A Day in Nara, Japan

 

If you are planning a trip to Osaka and Kyoto, consider adding a trip to Japan’s first permanent capital Nara (奈良)! Located less than an hour away from Kyoto and Osaka, Nara was the first permanent capital was in the year 710. In the present-day Nara, the city remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. In fact, Japanese culture flourished here under the reign of successive emperors and empresses during that era. Several historical sites have been registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “Historical Monuments of Ancient Nara”. The best of all, this city can be explored in a day!

We took the train on the Kintetsu Nara Line from Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu Nara Station. It was a 40-minute ride that costed 560 Yen one way. You can check the train schedule on Hyperdia.com.

You can also go to JR Nara station if you have the JR pass, but the Kintetsu Nara Station is more centrally located, therefore easier to reach the tourist attractions. Please find a map of the city below:

The first thing you might notice is that there are deer everywhere around the city of Nara. In fact, the deer is Nara’s animal mascot. Its favorite food is a special cracker; you can buy these everywhere for 150 Yen and feed them freely.

Girl feeding cracker to the deer

Our first stop was the Isuien garden (依水園). It is an attractive Japanese garden with unique sceneries and little water ponds. The water ponds are fed by the small adjacent Yoshikigawa River, which is why its name means “garden founded on water”. The garden is divided into the front garden and the rear garden. There are also a few tea houses scaterred throughout the garden, some dating from the 17th century! Next to the garden is a museum displaying a collection of artifacts from ancient Japan, China, and Korea. [1]

Admission time: 9:30 to 16:30. Closed on Tuesdays.

Admission: 1000 Yen (includes ticket to the garden and to the museum

Isuien Garden Ticket

View of the Rear garden

View of the rear garden

Our second stop was at the Todaiji temple (東大寺), The Great Eastern Temple, one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples constructed in 752. It is home to the world’s largest wooden building, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), where the current reconstruction only represents two thirds of the original temple hall size. Upon arrival, you can ask for a free tour guide in different languages where you can learn more about this landmark.

Todai-ji Temple ticket

View of the Nandaimon Gate

The Nigatsu-do (二月堂)

After visiting the great Buddha hall, we visited the Nigatsu-do (二月堂), also known as the Hall of the Second Month. Built on a hill, Nigatsu-do has wonderful views of Todaiji.

Nigatsu-do (二月堂)

View from Nigatsu-do

Our next attraction was the Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), Nara’s most celebrated shrine build at the same time as the capital. This shrine is dedicated to the deity who is responsible for the protection of the city. [2] It is known for its lantern festivals, and you can find hundreds of bronze lanterns inside the shrine and stone lanterns on the pathway leading to the shrine.

Admission time: 10:00 to 17:00

Price: Free for outer area, 500 Yen for inner area

Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) pathway leading to entrance

Bronze lanterns hanging from the wooden structures of the shrine

Traditional Japanese ceremony held at the shrine

After visiting the Kasuga Taisha, we headed back towards the Kintetsu Nara station and made a stop at the Kofukuji Temple (興福寺). This was the family temple of the Fujiwaras, the most powerful family clan during much of the Nara and Heian Periods. Kofukuji’s main building, the Central Golden Hall, was destroyed in a fire in 1717 and is now under reconstruction to rebuild the hall in its full former glory. Reconstruction works are scheduled to be completed in the year 2018.[3]

Admission time: 9:00 to 17:00

Price: 300 Yen for the Eastern Golden Hall

50 meter-five story pagoda, Japan’s second tallest

 

Before heading back, we stopped by the Nakatanidou, where you can find mocha made by the fastest mocha pounders of Japan.

The process of mocha-pounding is called mochitsuki in Japanese and it is performed on site every 30 minutes.

The result of this pounding is soft, chewy yomogi mochi, which is dusted by hand with kinako (roasted soybean flour) before serving. Inside each mochi is a generous filling of red bean paste. Each piece sells for 130 yen.

Yomogi mocha – Yomogi is a Japanese wild plant also known as mugwort, and gives the mochi its natural green color and refreshing taste.

Opening hours: 10:00-19:00

Address: Japan, 〒630-8217 Nara Prefecture, Nara, 橋本町29

Source: Google Maps

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4114.html

[2] http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4102.html

[3] http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4101.html

 

Article by Ruby from Canada

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