Picnic at Mount Wakakusa

A unique experience in Nara

By Karen Zheng    - 4 min read

The sun and the wind were in full force. Ahead of me lay a visual feast of endless green and blue. Wild grasses waved ardently, seemingly to say hello while I climbed the winding route. Abundant deers went about their own business and totally ignored my presence. It was a beautiful day.

“Who in their right mind would climb a hill at 3pm in the afternoon?” I wondered while struggling up the steep path. I consoled myself that it shall be worth it when (and if) I ever reach the mid-point of Mount Wakakusa.

Located in the ancient capital, Nara, Mount Wakakusa stands tall and beautiful at 342 meters above sea level. This is a hill that has always been associated with heat of some sort, and I certainly felt its prowess on a blazing summer afternoon. Formerly a volcano, this bald hill is ignited with sacred fire every year on the fourth Saturday of January during Yamayaki (a mountain-burning festival).

Despite its proximity to the famous Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha, Mount Wakakusa tends to be overlooked as an attraction to foreign visitors. Perhaps this is due to its limited access. To protect the grass, Mount Wakakusa is closed at certain times of the year. I count my lucky stars to be able to visit this idyllic sanctuary.

At the foothill, a nominal fee of ¥150 shall give one unlimited entry on the same day – that is if you have enough energy to go to and fro. Upon payment, a map in Japanese language will be given. Do not worry if you are not a native speaker, as the drawings are pretty comprehensive. Also, the friendly receptionist tried her best to explain the layout of the vicinity in spite of our language barrier.

Toilet facilities and drinks vending machines are located at the bottom of the hill. To avoid being caught off guard by ‘nature calls’ during your trek, it is best to visit the washroom before proceeding further. Otherwise, you have to wait until you reach the summit.

Some parts of the route are rather steep but it is easy to trek, even for amateur trekkers (like myself). I was told that the walk to mid-hill would take about 15 minutes but as I was grossly unfit, it took me close to 30minutes to reach.

Despite the strong afternoon glare, it was very windy. All I could see were miles of green and blue. The clouds lay low, and it seems that I can almost touch them if I just reach out. The world sits at my feet, as I happily munched on my Nara-style sushi bento. Lunch with a beautiful view in the nature is simply priceless.

Somewhere from afar, the wind carried sounds of laughter. I can see no one, but there must be crazy people like myself who did not mind braving the summer heat on this bald hill!

To avoid getting sunburnt, always apply sunblock lotion! Alternatively, this is also a great place to do sunbathing. However, do bear in mind to be dressed appropriately. After all, Japan is an Asian country!

Lured by the prospect of drinks vending machine and toilet facilities, I trekked on after my sumptuous lunch. Along the way, the beautiful scenery distracted me with every step that I took but before I knew it, I have reached the observatory deck at the topmost summit.

Only then did I realised that there is an alternative way to visit Mount Wakakusa! Travelling by car makes this viewing platform easily accessible and it is wheelchair-friendly as well!

This also seems to be the preferred mode of travel for couples who are on date! Consoling myself that I had a great workout, I looked out at the city of Nara alongside my fellow human comrades and… deers.

As the sun starts to set, crows flew gaily in circles abovehead. Mount Wakakusa is also reputed for its beautiful night scenery. However, there are no street lamps. Hence, if you are planning to stay till dark – do remember to bring a torch and be extra careful!

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Karen Zheng

Karen Zheng @karen.zheng

Because there’re so much more. Be it places, people or the most trivial of matters, there are much more if only one cares to explore further. I would love to hear your story and share some good ones with you. Come travel with me. Be inspired.   

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Karen Zheng Author 6 years ago
Hi Mouli, this is pretty easy because the slopes are quite gentle and most of the time there's a footpath. :)
Mouli Paul 6 years ago
Was the trekking tough ? Because, I am not much of a trekker but, I really love mountains and hilly areas. Most of my travels have always been to high altitude locations.
Chikako Takahashi 6 years ago
Lovely landscape! I have been to Nara, but not this area! It might be nice to visit such a relaxing mountain during a trip, thank you for sharing!
Karen Zheng Author 6 years ago
Thanks Mouli, you really should. It's beautiful:) Yui san, yes you can do a picnic on the green when the mountain is open to public but there are certain times of the year (i.e. new year period) when entry is prohibited.
Mouli Paul 6 years ago
I really enjoyed reading the article Karen. It makes one want to go there !