Social media has shown me the world’s craze for deer selfies at the Nara Park which is only an hour from Osaka. However since I was coming from Koyasan, Wakayama in the south, I was working my way up to Osaka. I looked at Google Maps and the city of Kashihara came to my attention as a “legendary village in the center of the ancient capital of Nara” (JNTO). I always liked historical cities/ towns/ sites because of their heritage, architecture and some government effort to conservation that they attract. So I decided to stay there for a night.
My airbnb host was a gentle lady who retired from being a kindergarten teacher a few years ago. She was a true Japanese host who not only let me choose between a Japanese and a western-style bedroom (both are spotless and perfectly made), she even tour-guided me around the city and drove us to the Asuka village, a place I would re-visit the next day.
Proclaimed a historic town, the modern Asuka Mura 明日香村 was founded in 1956 by a merge of three villages and has a population of only <6000. Back in 5th to 8th (9th) century during Japan’s Asuka period 飛鳥時代, Asuka 飛鳥 was the capital of Imperial Japan. It was a period during which the name of Japan was changed from Wa to Nihon, and when the introduction of Buddhism from China caused significant changes in the culture and socio-political structure in Japan.
I had little idea about the history and significance of this place which was why I decided to go and walk around the village to see the historical sites. They were exceptionally well-preserved and it was easy to navigate through the Asuka Historical National Government Park (http://www.asuka-park.go.jp/asuka_en/). The park is made up of 5 areas and if I were to go again I would get a car or at least a bicycle because of the scattered locations of the sites. Besides tombs of emperors and historical ruins, I also enjoyed the nature and the panoramic view on the observatory.
Living in Hong Kong and enjoying such easy travel to Japan, it’s refreshing to go somewhere less-explored (and less-exploited by tourists) to learn a little more about the history of our neighbour. While I wasn’t necessarily attached to this place, I am impressed by how well-preserved the ruins and the nature are, as well as people’s respect to keep this place a cultural heritage for their children and visitors.
That day there weren’t many people and the weather wasn’t as nice, but it made Asuka a purer place to be. It was only us – me and the nature, or me and the history. When I was walking around the National Park, I enjoyed imagining its previous residents being here a thousand years ago. It was crazy to look back at human history and see its exponential growth over the past couple thousand years. Today we are so detached from our past that we would feel the same distance when we see ruins from the last millennium and stone tools in museums, without realising they were actually million of years apart.
But I had a tranquil time at Asuka, where I could really immerse myself in the environment, absorb its energy and just be a part of the ambiance. I guess that became the theme of my get-aways, as I find myself enjoying more and more places with few or even no people, as opposed to my current home city, the 7-million-people metropolis Hong Kong.