Nara arguably 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.
I would have never come across this jewel of Japan if my cousin didn’t live here. She lives in the Nara prefecture, in Tenri, which meant I had plenty of time to explore Nara to its fullest whilst she was at work during the day.
Most visitors only have a day – or an afternoon for Nara, which is enough time to hurry through Nara Park, but leaves out some other worthy sights and experiences in the area. If you have the luxury of a few extra days like I did, you’ll find a lot more to discover.
If you’re staying in the Naramachi area, then start your first day with a leisurely wander around the streets of the old merchant area, poking your head into any small museums that catch your eye.
The main sights in Nara Park, especially Tōdai-ji, are going to be crowded at any time of the day. There’s no sense in rushing to get there at dawn to have it to yourself; the deer have the place staked out around the clock. Instead, make your way over to Nara Park at your own pace. Try to begin or end your day at Tōdai-ji for a look at the spectacular Daibutsu-den and the Daibutsu. Don’t plot out a strict time-managed course, though. The atmosphere of Nara Park is a true marvel, especially if you’ve spent the last several days shuttling around on a train or plane. Don’t search; discover.
At the edges of the park, you’ll find Kōfuku-ji and its five-story pagoda, the terrific view from Sarusawa-no-ike Pond, and the Nara National Museum. Heading back towards the centre, there is a path that leads to the Kasuga-yama Hill Primeval Forest. You’re bound to come across Kasuga Taisha and its famous stone lanterns somewhere in the midst of it. Take your time, and see where the path takes you. On the other edge of the forest, you may come across Shin Yakushi-ji and its warrior guardian statues.
In the morning, I would definitely consider going to Isui-en garden; it is at the edge of Nara Park if you’re keen on Japanese gardens. The following two sites are relatively close to each other.
* Tōshōdai-ji Temple – a must-see if choosing this route
* Yakushi-ji Temple
Towards the end of the day I would definitely recommend heading to the owl cafe “watawata” to have some Japanese tea, biscuits and pet some owls.
When you get peckish I suggest heading down Sanjo dori where there is an array of amazing restaurants- Japanese, Chinese, Italian, you name it.
Wherever you go next it will most likely be a bustling city like Osaka, Kyoto or even Tokyo. Therefore, to end your stay in Nara why not do a morning hike along Yamanobe-no-michi trail. Depending on how much time you have you can start anywhere between Tenri and Sakurai, seeing beautiful shrines, ancient tombs and temples, beautiful lakes and forest paths along the way. It is about a four hour hike altogether and the perfect way to end your short stay in one of the lesser-known areas of Japan. (FYI: I realise I’m wearing the same top on days 1 and 3- don’t judge)
Student Journalist, Creative Writer, Poet, Traveller, Eco Warrior