Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let's climb Mount Wakakusa!

Mt. Wakakusa (若草山, Young-grass-mountain) behind Nara Park is one of the major landmarks of Nara City.  The mountain is more like a hill with the height of 342 meters (1122 ft.).  It is covered with grasses including Susuki (Japanese pampas grass).  In Nara period (710-784), the hill was covered with trees but  by the Kamakura period (1192-1333), it became a grass covered hill.  It is also called Mt. Mikasa (三笠山 Three-hats-mountain) because it is composed of three hills which look like overlapped hats.

You can imagine how gentle the mountain is by Bunmeido's Japanese sweets, "三笠山/Mikasa Mountain". In Kansai region, “dorayaki” (Japanese dessert consisting of two slices of sponge cake with red bean jam in between) is called “Mikasa Manju” as its shape is similar to that of Mt. Mikasa (三笠). 

Two climbing trails are set up from the north gate and the south gate. In the photo above, right under the cherry trees is the north gate close to Todai-ji and the hill top in front is the summit of the first hill (一重目).

Cherry trees

Along the north trail, there are many maple trees.  Some leaves were still green, some yellow or red, and some in between, a week ago.

Climing up about winding 350 steps and several minutes’ walk under the canopy of trees, you reach the top of the first hill.  Let's have a break!
South view, Key mountain ranges in the distance

From the first hill to the last summit, the trails are on the ridge.
Cool and crisp air and sunshine was comfortable on my skin.

I had wondered what were the red grasses and I found them young Nankin-haze (Chinese Tallow tree).  There are many young nankin-haze, which have grown out of seeds dispersed by birds.  In fact there are so many that I wonder what Mt. Wakakusa would be like in future because Nankin-haze is hardy and fast-growing.

Young Nankin-haze add special charm and unique and distinct quality to the grass covered hills.

Nankin-haze encompasses many different autumn colors as is shown in my previous post, Spectral colors of 南京櫨, Chinese Tallow trees.

Susuki and Nankin-haze were glinting in the sun.

And besides, rooftops of houses, too!  To see the glinting world, I remembered one phrase “The wind, town, and flowers, we all dance one unity” from my favorite song “Always with me/いつも何度でも”. 

This is the top of the second hill (二重目).

The Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji is below your eyes.

West view: Nara City and Ikoma mountain ranges

The slope directly below the mountain summit is entirely covered with Susuki.

The mountain summit (三重目) is a nice vantage point where you can see a panoramic view. 

Around the top, there is Uguisuzuka ancient burial mound (late 4th Century).   The name is from “Uguisu no ryo”  in Pillow Tales by Sei Shonagon (estimated 966-1025) which this burial mound is reffered to.

The mountain is closed at sprouting time, mid-summer, and before Grass Burning Ceremony: the trails are open from mid-March to mid-June and mid-September to early December.  During the season, the entrance gates are closed in the evening but one exit is open all day long, so you can see the night scene on foot if you can brave coming down the mountain in the darkness, hearing the calling of lots of crows above.  When you do, be sure to go with a flashlight.  

One evening in September

Incidentally, the Mount Mikasa referred in Abe no Nakamaro’s waka poem is Mt. Kasuga (春日山), Kasuga Primeval Forest, on the south side of Mt. Wakakusa (also known as Mt. Mikasa), and Mt. Kasuga has another name, also “Mikasa-yama” using different Chinese characters as 御蓋山.  How confusing!


  1. Thank you Yoko san!
    I walked up there with you, I enjoyed the sight, the grasses, the trees and colors. I had a piece of dorayaki and the sun was pleasing on my skin!
    I feel so much better! :-)
    I will go with you again!

    1. I’m glad you could feel better even for a while. Wish you peace of mind in peace of your region as soon as possible.

  2. Thank you so much Yoko for taking me along with you! I enjoyed the climb very much, though it was a bit steep! I loved my views from the much needed break mid way. The easy growing grasses look fascinating and the entire landscape from those heights is beautiful.

    Though all the sights are lovely, what I love most about these tours is that I get to walk alongside you. You do know how to make a tour thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you, Yoko and wish you a great day ahead :)

  3. Hello, stardust.

     Mt. Mikasa is famous for the 31-syllable Japanese poem.
     Probably as the name of the battleship.

     I feel that the mountain has been loved by a Japanese.
     And it has a good atmosphere.


  4. Hello, Yoko san, such beautiful images of nature. So glad you can enjoy it and share it with us. Have a wonderful rest of your week.

  5. I love the way that your blog takes us through the seasons. I always prefer the Spring and summer, because they are full of hope and then of life, and Autumn is decline. But it has its own beauty. In the first photograph, I was interested in the dark line of trees. I expect it is a shadow but it divided the colour and brightness of the leaves, from the distant city life beyond!

  6. Dear Yoko - a stunning walk up Mt. Mikasa - I am very taken with photo No. 13 and the ethereal quality of the pampas grasses. I was interested to read about the burning of the grasses, it must look spectacular but also quite alarming to see the hills on fire. We had a pampas grass in our previous garden which we burnt every year otherwise they become difficult to control. However, because of the firing they do need a lot of space around them in a garden, not near the house, or a fence.

  7. こんばんは。 若草山の写真とても綺麗です。1月26日に妻と山焼きを見に行く予定です。今から楽しみにしています。

  8. Hello Stardust, the trail up Mt. Wakakusa is so scenic and beautiful. All the photos are stunning but my favourite is the one where the silvery grasses are highlighted against the dark rolling hill slopes. The caption includes the song title; “Always with me".

