Village of Asuka
An idyllic village where mysteries of the ancient capital remain
Asuka is a village located almost in the center of Nara Prefecture. Some people may call the village of Asuka a spiritual hometown of the Japanese mind. As early as the 5th to 6th century, the area developed as a vital transportation center, and the capital city was built and remained there until the early 8th century.
This period is called the Asuka period, during which Japan was unified into one country and the nation’s foundation was laid. It was at this time that Japan adopted much of the relatively matured culture from the continent, including Buddhism.
Many archaeological sites, such as ruins of imperial palaces, Buddhist temples, shrines and burial mounds from the Asuka period are clustered throughout the calm and tranquil rural scenery. Asuka is a special place not only from its historical aspect but also in terms of being a living village where the natural landscape still shows traces of scenes which remind people of ancient times. Rice terraces covering the hills and reflecting the sky, lush green fields, vivid red spider lilies in the rice fields… surely, autumn is the best season to visit Asuka village.
There are many restaurants, cafés, farmer’s markets and accommodations where visitors can experience the attractions of Asuka village. People are friendly and always welcome visitors with warm smiles. Why not hop on the train and explore Asuka, the village abounding in the mystery of ancient Japan and idyllic nature.
- Visit ancient mysteries of Asuka
- From the top of the Amagashi no Oka Hill, enjoy the 360 degree panorama. The Asuka River winds below and the three mountains of Yamato stretch into the distance. In the area, is an observatory commanding a fantastic view of the ancient Asuka Village and the surrounding area.
Ishibutai Tomb is the largest rectangular tomb in Japan. This tomb, which is famous for its form created by piling up huge stones, is about 55 meters from east to west and about 52 meters from north to south. The stone used as a ceiling weighing about 140 tons.
How were these gigantic stones assembled in an age without the crane? Although the why and what about this ancient stone monument is still unknown, the widely-accepted theory claims that the tomb was built in the 6th century for Soga no Umako, who was the most powerful person in the region. You can even enter the tomb to sense every inch of its great scale.
Founded in 596, Asuka Temple was constructed as Japan’s first full-scale temple. It was originally a large complex, but now consists of a handful of buildings that date back only a few hundred years. Its main object of worship, however, is the oldest known Japanese statue of Buddha and dates back to 20 years after the temple’s founding.
When the emperor and capital city were moved out from the Asuka region, so was the religious establishment attached to the temple, establishing itself in the new capital of Nara as Gango-ji Temple (map A, D-3). For this reason, Asuka Temple is also referred to as the “original Gango-ji Temple”.
The highlight is the Asuka Great Buddha statue on display in the temple’s main hall. It is the oldest known Japanese statue of Buddha in existence. The Asuka Great Buddha was made in 609 by a master sculptor whose family had emigrated from the Korean peninsula. The seated figure is about three meters high, and required about 15 tons of copper and 30 kilograms of gold to create.
Saru-ishi is the four stone statues with funny faces set up near the Tomb of Princess Kibihime (unknown - 643). They were found around the Tomb of Emperor Kinmei (509-571) in 1702, and were moved to the present location later, but it has been a mystery for who and for what reason the statues were made. “Saru-ishi” means “Stones of Monkeys” since the stones look like monkeys.
Sakafune-ishi remains are found around the hill located in the west of Asuka Itabuki-no-miya, where the ancient Imperial Palace once stood in the 7th century. On the upper surface of a large and flat stone, some dishes and grooves are carved. Some say that it was a tool to make Japanese sake while others say that it was a tool to make medicine.
The granite stone, 5.5 meters long, 2.3 meters wide and 1 meter thick, is situated on the hilltop. What the mysterious pattern engraved on the stone means has been studied in vain since the 17th century.
Kame-ishi is also a large granite stone sculptured like a tortoise. “Kame-ishi” means literally “Stone of Tortoise.” It is a total mystery when and why this monument was created. The stone currently faces south, but legend has it that it originally faced east and should it ever turn to face the west, the whole of Japan will be reduced to a sea of mud.
- Transportation Tips
- For locations of each site, see map D, pg 7. Also see pg 12 for access details to the Asuka Village. To get to each place in the village, take the local Kame (Turtle) Loop Bus (One-day pass: 650 yen (or from 180 yen/ride); tour around the village; depart from Asuka or Kashihara Jingu-mae Sta.) or renting a bicycle is recommended. Asuka Rental Cycle: Shop open by Kintetsu Kashihara Jingu-mae Sta., Asuka Sta., Ishibutai Tomb and Kame-ishi Stone; 9:00-17:00; 900 yen/bicycle/day (+100 yen on weekends); www.k-asuka.com/english/index.html