Almost everyone who visits Nara goes to Kasuga Shrine, but hardly anyone gets there like this.

Beautiful, culturally significant, and conveniently located, Kasuga Shrine is one of the most popular sightseeing attractions in Nara. It’s somewhere you’ll definitely want to visit on your trip to the city, and there are two ways to get there.

Since Kasuga Shrine is located inside Nara Park, you could simply follow the flow of foot traffic from Nara Station through town and then onto the broad pathway that leads to the shrine’s front entrance. Or, if you don’t want to approach the shrine the way most tourists do, you could opt for the way the Shinto priests of old did, taking the trail that winds through the dense forest that grows behind the shrine.

This route, called the Shimo no Negimichi, connects Kasuga Shrine with the part of Nara’s Takabatake neighborhood that was originally the site of the living quarters for the shrine’s priests. Getting to the entrance of the trail is a little tricky, but definitely worth it. Your first waypoint is the Wariishi-cho Bus Stop, which can be accessed by Nara Kotsu busses.

▼ Wariishi-cho Bus Stop

From there, it’s about a six-minute walk to the former residence of famed Japanese author Naoya Shiga.

▼ Walking route from Wariishi-cho Bus Stop to Naoya Shiga residence

You can see the exterior wall of the Shiga house on the right in the photo below, where the arrow marked 志賀直哉の家 is pointing, and the start of the Shimo no Negimichi is back where you see 路地.

Just keep walking until you get to the fence, turn right in front of the locked gate, and soon you’ll be at the entrance to the trail.

“Hey, wait a second!” you might be saying. “Google Street View won’t let me go that way.” That’s right, it won’t, because that’s how overlooked the Shimo no Negimichi has become in the modern era.

This is an unpaved trail, so you’ll probably want to wear footwear with some grip to the soles, especially if you’re doing the walk on a drizzly day like we did.

Visitors are required to stay on the path, as the surrounding woodlands are a protected area, but before long we were wrapped in the green of the forest, with the deep colors of the leaves and moss made all the more mystical contrasted with the clouds and mists.

For most people, their approach to Kasuga Shrine is a festive affair, pausing along the way to look at souvenir and snack stands. That’s definitely a fun way to do it, but taking the Shimo no Negimichi has its own special appeal with its calming, cleansing atmosphere and quiet sense of solitude.

As we walked, we noticed clusters of white flowers blossoming here and there. These are called asebi in Japanese, or Japanese andromeda in English. If you’re wondering why Nara’s famous herds of deer don’t come through and eat them all up, it’s because the flowers, while pretty to look at, are poisonous, so the animals know to leave them alone.

The Shimo no Negimichi doesn’t take terribly long to walk. This was originally the priests’ daily on-foot commute, after all. But even though it’s less than ten minutes from the trail start to Kasuga Shrine, it feels worlds away as you’re walking it.

Once we arrived at the shrine, it was back to Nara’s unique version of modern civilization, with plenty of people and deer waiting for us.

Of course, you can also walk the Shimo no Negimichi in the other direction, starting at Kasuga Shrine and ending near the Naoya Shiga house, which is a lovely place to visit too.

And the extra walking, regardless of direction, is also an excellent excuse to stop at the Takabatake Salon cafe next door to the Shiga residence for some cheesecake.

Because if Nara’s deer to get to enjoy some snacks, why shouldn’t you too?

Related: Naoya Shiga Former Residence, Takabatake Salon (Tabelog)
Photos ©SoraNews24

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