Nara has some of the most impressive sights in all of Japan, and due to its past as the first permanent capital, it remains full of historic treasures.
Nara was in fact elected as Japan’s first permanent capital in 710 A.D. and was considered the cradle of Japanese culture and arts, with an extraordinary abundance of temples and Buddhist monasteries. However, soon the monasteries in Nara began to gain a lot of political influence, which seemed to upset the emperor and the local politicians, and so the Japanese capital was moved.
As there are many temples and shrines to visit in Nara, you might be worried you won’t be able to see them all in one day. That isn’t the case though! Nara has this amazing advantage of having all the attractions grouped together in one huge park, and strolling from one temple to another is incredibly pleasant.
Here’s a list of the top things to do during a day trip to Nara:
Most of the historical sites in Nara lie in and around the 500+ hectare Nara Park.
It’s an impressive area with many historical buildings designated as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and beautifully harmonized with nature. The park has about 1,700 cherry trees of various kinds, including Narayae-zakura and Kokonoe-zakura.
And here, in Nara Park, is where the fun starts…there’s deer everywhere! Walking ones, running ones and sleeping ones (my favorite!). Legend would have it that the god of the Kasuga Taisha rode a white deer, so our modern deer enjoy protected status as godly envoys. You will love them!
There’s nothing quite as cute as watching a deer chomp down on a cookie straight from your hand (¥150 buys a good amount of cookies). Some of them are so shy they they’ll snatch the cookie and back away. But … beware! That cuteness disappears quickly as soon as they get a taste of the cookie. They’re not really dangerous, but they sure are crazy for cookies, and won’t be happy with just a bite!
KASUGA TAISHA SHRINE
The World Heritage site of Kasuga Taisha was established to enshrine the local deity at around the time of the transfer of the capital 1300 years ago. The brilliant vermilion shin den in the primeval forest is magnificent, glorious and fascinating.
As you walk to the shrine, 2000 stone lanterns align the walkway. Once inside the shrine, 1000 bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings. The lanterns are lit twice a year for the Lantern Festivals in early February and mid August.
Among the woods around Kasuga Taisha, there are over a dozen auxiliary shrines that are just as beautiful. Walking around this area was certainly one of the most spiritually relaxing things I’ve ever experienced in Japan. Moreover, almost all the details that make Japan so fascinating and exotic for the outsider’s eye are to be found here in Nara and around Kasuga Taisha.
Admission: ¥ 500
The Todai-ji Temple is Nara’s biggest highlight. The present structure, completed in 752, is the largest wooden building in the world and houses a 50-foot bronze Buddha. In Todaiji you will find the Nara Daibutsu, also known as The Great Buddha, the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.
Despite having been damaged and destroyed multiple times, due to fire, earthquakes and accident (in 855 the head of the giant Buddha suddenly fell off) both the buildings and the statues have been continually repaired. Today Tōdai-ji, and the Great Buddha Hall it contains, are in excellent shape!
Admission Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 300
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.
Have you ever been to Nara?