A Countryside Stay in Nara—Right Next to East Asia’s Oldest Astronomical Chart
1 Dec 2020
While Nara is famous for its free-roaming deer, there are a multitude of other fascinating attractions in the area, too. Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto, and is where the foundations of Japanese culture were developed. It is home to numerous sites associated with old myths; historical temples, shrines, and burial mounds; and expansive, spell-binding nature.
Here we visit Asuka, a village in Nara that is particularly famous for its large number of burial mounds. Approximately 1,400 years ago, Asuka was the imperial capital of Japan.
Specifically, we visit a guesthouse run by a charming husband and wife for a special overnight stay, next to the Kitora Tumulus, where East Asia’s oldest astronomical chart was discovered and which contains murals of the Four Divine Creatures from Chinese astronomy: the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger, and the Black Tortoise.
Picking Your Own Vegetables and Cooking Your Own Meals
The village of Asuka is home to the Kitora Tumulus, a special historic site. Around two minutes away on foot from the burial mound is the aptly named Kitora, a unique guesthouse that accommodates just one group a day. The guesthouse itself is a refurbished, 200-year-old building, and the interior is full of old Japanese furniture that the owners collected themselves.
Something about the historical feel of the guesthouse instantly puts guests’ minds at ease.
The most enjoyable thing about this guesthouse is that guests can pick their own vegetables. The owners’ field is just outside the guesthouse, and the wife helps guests as they work to harvest the vegetables.
Depending on the season, guests can try harvesting some sweet potatoes, and with kind, careful guidance from the wife, they can do so with peace of mind. Whether big or small, there’s something special about the potatoes you pick yourself!
The freshly harvested vegetables are then used to cook that night’s dinner!
With help from the husband and wife, guests can have a go at making some tempura and other homemade Japanese dishes.
Homemade Japanese food is made using seasonal ingredients with a wide range of different flavors, and all the dishes look very attractive! Guests can even ask for a vegetarian option. The wife in particular has a charming, bubbly personality—making you feel like you’re just staying at an old friend’s house!
Below is an example of one of the many delicious meals that can be prepared at the guesthouse.
A Calming Village and Charming Owners
The guesthouse also has its own outdoor bath, so guests can enjoy a spectacular bathing experience under the starry night sky.
There is also a room for guests to relax in, where they can share a drink and enjoy a chat with the owners.
The husband is an astrophile, and often tells stories about the stars that can be seen from the guesthouse. The wife, meanwhile, loves Asuka, and talks of the area’s history and burial mounds: “Although there aren’t as many extravagant buildings here as there are in Kyoto, with so many old burial mounds and temples, it’s easy to imagine the Japan of nearly 1,400 years ago. Asuka is a place that is best enjoyed with your imagination.”
Although the husband and wife can’t speak any foreign languages, they are both incredibly welcoming, and do their best to entertain every guest. A night at Kitora is sure to be special.
Kitora website (Japanese only)
A Bicycle Trip to Ancient Japan
On their second day, guests can visit the Kitora Tumulus., The Kitora Tumulus Mural Experiential Museum Shijin no Yakata, displays the murals that were discovered in the stone chamber of the tumulus, and is a must-visit. An astronomical chart discovered in the stone chamber is thought to be the world’s oldest. It’s well worth a look.
Nearby Asuka Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line, there are a number of bicycle rental shops, as well as a tourist information center, and so visitors to the area can hop on a bicycle to explore Asuka even further!
The entire area corresponds to where Asuka-kyo, the former capital of Japan, lay around 1,400 years ago. The historical burial mounds and temples, together with the stunning rural landscape, make for a truly tranquil atmosphere. The best way to explore the serene village is with a bicycle and a map, stopping off at the numerous historic sites that the area has to offer. Give it a go!