Ikaruga (斑鳩町, o 斑鳩エリア, Ikaruga-chō) is a town in the Ikoma district of Nara, Japan. Ikaruga is home to Hōryū-ji and Hokki-ji, ancient Buddhist temples collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
HISTORY AND TEMPLE HORYUJI IKARUGA
Ikaruga is in the northwestern part of Nara. This city is full of temples and history, it is an area unexplored by most tourists, but few know that it counts among its ranks the oldest pagoda of its kind in Japan.
It is famous for Hōryū-ji, as we said UNESCO heritage site. Here are home to some of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, dating back more than 1,400 years. They are believed to have been built sometime between 552-710, undergoing various repairs and renovations over the centuries.
A long, narrow avenue-like road, lined with pine trees, welcomes us to the Hōryū-ji temple in the city of Ikaruga in Nara Prefecture. After crossing the gate we will find the temple courtyard, here we will find the main hall and the 5-story pagoda (it is the oldest structure of the temple complex). It seems that its wood comes from a tree dated 594.
We can also observe an octagonal memorial chapel “Hall of Dreams” built around 739, still standing.
The longevity of the Hōryū-ji Temple is attributed to the excellent skills of the craftsmen. In the 7th century AD, the architects had foresight and reasoning skills, and chose Hinoki or cypress, which is popular for its strength and durability.
The temple was founded around 607 by Prince Shotoku, a dedicated and devout Buddhist who made Hōryū-ji central to the spread of his faith across the globe. Today, Hōryū-ji is still the stronghold of the Shōtoku sect of Buddhism, visible in the copiousness of fairly early Buddhist sculptures, relics and art. It is posited that there are some 2,300 of these valuable parts inside, including several of Japan’s oldest Buddha statues. Hōryū-ji also serves as a monastery.
We can also visit the Chuguji temple with mandala art, and almost no tourists.c
Near the area we can see the Tatsuta river, mountains and rice fields. In this river there is a route that walks along the river, especially in autumn, momiji time the region is flooded with color, and beautiful landscapes with spectacular hues.
The city is quiet and cozy, but explorable with small wooded forests, farmland and ancient streets where once lived the artisans of the temple.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN IKARUGA
- Walk around Hōryū-ji (walk 1 minute)
- Naramaru the First stone monument. Naramaru the First was a performer of Rokyoku in the Meiji period. Rokyoku is a genre of traditional Japanese narrative singing. The monument was built by Naramaru the Second and students in 1928 (walk 1 minute).
- Hōryū-ji Votive Monuments (7 minutes walk)
- Mamako-jizo / The Well of Narihira. Hinkiri Jizo is also said to be a stepson Jizo, Mamako-jizo in the Prince of Law play. Legend: Once upon a time, a stepson was bullied by his mother. The stepson became coerced because he was told, “Please eat the Jizo rice,” and the Jizo opened his mouth and ate the rice because he was told, ‘it is made to eat, the rice from the ground of 500 wells.’ It made his stepmother happy and it is said that the stepmother who knew this legend was also enlightened by the rice and loved the stepson as much as if he was her real son from then on.) (walk 9 minutes). (walk 9 minutes)
- Tatsuta-Jinja Shrine. This tutelary Shinto shrine is dedicated to the god of wind and goddess who guards the Horyuji Temple. It is said to be the place of origin of the Kongo style, one of the schools of Nogaku (Noh-play) theater, which is registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (walk 6 minutes).
- Stroll through the streets of Tatsuta. It stretches from the Tatsuta Bridge on Route 25 across the Neko-Zaka hillside to the Ikaruga town office. Several merchant houses stand side by side along the street. Many medium-sized two-story houses with old roofs can be seen (9-minute walk).
- Tatsuta Park. The urban park of Nara prefecture stretches 2 kilometers from north to south along the Tatsuta River. You can enjoy the changing seasons, cherry blossoms in spring, fresh vegetation in summer and autumn leaves in momiji as we explained before, this is the route of Tatsuta River. Its beautiful autumn leaves are praised in the two poetry collections, the Kokin Shu (a collection of ancient and modern poetry) and the Goshu Wakashu (a collection of Japanese poem collections). This park is a place of relaxation for the local people (walk 4 minutes).
- The ruins of Tatsuta Castle. After the battle of Sekigahara, Katagiri Katsumoto (1556-1615), who gained a name as one of the 7 spears in the battle of Shizugatae, entered this area and built Tatsuta Castle in 1601. It is estimated that the castle area is around the east side of the Tatsuta River, which was on a large scale surrounded by moats (walk 5 minutes).
- Mount Mimuro. Here you will find the Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of wind and goddess guardian Horyuji Temple. It is said to be the place of origin of the Kongo style, one of the schools of Nogaku (Noh-play) theater, which is registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO (walk 2 minutes).
- Kamuoka Shrine. The shrine is located on Mount Mimuro. According to legend, when Prince Shotoku built the Ikaruga Palace, he invited the god from his birthplace in Asuka, and built a shrine, which became known as “Kamuoka Shrine”. The enshrined god is Susano-no-mikoto (5 minutes walk).
- Jinnan of Jizo Bodhisattva. The storehouse was completed in 1993. It houses a statue of Jizo Bodhisattva from the early Heian period and a sho-kannon Bodhisattva statue from the late Heian period, both of national importance (walk 20 minutes).
- Kichiden-ji Temple. Kichdenji Temple was originally built by Emperor Tenji and was rebuilt by the priest Eshin in 987. Its main image of worship is the seated statue of the Buddha Amitaba, which has a thousand Buddhas in its halo. It is also called Pokkuri-dera temple. “Pokkuri” means “peaceful death” or “easy death” without a long illness. A beautiful two-story pagoda of a rare type stands on the temple grounds. It is a national important cultural property (5 minutes walk).
- Return to the Tatsuta-jinja shrine to follow the route to reach point 14.
- Horyuji Center (tourist information center). They give you a lot of information about the city, things to see and attractions still unknown to tourists.
DO SOMETHING WITH THE SAME NAME: VARIOUS IKARUGA-RELATED GEEKS
- If you feel like doing something with the same name of the city when you get home… Ikaruga is a video game, which belongs to the genre of the arcade shooter developed by Treasure. It was released in the arcades in 2001 on the Sega Naomi, then Ikaruga was released on Dreamcast for the Japanese market. Today we can see Ikaruga on Switch, and on YouTube several gameplay of Ikaruga. It is a way to entertain yourself with the same name of the town.
- Ikaruga in ‘Fairy Tail‘, you can take a look at this anime if you haven’t seen it yet, she is the leader of Trinity Raven, a group of assassins of the dark guild Death’s Head Caucus. If you want to see an image of the leader put Fairy Tail Ikaruga and you will see all the history, character, physique and everything to soak well or else watch the anime as we commented.
HOW TO GET TO IKARUGA, NARA, JAPAN
Address: Ikoma-gun, Nara-ken
The best station to access the area is Nara Station.
Take the Yamatoji line from Nara station to Horyuji station, about 12 minutes. Then walk for 30 minutes or take bus 72 from Horyuji Station. There are directional signs just outside the station.