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Nara park is a great place to visit during the autumn/fall seasons. Cool temperatures, great culture, amazing temples and of course, the famous super tame and apparently sacred deer can be experienced at Nara Park. The actual park sits within Nara city and is a short train ride from Osaka or Kyoto.
Blood red leaves in Nara Park
Nara park also many temples and shrines, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The famous ones include Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha and Nigatsu-do.
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One of the biggest temples complexes in Japan and listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, TÅdai-ji Daibutsuden hall houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana or ‘Daibutsu’ in Asia. TÅdai-ji is actually the name of a large collection of buildings and temples that belong to TÅdai-ji, but to make things simple, the main temple/hall that houses the huge Buddha is referred to as TÅdai-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.
Keep an eye out for the Nio statues at the grand gates of Todai-ji. They are hidden in alcoves but hard to miss as they stand 20ft 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.
â–ºOpening 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
â–ºAdmission: 500 Yen
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. 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.
â–ºOpening hours: 6:00 - 18:00 April to September
6:30 - 17:00 October to March
â–ºAdmission fee: Outer Area is free but the inner area is 500 yen
Nigatsu-dÅ is a building that is a part of TÅdai-ji, yet not immediately within its complex, and thus forms its own sub-complex. Nigatsu-dÅ is located a 10-minute walk east of the main TÅdai-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 TÅdai-ji 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-dÅ’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-dÅ. 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.
â–ºHours: 8:00 - 17:00
Sanjo Dori is a fun street that runs east away from the Nara park, and towards all the train stations. It’s worth taking a stroll down this street to see the shops and restaurants selling great food and wares.
You may have seen the video online where two men furiously smash long mallets into a pestle full of a squidgy looking mass - this video became viral on the internet. Nakatanidou is famous all over Japan for its dramatic mochi pounding (mochitsuki) of delicious yomogi mochi. Yomogi mochi is mochi pounded with mugwort plant which gives it a green colour and sweet refreshing taste. Then it is filled with sweet red bean paste and dusted with Kinako (roasted soybean powder) - a very guilt free treat! You can go see this process happening - It's great fun! I actually filmed it too. Nakatanidou is on the Nara Park end of Sanjo Dori. I would recommend you start here and walk down the street for a bit.
Mochi is one of Japan's favourite foods and goes back a long time in history. It's chewy and gooey and very healthy! In my experiences some tourists and indeed my friends who I have introduced it to find the consistency quite unappetising but quickly grow to love it. There are many ways it is prepared. It’s baked and covered in Soya sauce, stuffed full of sweet red bean, boiled in broths with sweet red bean and black syrup, smashed up with green tea leaves etc. Nakatanidou is famous across Japan for its Yomogi mochi, I would highly recommend checking it out.
Fresh made, still warm and delicious mochi with Yomogi and Kinako filled with Japanese red bean paste. SO GOOD
As Nara is really close to Osaka and Kyoto, It’s not so common for people to actually stay over in Nara. People tend to come to Nara for the day. However, during festivals and events, it may be preferable to stay the night in Nara and the Ryokans here are particularly beautiful and historical. It is an experience in itself to stay at one of the Ryokans in Nara.
5 Star ♦♦♦♦♦
â–ºRecommendation: My favorite hotel in Kansai. 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 ♦♦♦♦
â–ºRecommendation: 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.