The Japanese city of Nara is a perfect destination for those who love historical places. Here there is a whole row of Buddhist temples and ancient artifacts. Nara is also known for its urban deer and for being home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. During the 7th century, Nara was Japan’s capital and even today the city is characterized by a kind of antique atmosphere. Take advantage of visiting the city as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.
Todaiji or Great Eastern Temple is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples. For Nara, it is a landmark that put the city on the map. For a long time, the temple’s great hall Daibutsuden held the record for the world’s largest wooden building. The size of the temple impresses, as does the 15-meter-high Buddha who sits in a meditative state in the middle of the hall. In addition, there are several smaller Buddhist statues and models of early and current buildings. Don’t miss the popular pillar with a hole the size of Buddha’s nostril. It is said that whoever manages to squeeze through the opening will gain enlightenment in the afterlife.
Nara is perhaps best known for its beautiful park with the same name: Nara Park. Here you walk side by side with live deer that are not particularly shy. The deer are also said to be sacred, and in the past you had to pay with death if you harmed them. Take with you a bag of Shika-Senbei, a biscuit made for deer, and feed the animals directly from your hand. Some of the deer in the park seem to think they are dogs. The deer are so tame that they have learned to bow on command. Here in the park are also several temple buildings, museums and beautiful small Japanese houses.
The Japanese people really know this thing with temples and beautiful religious buildings. Kasuga-taisha was built at the same time as Nara city was founded, and is dedicated to the god responsible for protecting the city. The temple is perhaps best known for its hundreds of bronze candlesticks, donated by religious Shinto worshippers. The temple stretches over a large forest area and there are also a number of smaller temple buildings, a beautiful botanical garden and a museum. Definitely don’t miss a peek into Kasuga’s sacred and ancient forest. Unfortunately, it is closed to the public, but you can look at it through a fence.
Nara is recognized as Japan’s temple city. Kohfukuji Temple is no exception. With a history spanning 1,300 years, the temple is one of Japan’s oldest. This is not a temple used for the typical art of meditation. Namely, the building was home to the warrior monks of the time, the sohei, who armed and ruthlessly fought without any kind of compassion for their victims. The temple also served as the center of study that advocated the doctrine that there is no reality outside of thought because the senses only produce illusions. This is a temple with a solid history that is definitely worth a visit.
Horyuji is not just any temple building. The 48 wooden buildings that stand on the temple grounds stretch all the way back to the 6th century and are considered to be some of the world’s oldest and most well-preserved wooden buildings. As if that were not enough, its founder is a Buddhist prince. It is incredibly impressive that these temples are still standing strong after all these years. Wander around the area and admire the charm, and the history of what may have taken place on the site in the past.
Yakushiji Temple was constructed in the 7th century to celebrate the recovery of Emperor Tenmu’s wife from a period of illness. Tenmu seems to have been a real connoisseur of good gifts! During its lifetime, this Buddhist temple has seen several fires but still stands neatly in its ancient glory. The building stands out with its symmetrical architecture and houses several ancient art treasures.
At the Nara National Museum, the exhibitions are permeated with Buddhist art. Here you can find everything from statues and paintings to ceremonial objects. The museum is beautifully located in Nara park and consists of two wings connected by an underground passage. Every fall, the museum puts on a temporary exhibition of treasures from the Todaji Temple. This is simply not to be missed if you are interested in Buddhist art and Japanese history.
The beautiful Isuien garden was originally built by a Japanese man who lived in the area back in the day. In 1975, however, it was designated state property. Here in the garden, in addition to beautiful flower arrangements, there is also an interesting museum. Neiraku art museum displays a collection of Japanese art from both East and West. The beautiful garden is surrounded by Mount Wakakusa along with the roof of Todaji Temple, creating a stunning setting for the pleasant garden. You should go here for a moment of relaxation and meditate next to the beautiful pond in the middle of the garden.
The Toshodaiji Temple was founded as early as 759 by a Chinese priest named Ganjin, who had been invited to Japan to train other priests in the art of Buddhism. The name Toshodaiji roughly means “temple of the one invited from China”. Here in the temple area there are a lot of cozy little paths framed by foliage, a large antique clock, a chapel, treasury and ancient monks’ sleeping quarters well preserved. Be sure to check out the large wooden statue representing the priest Ganjin.
When Nara once acted as the capital of Japan, the city was called Heijo Kyo. The city revolved around the Heijo Palace, which stretched over a kilometer-long area. The majestic palace then functioned as the emperor’s residence, nowadays only a single hall remains as everything else is in ruins. On the other hand, a number of the buildings that once stood here have been reconstructed and have also taken a place on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Locate yourself among the fantastic buildings on site and definitely don’t miss a peek into the area’s exhibition hall, where a number of different archaeological finds from the site are preserved.
