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Nara park is the area where the main temples and shrines are set in and in my opinion, where all the action is happening. It's a large park that can be walked around on foot and is not more than 5 km by 3 km. You can find food, temples, toilets, taxis and pretty much all you need for a day's exploration in the park. Also, the deer prefer to stay within the park. There are a few areas to go to when outside of the park, like Sanjo dori where there are loads of great restaurants. To find out more on what to do in the actual Town of Nara go back to the page before and click on 'Exploring the Town'.
One of the biggest temples complexes in Japan and listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, Tōdai-ji Daibutsuden hall houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana or ‘Daibutsu’ in Asia.
Tōdai-ji is actually the name of a large collection of buildings and temples that belong to Tōdai-ji, but to make things simple, the main temple/hall that houses the huge Buddha is referred to as Tōdai-ji. This temple was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples and is a very impressive site set on its own large plot of land. This place is a particular favourite of mine as its size and beauty inspire awe and splendour! When you walk into the main hall, the sheer size of the Buddha statue will take your breath away. It’s very atmospheric and mysterious. Keep an eye out for the Nio statues at the grand gates of this temple. They are hidden in alcoves but hard to miss as they stand 20 ft tall with scary faces and muscular bodies. According to Japanese history and tradition, they travelled alongside Gautama Buddha to protect him. All Buddhist temples will have two Nio statues, all ranging in size, guarding the gates of the temple. This is because they are believed to ward off any evil spirits. Keep an eye out for them as they are always impressive and mysterious.
►Opening Hours: 8:00 - 16:30 Nov to Feb
8:00 - 17:00 March
7:30 - 17:30 April to Sept
7:30 - 17:00 October
►Admission: 500 Yen
Kofuku-ji is a temple set in an open area and is a Buddhist temple that was once one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara along with Todai-ji. With its iconic five-story pagoda.
Kofuku-ji is the national headquarters of the Hosso school of Buddhism. Have a walk around the temple grounds and explore the beauty of Hosso Buddhism.
►Opening hours: 9:00 - 17:00
►Admission fee: 300 yen (eastern golden hall/main area)
Nara’s most beautiful and famous shrine, located in the Nara park, is a Shinto shrine. Along with the Kasugayama Primeval Forest (sounds like something from Game of Thrones) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Basically, everything in Nara is a UNESCO World Heritage site! Anyway, you’ll see what I mean when I say it's very enchanting and mysterious. 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.
►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
Stone lanters line the passages up to the shrine. It looks like something out of a Studio Ghibli film!
Dusk is a great time to stroll around the forest around Kasuga Taisha. Very atmospheric and mysterious!
Nigatsu-do is a building that is a part of Tōdai-ji , yet not immediately within its complex, and thus forms its own sub-complex. Nigatsu-do is located a 10-minute walk east of theTōdai-ji main 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 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-do’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-do. 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.
►Opening times: Open all hours
►Admission fee: Free
A very curious and mysterious looking building, Shōsō-in is the treasure house of Tōdai-ji. Located a short walk from the main Daibutsuden Hall (which the massive Buddha statue is in). You can't actually go into the building but it’s amazing to look at. The building is a log cabin style building that is 2.5 meters raised off the ground. The building houses around 9000 treasures from all over the world from different periods of history. These treasures collections are actually not open to the public for viewing, however, certain collections are shown in the Nara National Museum once per year during autumn. For more info on this, please visit the Nara National Museum. Click here, or on the image below for the google maps image.
►Opening times: You can't actually go in, but you can see it from the outside at any time.
►Admission fee: Can't go in, so no admission fee but it’s free to look at.