[Nara's Cave Murals]

Speaking of cave murals in Nara, the Kitora and Takamatsuzuka burial mounds in Asuka are famous, but did you know that there are actually cave murals in Nara City as well? I did not know that. Until last spring, when I stumbled upon them in the mountains.

I decided to climb Mt. Wakakusa that day on a whim. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to enjoy the early falling cherry blossoms on the mountain. Mt. Wakakusa, known for its early spring "yama-yaki" (mountain burning), is located from Kintetsu Nara Station, passing through Nara Park, and then passing Kasuga Taisha Shrine. It is only 3 to 4 kilometers from the foot of the mountain to the summit. The path is well-maintained, so you can enjoy a casual hike. It looks like a small hill from a distance, but the view of the Yamato Plain from the top of the mountain is indescribably beautiful, and I love this place.

Usually, I am accompanied by someone who knows Nara well, but that day I was alone. Unable to find the usual way up the mountain, I searched and found one of the several possible ways up, and began the ascent in high spirits amidst the cherry blossom snowstorms and fresh green buds. But no matter how far you walk, all you hear is the sound of birdsong and the rustling of leaves in the forest. I saw no one passing me and no sign of the summit. Just as I was beginning to worry that something was wrong and that it might be better to turn back, I saw the words "Jigokudani Sekkutsubutsu" on a signpost. Although I still had a few kilometers to go, I was curious and decided to continue on.

I passed through an old cobblestone-paved road, then a rough forest-like path, and scrambled up a steep, bare slope, which suddenly opened up in front of me to reveal a rock cave with a mural inside. The Buddha is a simple figure carved and painted with outlines on a rock. The date of construction is uncertain, but the vivid vermilion color was breathtaking, as if it had withstood the wind and snow for hundreds of years. Just as the afternoon light shone into the cave, illuminating the wall paintings, a shining blue rurisenchikogane, the "Jewel of Nara," came and went as if it were a guardian. The sound of its wings was the only sound in the silent forest. It seemed as if some sign of ancient people's faith remained in this place, and I held my hands together while thanking God for the opportunity to visit. The front of the grotto is protected by iron grating, and you are not allowed to approach. The light coming in was so strong that it caused a halation when I took a picture.

After spending some quiet time there, I left the place. I was deeply relieved when a signpost to the summit of Mt. It was just before sunset when I finally reached the summit. After admiring the beautiful Yamato Plain, I finally descended the mountain in a daze. When I checked later, I found out that I had also taken the wrong way up the mountain. It was supposed to be a short hiking trip, but it seemed I had walked almost 17 kilometers.

I often visit Nara, but I had no idea there was such a place not far from the station. It was a day that made me feel the depth of Nara's charms, while I regretted my carelessness. If you are planning to go up the mountain, please make sure to check the map carefully before you go. Please remember to bring comfortable walking shoes and a drink!