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.
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!
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.
Kasugayama Primeval Forest
We decided to start from the north entrance because we thought it was easiest to find. The trail soon merged with other trail from Mt. Wakakusa.
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.
In addition to the rich wildlife, there are a handful of other things you should pay attention to during your hike.
Uguisu no Taki
This waterfall is just about 500 meters off the main trail and is a refreshing sight!
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.
The jizo statue (below) has had it rough! He was once used for practice by sword master Araki Matauemon. It is around this jizo that the trail merges with Yagyu Kaido from Yagyu.
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.