Hiking Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Nara City is home to literally dozens of World Heritage sites, many of which are Japanese temples and shrines. However, there are several places recognized as World Heritage sites that are neither. One example is Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Just a few short minutes from the central area of Nara City, this ancient forest is one of Nara’s many treasures.

 

Why Is Kasugayama Primeval Forest So Important?

Kasugayama Primeval Forest is a sacred forest that Kasuga Shrine has protected since 841, when they prohibited cutting down any trees in the forest. This means that many trees in the forest are hundreds upon hundreds of years old. However this doesn’t mean the forest is completely unchanged. Rather, it has been well maintained but essentially undisturbed. Even though there has been some human involvement, the main goal has always been to maintain the forest’s rich ecological balance and diversity.

alert deer standing between trees with branches at its feet and lots of leaf litter
Deer near entrance of the Kasuga Trail.

 

Getting to Kasugayama Primeval Forest

There are two entrances to the Kasugayama Primeaval Forest trail. The north entrance is near a little restaurant called Mizuyachaya between Kasuga Shrine and Todai-ji. The south entrance is on the south side of Kasuga Shrine. The entrances are not that clearly marked, so you should take a map!

board showing hiking routes in Mt Kasuga Primeval forest
Map of Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest hiking trail.

Once you enter the forest the path is very clear and easy to follow. That withstanding, we strongly encourage bringing a map, since there’re a number of smaller routes along the trail. 

(blue line = Kasugayama Primeval Forest Trail   black line=Mt Wakakusa Trail )

Kasuga Taisha, Holy Deer!

Kasugayama Primeval Forest 

We decided to start from the north entrance because we thought it was easiest to find.

road leading to north entrance of the Kasuga Primeval forest hiking trail
Path to north entrance of the Kasuga Primeval Forest hiking trail
north entrance of the Kasuga Primeval forest hiking trail
Start of trail

The trail is well maintained and not at all steep, so you probably won’t need special gear other than a decent pair of hiking shoes.

shady part of mount Kasuga Primeval Forest trail
Kasugayama Primeval Forest Trail

In addition to the rich wildlife, there are a handful of other things you should pay attention to during your hike.

 

Points of Interest

Uguisu no Taki

This waterfall is just about 500 meters off the main trail and is a refreshing sight!

Uguisu no taki falls in Kasuga Forest trail
Uguisu no Taki

World Heritage Marker

stone world heritage marker next to red bridge in cedar forest
Kasugayama Primeval Forest World Heritage marker

This marker also serves as the halfway point on the trail. If you go over the bridge, you will cross into the oldest part of the forest.

Jizo and Buddha Statues

Near the end of our hike we ventured off onto one of the side trails. There we found these stone Buddha carvings. It turns out these carvings are quite old; from the Heian Period. In the 12th century, workers from Todai-ji would go in to Kasuga to look for stone to build the temple. While harvesting rock, they also made these carvings and left them in Kasuga.

four buddha carved into a rock face, most of the fourth missing

Three well eroded stone carvings of different buddha

The jizo statue (below) has had it rough! He was once used for practice by sword master Araki Matauemon.

two jizo statues in the Kasuga Primeval forest in red bibs
Jizo

All in all, we walked ten kilometers in about four hours. Since the hike wasn’t particularly steep, we didn’t feel as tired as we thought we would. I’ve heard of people finishing this hike in around two hours, but I think you should take your time to enjoy it and check out some of the side trails.

Mt. Wakakusa

Standing just behing Todai-ji is Mt. Wakakusa [若草山], though it really just looks like a big hill. The entry fee is about 200 yen per person.

It is a two hour hike up Wakakusa so if the four hours needed for the Kasuga Trail is too daunting for you, this is a nice option.

Mt. Wakakusa against a cloudy sky
Mt Wakakusa

Unlike the Mt Kasuga Forest Trail, the hike up Mt. Wakakusa is pretty steep— so that might wear you out.

steep stone steeps leading up Mt wakakusa and one person hiking
Trail to the top pf Mt. Wakakusa

However, the scenery from the top of the hill is very pretty!! Also the top of the “mountain” is connected to the Kasuga Trail, so this is yet another alternative you could take while hiking in the Kasuga Forest.

panoramic view from the top of mt wakakusa overlooking the city of Nara
View from top of Mt Wakakusa

FYI Mt.Wakakusa is closed from the middle of December to the middle of March.

The Future of Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest

Some people may wonder how many deer live in Kasugayama Primeval Forest, especially since there are so many deer in nearby Nara Park. The answer is… almost none, and that’s a good thing.

Once upon a time, Kasugayama Forest was full of wolves and wild dogs, so the deer didn’t go into the forest. Overtime, however, the wolves slowly went extinct due to hunting and deforestation throughout Nara Prefecture. Once the deer realized there were no more predators to worry about, they started going into the forest. As I said, this isn’t good. You see, deer love to eat soft greens, and they found the young native plants in the forest especially tasty. With the deer eating up all the young plants, the forest’s diversity is beginning to dwindle. Not to mention they also trample saplings.  

close up of a deer in Nara Park
The greatest threat to Kasuga Primeval Forest. Sinister, indeed.

Great efforts are being made to remove the deer from the forest in order to preserve the centuries old ecosystem, but it’s challenging. Because of Nara’s iconic deer, their treasured forest is in danger. Only time will tell what the outcome of these events will be. 

Coming next time,
The historic Kofuku-ji Temple!

Kofuku-ji Temple, Ancient Nara’s Most Powerful Temple

The adventure continues…

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