Resting south of the Yamato Basin in Nara Prefecture lies the quaint district of Asuka. Considered to be the cradle of Japanese civilization, Asuka is a rural area rich in important cultural property, mysterious stone structures and ancient burial mounds (tumuli). Just 30kms south from the prefectural capital of Nara, Asuka village has a historical wealth of its own, boasting some of the oldtemples and archeological excavation sites in Japan.
During the Asuka Era (592-710 A.D), Asuka was the imperial capital of Japan. It was in Asuka that the Yamato dynasty emerged as a centralised state and proclaimed the formal acceptance of Buddhism. In 593 A.D the first Buddhist Monarch of Japan, Empress Suiko, ascended the throne. It was the Empress who encouraged the building of Buddhist temples in the Asuka area. The most iconic is Asuka-dera Temple, famous for being the first full-scale temple in Japan and housing the oldest surviving Buddhist statue - the Asuka Great Buddha.
Despite being seemingly rural, Asuka is easily accessible by train. Travellers coming from Kyoto, Osaka and Nara can jump on the Kintetsu line and escape to Asuka for the day. Once in Asuka, the Kame bus offers transport to the main sightseeing spots. Most sites can be reached on foot however, and the most popular way to explore the Asuka area is by renting a bicycle. There is an abundance of bicycle rental stores around the station offering competitive rates. As the district is made up of the Asuka Historical National Government Park, nature is a definite draw in for tourists. There are various cycling routes that pass through the four main areas of the national park; Takamatsu, Ishibutai, Amakashi-no-Oka and Iwaido.
Asuka is an archaeologists dream with many important discoveries made only in the last century and ongoing investigations luring in many local and foreign history buffs. Tourism in Asuka has escalated since the 1970s, when museums such as Asuka Historical Museum were built to promote the rich archeological history of the district. There is plenty to see when in Asuka, from exploring the ancient town of Imaicho to investigating the mysterious stone structures and carved sculptures sprinkled around the area. There are approximately 20 stone structures and sculptures in the area, the most iconic being Kame-ishi a large granite stone sculpted into the shape of a tortoise.
In the spring, the Amakashi-no-Oka observatory is the perfect place for picnickers or cyclists taking a breather underneath the cherry blossoms. The views of the Asuka Historical National Park with the rice fields to the south of Asuka encompass a quintessentially Japanese landscape. For an escape to the country, Asuka is the perfect day trip from the tourist hotspots of greater Kansai, with a wealth of history and breathtaking countryside views.