If you’re looking for an alternative day out in Nara, look no further than the Yagyū Kaidō. This ancient road with cobbled footpaths runs through primal forest, countryside vales, and rice paddy villages. Take the path less traveled and discover some hidden gems along Nara’s by-roads. But, before you head out, make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes and know what fun you’re getting yourself into.
The bare essentials to hiking the Nara Yagyū Kaidō
The Yagyū Kaido from Nara City to Yagyū village is divided into three parts. The first section, or the Takisaka-no-Michi, can be walked from Kintetsu Nara Station to Enjōji Temple. The second road, called Kengō-no-Michi, takes you from Enjōji to Yagyū village. The third trails from Yagyū to Kasagi station in Kyoto Prefecture.
Here is our basic rundown after completing the Takisaka-no-Michi and Kengō-no-Michi routes:
- The Takisaki-no-Michi (12 km) is quite doable as a half day activity or more with a bus back to Nara city at 12:05 or 13:35.
- The Kengō-n-Michi (9 km) is a full day activity including sightseeing in Yagyū Village, but it’s best not to do this walk alone.
- The Yagyū-Kasagi-no-Michi (11km) is a full day activity and includes sights in Yagyu village, unique rock formations, and river trails.
- Doing any two of these routes in one day is only recommended for in-shape hikers and those who have experience walking in Japan.
- Take enough snacks and drinks because there are limited conveniences, especially on the Takisaka-no-Michi.
Tips for hiking the Takisaka-no-Michi to Nara Enjōji Temple
At Nara Station Tourist Office, you can pick up a handy Yagyū Kaidō map in English or get it online. Even so, once on the ground, there’s not a lot of signage in English on this particular route to align to your nice English map. So,while on the road, always keep an eye-out for these Japanese names:
- 柳生(街道) — Yagyū (Kaidō)
- 滝坂の道 — Takisaka-no-Michi
- 首切地蔵 — Kubikiri Jizō
- 峠の茶屋 — Tōge-no-Chaya Teahouse
- 円城寺 — Enjōji
You’ll occasionally come to general signs pointing to the Yagyū Kaidō (柳生街道). You are following the Takisaka-no-Michi route. Kubikiri Jizō is the rest point in the middle of the forest before you reach the Tōge-no-Chaya Teahouse. Enjōji is the most common signage you need to pay attention to. The old wooden signs can be a bit obtuse — so always check carefully at any intersection for your direction.
There are two weekday buses as mentioned every day from Enjōji Temple back to Nara City, and an extra one on weekends and national holidays (16:07). If you miss the last bus you have to walk back, so make it an early hike on a weekday.
With stops and checking out sights, the walk takes at least 4 hours. Therefore, it’s best to start walking from Kintetsu Nara Station by 7:30, aiming to return by early afternoon.
Takisaka-no-Michi of the Yagyū Kaidō ancient road
The fastest and coolest way to get onto the road—not apparent in the brochure map—is to head up from the Manyū Botanical Garden or just down from Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine gate. There’s a kissaten shop with a path leading off.
Follow that path straight up and you’ll see this big sign pointing to Shin Yakushi Temple (新薬師寺). Continue up this way until you come to the car road. Don’t take any forest turn-offs that also go to Shin Yakushi.
When you come out on the car road, walk straight across and wind around the local neighborhood road. You’ll come to a Japanese only sign pointing to Enjōji and Yagyū — 円城寺8.1km 柳生15.8km. The sign is easy to miss, but follow the lower road.
The upper road is the Kasuga Forest Trail which will also lead to Kubikiri Jizō rest point, but you’ll miss the ancient path. There’s a bridge, a small Jizō shrine, and a big rock marking the entrance to Yagyū Kaidō.
For the next 3 km everything is pretty straight along the ancient cobbled path until you get to the midpoint rest stop of Kubikiri Jizō (首切地蔵). There are also toilets here. From this rest point, you take the path on the left and not the one up from the Jizō Statue.
