Here at Japlanning we've talked a lot about the big cities that most visit: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. These are hubs you usually spend a few days in, so now it's time to reveal some great day trips from these cities that escape the big city vibe and give you amazing experiences not too far away! Today we are starting with a small city that's a great day trip from Kyoto and Osaka - Nara.
Nara is located about an hour by train from Kyoto and Osaka. Nara is the capital of the Nara prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. Nara was Japan's first permanent capital, established in 710AD. It was the capital of Japan through to 784AD, when it was moved to Nagaoka due to the growing political aspirations of the buddhist monasteries, which had became a threat to the government. Because of it's vast political history, the city is filled with historical landmarks and temples, many of which are some of Japan's oldest and largest.
Once you get into central Nara, you should start making your way to Nara Park, which is where most of Nara's sights are, including shrines, temples and quite a few freely roaming deer.
Yes, that's right! One of the more unique aspects of Nara, which you will notice fairly quickly, are the hundreds of deer wandering the streets and pathways! Legend says that the god of Kasuga Taisha came through Nara riding on a white deer in ancient times, so the local deer now enjoy protected status as envoys of the god. They are all quite calm and friendly, however DO NOT feed them, as they will become quite pushy, and can be like ducks when throwing them bread: dozens will come to you and follow you and start kneading their heads into your pockets and sides trying to get more (so you have been warned). Pet them, get pictures, dote on them, just don't feed them.
Nara park is beautifully wooded, and easy to navigate by foot. With so many sights and temples to see in the park, you can easily spend a day here just taking it all in. Here are the absolute must see places whilst in Nara...
Just at the entrance of the Nara park area, you will see Kofukuji Temple. This temple used to be the temple of the Fujiwara family, who were the most powerful clan during most of the Nara and Heian periods. Over time, the temple's buildings have been destroyed, however a few still remain, and are quite spectacular - especially the five story pagoda, which is Japan's second tallest. The pagoda was originally built in 730AD, and was last rebuilt in 1426.
Entering Kofujuji's grounds is free, and open around the clock, however two areas do require paying an entrance fee: the national treasure museum, and the Eastern Golden Hall. The national treasure museum is a must see if you are an aficionado of Buddhist art. The collection includes an Ashura statue, which is one of the most well regarded Buddhist statues in all of Japan.
Todaiji Temple is arguably the biggest sight to see in Nara, both in size and popularity. This temple is one of the most famous and historically important temples in Japan, and the crown jewel of Nara. Todaiji was originally built in 752AD, and it's main hall, known as Daibutsuden, which is the world's largest wooden building, was last rebuilt in 1692.
Admission to the temple is a mere 500 yen, and well worth every yen! Once inside the grounds, you are met with the massive sight of Daibutsuden, and the immaculate lawns that lead up to it. You may think the main hall is quite huge, however when it last underwent reconstruction in 1692, it was rebuilt at only two thirds the size of the original! This massive structure houses one of the country's largest bronze Buddha statues. Standing at 15 metres tall, this large Buddha is the main feature of the hall. Once you've had a chance to survey the giant Buddha, be sure to make your way around the rest of the building and see the many smaller statues of Buddha as well as two large Bodhisattva statues that stand either side of the Buddha. Also around the building are models of former and current buildings on the temple grounds.
One of the most popular things to try out inside the Daibutsuden is one of the halls pillars has a hole in its base that is the same size as the nostril on the Buddha statue. It is rumoured that any person who can squeeze through the opening will be given the gift of enlightenment in their next life.
Todaiji Temple is a must see while in the Kansai district and worth the day or even afternoon trip to Nara alone.
These Japanese gardens are just adjacent to the Todaiji Temple, and their name means "garden founded on water", which comes from the garden's ponds being fed by the nearby Yoshikigawa river. This beautiful Japanese garden is divided into two parts: a front and a rear garden, with many tea houses scattered throughout the grounds. Isuien dates back to the mid-17th century, and has many varieties of Japanese plants and trees and also has a museum displaying a collection of seals, mirrors and pottery, as well as other ancient artifacts from China and Korea. This is all included in the 650 yen admission.
Further in the Nara Park area, you will find Kasuga Taisha, which is considered Nara's most celebrated shrine. It was built when Nara was the capital of Japan, and was also the guardian shrine of the Fujiwara family. The shrine was last reconstructed towards the end of the Edo Period.
The shrine's offering hall can be be visited free of charge, however, to venture beyond there into the inner area is a paid admission fee of 500 yen. In here you are given a close view of the inner buildings of the Shrine. These buildings show a great example of the Kasuga style of shrine architecture, with their sloping roofs that extend over the fronts of the buildings.
The shrine is most famous for its lanterns, which have all been donated by worshipers. There are hundreds of bronze statues hanging from the buildings, while there are just as many stone lanterns that line the pathways on your approach. All the lanterns are lit twice a year during the lantern festivals which run in early February and mid August. If you're a photographer, then a visit during festival time is a dream.
Shin-Yakushiji Temple was founded in 747AD by Empress Komyo, and is devoted to the Yakushi Buddha, who is considered the patron saint of medicine in Buddhism.
Inside the main hall of the temple, there are twelve life-size statues of deities that are guardians that surround a two metre tall statue of a seated Yakushi Buddha - these are the two main objects of worship in the temple. The Buddha is made of wood, while the guardians are made of clay. Each one of the twelve guardians hold a different weapon which have intricate details which many visitors spend hours studying. Also around the the temple grounds are several paths that lead you through the parks gardens. Admission to the temple is 600 yen.
Take the train from Osaka station on the Osaka loop line to Tsuruhashi station, and change trains to the Kintetsu Nara Line and get off at Kintetsu Nara Station
TRAVEL TIME: 54 minutes.
Jump on the train on the Kinestu Nara Line from Kyoto Station and travel direct to Kintetsu Nara Station
TRAVEL TIME: 38 minutes
When Japlanning your trip remember that Nara is a must visit for its historical temples and landmarks, with most located inside Nara Park. It's a great day trip to unearth some of the oldest sites in not only Japan, but the world.
Have you visited Nara before? What were your favorite sights?
Tell us in the comments below!