bushes of 150 varieties which bloom from late April to early May. You can enjoy seasonal flowers all year round here with cherry blossoms from late March to mid-April, hydrangeas which bloom from mid-June to mid-July and the autumn colours in fall.
Address: 731-1 Hatsuse, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture
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Nara, Japan’s ancient capital is full of hidden charms and bursting with colors in spring.
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Nara is conveniently located within an hour from both Kyoto and Osaka by train. To reach Nara from Tokyo it takes around 3 hours by Shinkansen to Kyoto and then by local train to Nara.