A little further on you will come to a confusing intersection. Both paths will lead to the same point. The [ 高円山ドライブウエイ 0.3km ] is a fast route to a road and you’ll walk fast a small red shrine. Entering the driveway, there’s a police box or koban and you turn right and walk up.
The [ 地獄谷石窟仏 ] path, as the name says, leads down to the Stone Cave Buddha along the ancient path and then comes out on the same driveway [ 高円山ドライブウエイ ]. This more scenic route adds around 30 min.
Once the ancient road meets up with the car road, you turn right and walk up. Soon, you will come to a sign on the road pointing up to Enjōji (English). Take this path and follow the left side not making any turn offs.
The sign is on the curve so it’s easy to see. It says 円城寺5.9km and 柳生13.6km. You’re next stop though is the picturesque 峠の茶屋 0.7km (Tōge-no-Chaya) rest stop. Here you can also pick up a free English map of the Yagyū Kaidō.
After the Tōge-no-Chaya rest stop you head into some open valley where there’s a restroom. There are signs, but they are all Japanese. However, you should be familiar with 円城寺 and 柳生 by this point. As you walk along a tarred forest road, you’ll come to another cumbersome sign.
The pointer to [ 柳生・円城寺 2.7km ] is hidden below. Walk into the forest and keep to the left side path making no turn offs. There’s a bit of a rough declining section towards the end. You’ll eventually come out onto the road, where you turn right and Enjōji Temple is a little way up.
Enjōji Temple of the Nara Jūsan Butsu
Enjōji is quite a small temple. Its scenic lake and stunning gate in the background is a real treat for the end of your walk. It’s most beautiful during Autumn, and the early flower season after cherry blossoms.
The scenic walk around the lake is public and there’s a teahouse cafe or kissanten where you can get lunch. It’s a little pricey, and service ends around 13:00, so factor that into your return time.
Enjōji, however, is one of Yamato Nara’s key 13 Buddha temples, known as the Jūsan Butsu (大和奈良十三仏). Japanese Buddhism, and especially the Shingon Sect from Koyasan, worships 13 key manifestations of the Buddha. Each of these 13 temples is selected for their worship of one of these Buddhas.
At Enjōji, the two-storey pagoda worships a famous seated wooden statue of Dainichi Nyōrai (木造大日如来坐像) — or the Buddha of the Great Central or Universal Sun. This manifestation is top most to the esoteric or tantric tradition.
The statue was carved in 1176 by the famous Unkei. In the main hall is a serene seated Amida Buddha from the Heian Period surrounded by the four celestial kings or Shitennō. There are other beautiful paintings and national treasures well-worth a viewing.
Buses to and from Enjōji Temple
To get to the bus stop back to Nara, walk out the gate at the end of the lake and walk straight up. The bus stop to Nara is on the opposite side of the road.
|Enjōji to Nara||12:05 13:35||16:05|
The bus back to Nara City passes along the main road running up to Nara Park. You can get off at whatever stop you want, but the bus will also stop at Kintetsu Nara Station before its final stop at JR Nara.
If you want to just take a bus from Nara to Enjōji, you can. However, the joy of seeing Enjōji Temple at the end of the walk is most rewarding. At Kintetsu Nara Station, walk across the road to the left and bus stand 4 is near the intersection.
Nara to Yagyu (柳生) via Enjōji (円城寺).
|Departure point||Departure times|
|JR Nara west gate|
|9:11 11:40 12:45*|
|9:19 11:48 12:53*|
* weekdays only
Continuing the Yagyū Kaidō from Enjōji
The Kengō-no-Michi route to Yagyū Village continues a little further on from the Nara bound Enjōji bus stop. Unless you’re in top shape, have experience walking and hiking in Japan, or going with a guide, we don’t recommend doing more than one Yagyū Kaidō route in a day.
If you want to do this walk, make sure to get the first bus out. Take a walk around the lake at Enjōji and, if you go inside the temple, make it a short stay. From Yagyū, you take the same bus back to Nara via Enjōji, but read our Kengō-no-Michi article for more detail on visiting and hiking to Yagyū Village.