In this article I will write about what places to visit on one day trip to Nara in order not to lose time and visit as many places as possible, exploiting the day at its fullest:
Some information about Nara:
Nara is first Japan’s capital and the most ancient city in the country; it was used as Imperial Residence during 奈良時代 (Nara Period 710–784) but later moved to Nagoya, and then to Heiankyo, since Buddhism’s power and influence were rising exponentially in the city. As consequence, it made Emperor’s role less important and he batten down the hatches. As proof of this growing Buddhism’s influence, I can mention Emperor Shomu that wanted every provinces to be provided with a Buddhist temple,among them the Todaiji, the biggest and the most important one. Nara’s urban planning was modeled after that time chinese capital, Xi’an.
How to Reach from Kyoto:
Cities in japan are very well-connected to each other as public transport has hugely developed throughout the years, for this reason you do not need to worry about moving around in the country. First of all, to reach Nara from Kyoto you need to head to the central station and from there, buy a ticket for Nara, which is 710 yen, and get on the train of the JR Nara Line. The journey usually takes less than one hour. The length can, however, depend on the kind of train you get on, as I explained in my previous article.
- Yakushiji – 薬師寺
This is one of those places that the most part of tourists tend to avoid, it is not famous therefore when we visited here, there were just a few Japanese tourists, the only westerns were my father and I. The whole construction reminded me of chinese temples and then I, later, discovered that, somehow, chinese influenced this complex. It was built by Emperor Tenmu to celebrate the recovery of his sick wife.
Yakushiji is rumoured to be one of the oldest temples in Japan and it is perfectly symmetric. At the center there is the Main Hall and on the sides two pagodas. The west pagoda, along with the main hall, underwent many fires occurred throughout the centuries, therefore rebuilt; while East Pagoda is said to have kept its original structure but at the time I went there, it was under renovation works.
Proceeding inside the temple complex, you encounter a beautiful octagonal hall that reminded me more of chinese temples than japanese ones xD I, later, read that it was constructed to honour the chinese monk Genjo-sanzo, famous for his several trips through India and Asia. It is also said his remains are kept inside this structure.
Like Toji, this area is crazily huge and there is much to see, we even entered a monk house, which is located somewhere inside the religious complex, where we tried to read some buddhist manuscripts and saw some monks in their daily life. This place was quite special as it is far away from normal tourist spots and allows you to have a deeper look into real Japanese culture.
- How to Reach:
It can be reached by bus number 70, 72 and 97 from JR Nara Station, the trip takes 15 minutes and costs 260 yen.
2. Kofukuji – 兴福寺
The first temple you encounter when you set your feet in Nara is Kofukuji that was the Family Temple of the Fajiwaras, the most powerful clan during Nara and Heian Periods. Fujiwaras’ power started in Asuka Period but grew even stronger during Heian Period, with the foundation of the first samurai clans. In the past, the religious complex consisted of more than 100 buildings but now it is composed of Eastern Golden Hall, flanked by the five-storied pagoda, just a few meter shorter than Toji’s, making it the second tallest pagoda in whole Japan.
You do not need to pay any kinds of tickets, as the temple is on the way to reach Nara city centre. The area is actually a park, where the locals go and sit down chatting or even painting the surrounding landscape. Just on the opposite side of the pagoda, an octagonal hall can be found and for me it is the best piece of the complex! I took such nice photos there :3
3. Kasuga Taisha – 春日大社
Kasuga Taisha is a Shinto Sanctuary that was built at the same time as the capital. Like the Ise Shrine, Kasuga Taisha was rebuilt every 20 years throughout the centuries but this practice fell into disuse during Edo Period. Before reaching the Shrine, we walked through a mysterious but impressive path that lead us through the wood, where the shadows of the trees covered the sunlight but still, some rays were passing through their branches, creating a magical atmosphere. We were also surrounded by hundred and hundred lanterns, and here and there we found hungry deers searching for food. I was a bit scared, as it seemed to be in those japanese horror anime with frightening ghosts xD
Despite this, I really enjoyed walking until the Sanctuary, located at the end of the path. Shinto Shrines are usually free, that means you do not need to pay any tickets, but this was different and in order to access, you had to pay so we just gave up on this idea and saw the main accessing gate.
Later, I found out that the lanterns have been donated by the worshippers and are lit only during “Lantern Festivals“, which take place in February and in August. Many other auxiliary temples related to Kasuga Taisha are scattered around and some can be found along the path we walked through and mainly dedicated to the Gods of Fortune.
4. Todaiji – 東大寺
Todaiji, meaning “The Great Eastern Temple“, was built during Nara Period by Shomu Emperor, who was a faithful follower of Buddha and his teachings. The main hall hosts the Daibutsu, the great buddha, which is the biggest bronze Buddha in the world.
The temple’s area covers part of Nara Park that is famous for the great amount of Deers wandering around freely and seeking for kind tourists to feed him. They are so many and toooo cute *^* but they really are hungry and always think you have something for them so they are ready to bite you xD
You can find some of them sleeping near the lanterns by allowing me to get a few picturesque photos. The temple is often crowded with tourists but the area is so huge that you can move freely around. Another important part of Todaiji is the wooden Nandaimon Gate, protected by two menacing statues.
- How to reach:
I did not take any public transport in Nara, just the train from Kyoto, so I really cannot recommend any buses or other kinds of transports. I can just say, you’d better walk around because it allows you to explore deeper the city and enjoy the beautiful nature and deers that are omnipresent in the old capital.
Of course, Nara has surely much more to offer but if you are planning a one day trip there, I highly recommend to follow these routes. I would like to come back and have a peaceful picnic at the park together with the kawaii deers <33
Have you ever been to Nara? What did you enjoy the most about the city? Did the deers approach you? Let me know your experiences in the comments below 😉