Right next to Nara Park is the beautiful mountain Mount Wakakusa. The mountain is about 350 meters high and offers a fantastic view of the city. On the way up to the top, you are greeted by the mountain’s grassy slope lined with pink-blossoming cherry trees. The mountain takes about 40 minutes to climb and halfway up there is a cozy rest area. Every year on the fourth Saturday in January, the mountain’s grassy hills are set on fire. The theory as to why is unclear. Some believe it is due to a previous border dispute, while others believe it was to drive away wild boar that lived on the mountain. A small entrance fee is charged at the entrance.
The Gangoji temple is not inferior to the other temple buildings. Gangoji is considered to be among some of Japan’s oldest temples and has entered the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, the temple is not among the most famous and is thus not as well visited. Lovely if you are looking for a quiet moment away from tourism and life. It is said that the building is made by Korean artists, carpenters and potters and therefore constitutes a different architecture. Here, in addition to fantastic temple buildings, there are also cozy craft shops and a number of quirky museums.
The people of Nara really love their temples. It’s almost like the whole city revolves around these religious buildings. However, Hasedera Temple is a bit on the outskirts of Nara and is easily reached by train. You should go here and experience the sunrise and then have lunch at one of the traditional restaurants located next to the temple entrance. The temple itself will not disappoint you. The building’s massive stone staircase combined with blooming peonies almost makes you feel like royalty. Finish your visit at one of the temple area’s sake breweries before heading back to Nara.
When you’ve had enough of temples and religion, head to Nara’s Ninja Museum. The Japanese may specialize in Buddhism and noodles, but historically they were skilled ninja warriors. Ninja was a type of warrior who specialized in gathering information, spying and sabotaging for the enemy. The museum itself is very exciting to visit. Inside the house there are trapdoors, hidden maple doors and rotating walls. In addition, there is an exhibition displaying ninja weapons and costumes. Every day a ninja show is held where “real” ninjas fight, and teach the visitor how to throw throwing stars.
The old Naramachi district used to be one of Nara’s commercial districts. Nowadays, there are well-preserved residential buildings, narrow alleys, a museum and a lot of traditional restaurants. The old houses that still stand are called machiya. The houses were designed as long narrow terraced houses and functioned as both a shop and a residence for the local merchants. The atmosphere in this neighborhood is like no other. Go here and soak up the history of old Japan, eat traditional ramen noodles and talk to the local merchants who still live in the area.
Don’t worry, we got you covered with the most important information below.
Nara does not have its own airport. The nearest international airport is Kansai International Airport ( KIX ) and is about 75 km from Nara.
Address: 1 Senshukukokita, Izumisano-shi, Osaka 549-0001, Japan
Phone: +81 72-455-2500
You don’t have to worry about holding tight to your valuables or walking around with larger sums of cash. Japanese are a very loyal and well-behaved people with very few thieves and the like. Watching younger children ride the subway by themselves home from school alone is not an uncommon sight to see in Japan. Of course, there are everywhere, but Japan has very few of them.
Order a JR pass if you plan to move to other cities. If you are only going to be in Osaka, you can do well to pay for your transport at a time. But most visitors take a week in Tokyo and then move on to Kyoto, Osaka and other popular cities. These train distances are quite expensive without JR passes, we therefeore recommend getting one before your departure to Japan. Getjrpass.com is an official ravel agent and seller of these Japan Rail Passes with no middle man.
The metro is well-functioning and cheap – a recommended means of transport. Tickets are very easily purchased by machine on site before entering or via pre-loaded Suica card. Most distances are combined with JR lines and Metro lines to reach your destination in the city.
Suica card – a fantastic IC card that can be preloaded with money to easily blip beverage machines, subway and other machines for a cashless and fast payment. Alternative to the card is Icoca Card & Pasmo Card.
Taxis are everywhere, but are quite expensive. The metro is so functional that Taxi is not needed.
The city has lots of beautiful parks. Enjoy good food and take it easy, enjoy your visit to Japan.
Japan uses Japanese Yen – JPY.
We recommend a smaller exchange before the trip at Forex or another currency exchanger to be able to pay for transport from the airport if you have decided to activate your Japan Rail Pass at a later date, for food and drink on site upon arrival and so on.
Safe ATMs for cash withdrawals can be found around the city. You don’t have to worry about walking around with larger amounts of cash as the country is very safe. Of course there are jerks in the country, but Japan has extremely few of them.
7-eleven usually has a very good exchange rate at their machines. When withdrawing larger sums such as thousands of euros, it can differ up to hundreds of euros against what you get at Forex if you exchange before the trip. We therefore recommend only bringing a smaller amount and withdrawing more cash on site.
Do not exchange at the airport. Visit a bank or 7-eleven in town.
Tips are not appreciated by the staff and can sometimes be considered disparaging.
If you want to tip, ask the staff beforehand if it is okay. Most likely, you will get a no, as tips are not part of their everyday life.
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