We hope you are staying safe during these testing times. Travel to Japan is not possible for the time being as Japan has shut its borders in order to prevent more infections of COVID19.
If you are travelling around Japan by train, it is worth buying a Japan Rail Pass. You can save up to 60% than buying actual JR tickets at stations which is complicated enough. Buying a Japan Rail Pass obviously only works on JR lines like the bullet train, regional trains and some metro services depending on which city you are in.
Nara Park, the main tourist attraction of Nara is a large park area which has many of the most famous temples in Japan in, and, of course, the fun and tame deer hang out here too!
►Nara was once the capital of Japan for 84 years from 710 until 784, lending its name to the period at the time, the Nara Period. Nara played important roles in the development of Japanese imperial, commercial and religious status in the region and indeed the country. Part of the main reason why Nara is famous is due to its fabulous temples and shrines. The main seven temples of Nara are collectively known as Nanto Shinchi Daiji, meaning the Seven Great Temples of Nara. These temples (a few of which have changed names and locations etc, but still remain in Nara) have and still do have great influential religious power and importance.
Nara is home to the largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutsu (Vairocana) in the world, housed in the main hall of Todaiji, one of Nara and in fact Japan's most famous temples.
Spring in Nara is stunning. The cherry blossom (Sakura) in Nara park, accompanied with sacred tame deer wandering around with Temples and Shrines in the backdrop looks like something out of a Disney or Studio Ghibli Film. This page is my recommendations on what to do during springtime in Nara.
Nara Park is the main tourist area of Nara as it is where most of the temples and shrines are. During the spring cherry blossom, it is very beautiful in Nara Park. You can stroll around the park and not visit any temples, and still have a great experience! The wild deer roam around Nara park and can be fed with ‘shika sembe’ which means deer crackers. A bundle of them costs 150 yen and the deer will bow their heads to say please and thank you!
►Location: Nara Park
Todai-ji is probably the greatest and most iconic temples of Japan. It houses the largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutsu (Vairocana) and the actual main hall really is incredibly awe-inspiring due to its vast size and beauty. Built around the 8th century, the temple is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan, and possibly Asia, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the main hall, you will find the largest bronze statue of Vairocana (Daibutsu) in the world. Weighing 500 tons, and seated, 50ft tall, it really is an immense and impressive sight. What also is impressive are the Nio statues at the gates of the temple, as well as in the main hall. According to Japanese Buddhist history, Nio were divine guardians deities appointed to protect Gautama as he travelled. The origin of Nio dates back to Mahayana Buddhist pantheon but was also adopted by Japanese religious beliefs. They are depicted as tall muscular wrestler builds with frightening faces. To this day they are believed to protect the temples they guard against evil spirits.
The Todai-ji temple is on a large pot of land and the cherry blossom is great here. It's worth taking a wander around the whole temple grounds, and not just the main hall, which costs around 500/600 yen to enter. Some of the quietest and most peaceful spots are behind the main hall and the walls that surround it. Have a walk around there to see the beautiful Sakura.
►Opening hours: 7:30-17:30 (April to October), 8:00-17:00 (November to March)
►Admission: 600 yen
►Location: Nara Park
Nara’s most beautiful and famous shrine, located in the Nara park, is a Shinto shrine. Along with the Kasugayama Primeval Forest make up a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the ‘Histori Monuments of Ancient Nara’.
Kasuga Taisha shrine has a close historical relationship with the deer that roam freely around Nara. It was believed that the deer were/are the sacred messengers of the Shinto Gods of Kasuga Taisha and surrounding mountains. The walk up to Kasuga Taisha is particularly pretty in spring as the cherry blossom that is dotted around the area can be discovered as you walk around the areas around the shrine. The deer tend to hang out here most, so it’s also a great place to get some selfies with deer!
►Opening hours: 6:00 - 18:00 April to September
6:30 - 17:00 October to March
►Admission fee: Outer Area is free but the inner area is 500 yen
Nigatsu-dō is a building that is a part of Tōdai-ji, yet not immediately within its complex, and thus forms its own sub-complex. Nigatsu-dō is located a 10-minute walk east of the main Tōdai-ji hall on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa. Part of the building has a balcony type platform that has a fantastic view over Nara city.
The actual complex was founded in 752 by the Buddhist monk Jitchu. What makes this temple significant is the series of events/ceremonies that take place across Nigatsu-dō as a part of Shunie, which are held annually from 1st of March through to the 14th of March or more commonly known as Omizutori (drawing/taking of the water). This ceremony is a collective Buddhist repentance ritual which has been happening for over 1300 years, making it one of the oldest and longest lasting Buddhist ceremonies in Japan.
Omizutori takes place over the course of the 2 weeks. Various other events are held here including Otaimatsu, a ceremony that takes place every evening after sunset from the 1st till the 14th of March. Large burning torches are carried and held over Nigatsu-dō’s balcony over the crowd. This is believed to give the crowds and onlookers good luck for the coming year.
One thing I recommend doing is having a stroll around the back streets that surround Nigatsu-dō. They are very pretty and tranquil, and there aren’t any tourists. The streets are very old with original stone cobbling and walls. It looks like something out of a samurai movie.
►Hours: 8:00 - 17:00
Some of the hotels and Ryokans in Nara are beautiful during the spring, and if your budget stretches that far, I highly recommend staying a night in one of these.
5 Star ♦♦♦♦♦
►Recommendation: My favourite. Real Nara style!
One of the most famous hotels in Kansai for its beauty, style and traditional/modern western fusion is Nara Hotel. When Royalty, ambassadors and foreign VIPs come to the Kansai region, they usually stay here. The rooms are pricey but not as much as you'd think for a 5-star hotel of this calibre. The rooms are western, but they also have traditional Japanese rooms, Banquet halls, conference rooms etc are available and the hotel bar called ‘The Bar’ is also great!
4 Star ♦♦♦♦
►Recommendation: A modern Ryokan!
A modern style traditional ryokan in central Nara located a short walk from Nara Park. The Ryokan is in a quiet neighbourhood but is really close to all the touristy parts. The great thing about this is that you are close to all the action but don't have to deal with the tourist crowds! The Ryokan is really nice. Most of the rooms have excellent views across Nara park and the Ryokan has a really nice onsen hot spring bath which guests can enjoy any time. The rooms are traditional Japanese rooms at a reasonable price.