When border restrictions ease, travel to Japan will be high on any Japanophile’s list. Here’s a summary of some of the highlights of Nara city for those who haven’t been, and a nice reminder for those who have and enjoyed its unique offering.
Lesser known than the other ancient capital, Kyoto, Nara is highly recommended for any visit to Japan. Nara was originally called Yamato and can be compared to a living museum of Japan’s history, art and architecture. Visiting transports you back to times of old, as the
In 752, while Nara was Japan’s capital’s, probably one of the most famous temples in Japan, Todaiji Temple, was constructed as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. A World Heritage temple, it features the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall), one of the world’s largest wooden structures, which houses Japan’s largest indoor Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at a staggering 15m high. Nigatsudo hall is within the temple grounds and features views across Nara and you enter the temple grounds by passing through Nandaimon Gate, which has two 8metre tall guardian figures.
Nara’s Seven Great Temples include Todaiji, Saidaiji, Yakushiji, Horyuji, Kofukuji, Gangoji and Daianji, which are mentioned in the New Herbs chapter in classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji. Todaiji is housed within Nara Park, which is home to free-roaming deer who don’t restrict themselves to the park’s 660 hectares and can be seen on the main streets surrounding the park. There are stores in Nara Park which sell senbei (crackers) to feed the deer, but take care as the deer are known to bite more than the senbei and have been known to be uninvited guests to those enjoying a picnic in Nara Park. Some call them the devious deer of Nara.
Within a short distance of Todaiji lies Shinto Shrine Kasuga Taisha, which was built in 768. It is Nara’s most celebrated shrine and is famous for its more than 3000 lanterns which have been donated by its worshippers. The lanterns are lit twice a year during summer (mid August) and winter (early February) during its Lantern Festivals.
Nara National Museum is a treasure trove of Japanese Buddhist art, which was constructed in 1889 and is in itself a classic piece of architecture. For those interested in traditional architecture, Naramachi lies east of Nara Park and its narrow, winding streets are a collection of traditional merchant houses, which now include traditional sweet shops, traditional crafts, boutique ryokan and art galleries. A distinct feature are the Migawarisaru, strings of red and white silk monkeys, which hang from the eaves of houses and are said to protect the residents.