Nara was a relief. Nara is a relatively small city in Japan, however it was the capital of Japan before Kyoto. It Like Kyoto it is rich in history with many temples and shrines. The city has been declared patrimony of humanity by the UNESCO. Nara can be done as a side trip from Kyoto or Osaka, however, its relatively nearer to Osaka. A small city, Nara is the kind of place you can do in a day trip, especially if you prioritise the most famous site and decide everything else is a bonus. Like we did.
Some people would suggest to take the shuttle bus from the railway station to the sightseeing, however, i would not recommend that. Although the sightseeing place might be quite far, a leisure walk to the destination while admiring the beautiful scenery of Nara would be the best way to explore this city.
We took a look at the Kofuku-ji temple complex, a temple that actually began existence in Kyoto but was moved to Nara in the 8th century. As with many temple complexes in Japan, over the years the number of buildings have been reduced due to fire, other natural disasters and various wars and battles. It is probably most famous for its pagoda. Few building were closed for restoration, after few snap of picture, we continued on our pleasant stroll to Todai-Ji.
Along the way, you’ll notice thousands of deers living free in the streets and parks of Nara. If you are wondering why, this will answer your question: according to a Japanese legend, God Takemikazuchi rode all the way to Nara on a white deer, in order to protect the newly built city. Therefore, nowadays deers are considered as holy animals, protecting the city. Their image is everywhere, even on manhole covers!…
Some kiosks sell “shika sembei” (deer biscuits) to feed them, but buy some at your own risk. Somehow the deer know not to steel from the vendors although it would be quite easy. Instead they wait until someone buys some shikasenbei and then they rush them : the deers will literally chase you for food! Plus, many of them are fat and unhealthy – It doesn’t really seem an appropriate feeding for wild animals. Just have fun looking at people getting scared by unexpected “deer attacks”!
Todaiji Temple which houses a daibutsuor big Buddha is probably the largest attraction in Nara. After being destroyed by a fire, the temple was rebuilt to only 2/3 of the original size. But it is still the largest wooden structure in Japan. The Buddha inside the main hall is one of the largest bronze statues in the world, and the Nio kings at the South Gate are the largest in Japan. The parks and the grounds of Todai-ji are all free to visit, though you will have to pay for admission to the Daibustu-den. There is also a row of souvenir shops just outside the Todaiji Temple. We bought some Nara souvenir. Despite the cold weather, we decided to try their green tea ice-cream that turn out to be very nice.
One of the locals that we met during one stop at the Nara Prefacture Tourist Information Center had suggested us to go to the Nigatsu-do Hall. (Click here for my post on Nara Prefacture Tourist Information Center) We glad that we followed her advised. It was a pleasant escape from the crowds at Todai-ji. This temple is situated on top of a hill and was a very pleasant walk to the top of the temple on a long flight of stairs. And it is well worth a visit to catch a bird’s eye view of Nara on a clear day with good views over the city towards the larger temple. Due to strong cold winds on the top of the hill, we were force to take a shelter inside the temple rest area. The rest area was very nice and comfy. There were seating area for us to rest, burner to warm our freezing hand, and even free hot coffee and tea to drinks. We have some rest here while eat our packed sandwich lunch that we bring together until the strong wind stopped.
There is much more to enjoy in Nara than the Daibutsu-den, or even temples. It is a beautiful and compact city, made for strolling, so being the walkers that we are there was much strolling, walking and flâneur action that day. Nara is home to many beautiful parks, not all of them deer-infested, including many with lovely lakes. Our favourite was one with a bridge and viewing pavilion. Most of the bigger/more famous tourist attractions and public spaces are signposted in English, and information is everywhere.
If you have the time it is worth wandering around Naramachi, which has some nice old buildings to look at.
The walk from the Naramachi to KintetsuNara Station leads you through a nice covered shopping street, packed with restaurants, tourist souvenir shops but also shops selling calligraphy goods, Buddhist statuary and accoutrements, and even a shop specialising in face blotting papers. However, the price of the souvenirs maybe in the high side, so, if you want to buy some cheap and simple souvenir, it is recommended to buy it at the souvenir stalls outside the Todaiji Temple.
HOW TO GO THERE
Nara is very easy to reach by train from Kyoto and Osaka, and makes an easy day trip. Click here for more details