Nara Travel Guide
The birthplace of Japanese culture, Nara was the ancient capital of the country, long before Kyoto and Tokyo. Its long rich religious history has made it a stunning place for travellers, with its many temples and shrines, and its lush green forested hills makes it for stunning scenery.
Visitors will fall go head over hills for Nara as soon as they step foot in it. Although not a gigantic city, all the various cultural attractions can be found in close proximity to each other and best discovered by foot. Several temples and shrines can be found in the hills that surround the city, each well worth visiting. A city guide to Nara will help you plan your travel itinerary so that you don’t miss out on all the things you want to do.
Start your trip to Nara with a visit to Kofuku-ji. Nara is renowned for its many temples but this particular one draws visitors to it like a moth to a burning flame. This stunning temple dates back to 669 by the Fujiwara family; originally it was situated elsewhere but was moved here in 710 CE when the city became the new capital. There are numerous Buddhist sculptures and artworks at the temple along with various buildings. Gaze up in awe at the Buddha of Healing, Yakushi Nyorai, housed in the Tokon-do hall. He is accompanied by statues of various other religious statues, including the Four Heavenly Kings and the Twelve Heavenly Guards.
If you are looking for charm and appeal in the city you cannot go wrong with a trip to Nara-koen. Over a thousand semi-wild deer have made certain parts of this lush green park their personal restaurant. In ancient times, it was forbidden to kill deer as they were considered the messengers of the Shinto gods.
To understand more about the history and culture of Nara, head on down to the Nara National Museum. This spectacular museum may look unappealing from the outside (the building is a grey building which has zero appeal), but inside you will find a treasure trove of artefacts and artworks, including a collection of statues which will wow even the most uninterested viewer. For two weeks in autumn, the world famous Shoso treasures are exhibited. They were donated by the Empress Komyo in 756 and consists of various religious art and everyday artefacts from all over Asia.
Todai-ji is perhaps the most loved cultural attraction in Nara, and it is not hard to figure out why. This amazing temple dates back to 745 CE, founded by Emperor Shomu himself. Although it was a way to assert his imperial power, it was also a means to appeal to the gods to avert disasters and tragedies that the entire country was facing. It took 15 years for the temple complex to be created and the principal hall has been awarded the medal for the oldest surviving wooden building in the world.
The temple complex is made up of various halls, buildings and gates. You enter via the Great Southern Gate where two guardian gods watch you, ensuring that you do no harm to the temple. There are various sculptures and other artworks here, each adding to the peaceful yet vibrant ambience.
You will find that the restaurants in Nara cater to all kinds of cuisine, but once here you should try the local cuisine. For a taste of authentic Nara, sample the kaki-no-hazushi, kudzu and somen.
Hotels in Nara are much more affordable than in the capital but prices can soar sky high in August, early November and Christmas times when national holidays take place. To avoid paying exorbitant rates, book ahead as early as possible.
Nara is a fantastic city to visit, even if you can only do so as a day trip. Full of history and culture, you will find that you don’t want to leave.