  9. いつも何度でもは、私も好きです。海外にも紅葉はありましたけど、ススキとかを見るとやはり日本の秋という雰囲気が有ります。写真上手です

  10. What lovely colours of leaves and those silky reeds! A lovely walk.

  11. the grasses against the colors are STUNNING! the maple leaves are beautiful, too. thank you for sharing this beauty with us.

  12. You must stay very young and in good shape climbing mountains!

    This is another magnificent post and I delight in scrolling through your photos. I had no idea Japan held such natural beauty, so your blog is a constant source of enlightenment! The colors, the trees, the mountain, the path, the deer, the leaves, well...everything I see warms my soul!

    And no, usually I'm not an early bird, and more like you, an owl. But when I play golf, I get up early to beat the crowds!

    Best wishes to you and your family!

  13. It seems as if the entire world is at the feet of this gentle mountain. It must be exhilarating climbing up those steps. As the wind blows the seeds from place to place, different foliage and colors appear to inhabit these ancient hills that look much like a sloping canvas. :)

  14. Hello Yoko, someday, I would like to walk this mountain with you, but until then, I'll enjoy your photos of the climb. The sun glinting off the grasses is so lovely. I like both the daylight and twilight shots.

  15. Piękne widoki są na wzgórzu, piękna roślinność. Widok ze wzgórza jest nie mnie piękny. Pozdrawiam serdecznie.
    Beautiful views are on a hill, beautiful vegetation. The view from the hill is not me beautiful. Yours sincerely.

  16. Oh I didn't know the beauty of the Nankin-haze!! They are really beautiful! This post reminds me of the day when I went there for the first time. It was eons ago when I was an elementary school pupil. The grass was green and I ate obento with my classmates there!!


    1. 南京櫨の美しさは奈良に来てから気がつきました。ほんとに、いたるところにあるんですよ。そうそう、奈良への遠足は小学5年でした。

  17. 私もこのコース真夏に登りました。最初のアップヒルだけきついですね。三重目では鹿たちが木陰で涼をとって群れで休んでいました。山と言うよりはまさに丘ですが、気持ちがいいですねえ~。

    1. 平地はいくらでも歩けるのですが、登山は苦手です。特に、夏の登山は。だから、気候のいい11月に行き、最高にいい気分でした。 若草山はなだらかですし、写真を撮りながらだといいペースで登れました。cosmos さんには若草山は三笠饅頭のようにa piece of cake でしょうね。

  18. Your post gives me itchy feet. ^^ I want to go hiking! (Though not today: it's cold and rainy in Tokyo.)

    I love the sunlight on the leaves! So very beautiful.

    PS: Nara looks bigger than I imagined in these photos. Or perhaps just more "spread out".

  19. Thank you for taking us on this beautiful photo walk around your mountain.I also see that Nara is larger than I imagined.The Autumn foliage is saturated with glorious colours- I would love to see this!The park bench is of interesting design,such attention to detail.And of course no visit to the parks is complete without spotting deer.....this one looks like a juvenile!

    Happy weekend Yoko,

  20. Hello Yoko, thank you for taking us with on such a beautiful walk. Those grand colours. So wonderful. Your country is so beautiful and I have enjoyed your photos very much.
    And "One Evening in September" is stunning.

    Grethe ´)

  21. What a wonderful view you have from Mount Wakakusa, your "local mountain", Yoko. I wish I could take some photos myself from this lookout on your hometown Nara one day. What do you think? Will this happen at some time or another?
    Your photo of your Japanese pampas grass glinting in the sunlight is definitely my favourite! Great photograph!
    Enjoy your weekend,

    1. You’ll find yourself in Nara someday only if you make a decision to come. You’ll take better photos than mine. I recommend middle to late November when autumn foliage is fabulous and weather is nice with cool and crisp air and blue skies which is suitable for mountain climbing.

  22. Hello Yoko!
    I really enjoyed the walk through the Mt. Wakakusa... and sweets!

    i love your photos!
    Have a magic weekend!
    best wishes

  23. ♡¸.•°
    Olá, amiga!
    Belas fotos! Paisagens encantadores.
    Vegetação exuberante e colorida.

    Boa semana!
    Beijinhos do Brasil

    ✿ °•.¸♡¸.•°✿

  24. 気持ちよさそうですね~。私も来年はこの時期に登ってみます。秋の初めに登ってからもう何年も経ちますが、赤とんぼの群れはこころに残っています。南京櫨、毎年増えるんでしょうが、自然淘汰でそんなに景観は変わらないのでしょうか?

    1. 次回は赤とんぼのころに行ってみたいです。若い南京櫨、自然淘汰もあるでしょうし、山焼きで焼かれるものもあるように思うのですが。

  25. I love to climb mountains (may be you know:-))and now I have followed you to the top of Wakakusa. Nice views and pretty colors.

  26. 若草山のてっぺんは、こうなってるんですね。これらの草が枯れて一月の山焼きとなるのですね。きつそうだけれど、鹿もがんばって登るのですね。頂上からの景色はすばらしいです。

  27. Oh wow! I am sitting in England on a miserable wet day, climbing hills from the comfort of my armchair. Thank you! Your photos are exceptional - great views and gorgeous plants.... I NEED A WALKING HOLIDAY!

  28. The mountain views, and the maple trees leaves colors are gorgeous.
    Really enjoy your post, well done.


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