Nara was the imperial capital of Japan from 710 to 784, the period known as the Nara period. Today, the city of Nara is the capital of Nara Prefecture, which borders directly with Kyoto Prefecture. There are eight sites in the form of temples, shrines and the debris, they are: Todai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kofuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gango-ji, Yakushi-ji-ji and ruins Tōshōdai Heijō Palace, all of these along with the forest Kasugayama, collectively form “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” that was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why do we choose this city as one of the must-visit spots for a vacation? We do so since this ancient city is over 1,300 years old and holds numerous historical relics. Although the appeal of tourism is mostly covered by Kyoto, Nara has its own uniqueness compared to other cities. Moreover, because Nara is quite close to Osaka and can be explored in one day. Nara can be reached for less than one hour using an express train from either Osaka or Kyoto. The train departs very often and there are no line changes is you go there from central stations.
I recommend you to go on this trip in the morning, so you can visit a lot of locations in a day. If you depart from Kyoto station, you can use JR Nara Line trains or private Kintetsu Kyoto Line. Similarly, if you are departing from Osaka, you can choose the JR Nara Line or Kintetsu Line. We would recommend you to take Kintetsu Line because the location of Kintetsu-Nara station is very close to the historical objects and Nara Park, only about 10 minutes walk.
After walking for less than 10 minutes from Kintetsu-Nara Station past the row of shops and restaurants, you will find a small lake (pond) in Sanjo Dori, the Sarusawa Pond. This small lake is the best place to enjoy Kofuku-ji and the surrounding scenery. So it is great for a short break and can get you in the right mood before starting the journey in Nara.
Kofuku-ji is a temple that has 2 beautiful pagodas, each with three and five levels. Pagoda with five levels is competing with Toji pagoda in Kyoto over the title of the highest pagoda in Japan. Although visitors are not allowed to go up to the pagoda, you can enjoy the beauty of the golden shades of the room in this temple complex, namely, Eastern Golden Hall.
Once entering Nara Park, you will be greeted by dozens of freely roaming deer. Although they seem tame, these deer are wild, so you also have to be careful. Warning signs are installed in several places throughout the park to make visitors alert. However, if you are calm, you can caress the deer and even take pictures together. Visitors can feed the deer by buying special ‘Shika-senbei’ biscuits for 150 yen per pack. The more you walk into the park filled with plants and trees, the more deer you will find. Maybe you will get surprised, but none of the adult male deer have antlers. Stag horns are deliberately cut at Deerhorn Cutting ceremony in Nara Park held every October. The main reason for this is preventing deers from hurting Nara Park visitors. While, in the Kasuga-Yama forest outside of Nara Park, deer horns are left untouched, so visitors should be more careful when going there. You can also enjoy some beautiful spots in the form of small lakes and ancient platforms with Nara and Edo period designs that you can take pictures of or simply rest nearby. Ukimido, the octagonal building near Sagiike Pond has a unique design so that it seems to float on the water. Once you are satisfied with Nara Park, we can move further to enjoy the historical objects located around Nara Park.
Perhaps the most magnificent site of Nara is Todai-ji, where Daibutsu, the largest Buddha statue in Japan, and one of the largest in the world, is located. In addition Daibutsu-den that hosts the statue, is reported to be the largest wooden building in the world. The entry gate, signifying-mon, is guarded by two giant statues that look quite scary. Meanwhile, the deer are also walking freely around the gates.
Once you enter the Daibutsu-den, you will see a statue of Buddha that will get you stunned by its size and splendor. There are several interesting objects, one of which is the pillar/column timber at the bottom that has a hole. As belief goes, if a person can crawl through those holes, then he/she will get an “enlightenment” in life. In addition, there is also a statue of Yakushi Nyorai. Although the shape of it is a little creepy, in actuality it is a statue of Buddha of medicine and healing. People believe that if you have pain in a certain part of your body, then by touching the same part on the statue, the pain will go away.
Have a great Nara vacation!