Nara (奈良市) is an ancient capital city in Nara Prefecture, Kansai region of Japan. Throughout 2010 the city celebrated its 1300th anniversary. Overshadowed by its more famous neighbor Kyoto, Nara is omitted from many a time-pressed tourist's itinerary. However, Nara is home to many important scenic and historical sites, and today preserves its main sights much more attractively than Kyoto within Nara Park and neighborhoods like Naramachi.
Along with the development of Heijōkyō (平城京), the capital of Japan between 710-784 AD, Nara flourished under the influence of Buddhism, leading to the creation of an enormous number of cultural assets, buildings and books, many of which are preserved today. Nara has the largest number of buildings designated National Treasures in Japan.
While the Heijōkyō Palace (平城宮) site turned into plain fields after the capital was moved to Kyoto, the shrines and temples were left on the east side of the palace (called Gekyo (外京)), and Buddhism remained influential throughout the following centuries. Another part of the area developed as a merchant town, notably in the Edo period, known as Naramachi (奈良町) today.
Eight places in the old capital Nara have been inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" since 1998, including five Buddhist temples, one Shinto shrine, an imperial palace and a primeval forest.
From Kansai Airport, Airport Limousine buses run to the two Nara train stations every hour (¥2000, 1 1/2 hours). More frequent service is available by rail: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can take the Haruka limited express to Tennoji station and then transfer to the Yamatoji line for the run to Nara (¥2900, no charge with rail pass). Otherwise, it's cheaper to take the Nankai Railway's Kūkō-Kyūkō (空港急行) express train to Shin-Imamiya, and then take the JR Yamatoji line from there (¥1430). With good connections, both trips take around 1 1/4 hours and 1 1/2 hours, respectively.
Limousine buses connect Itami Airport to the two Nara train stations for ¥1440; the ride takes about one hour.
From Kyoto Station, both the JR Nara Line and the private Kintetsu Kyoto Line will get you to Nara quickly. The Kintetsu Nara Station is better located than the JR Nara Station, and all-reserved Tokkyū (特急) trains leave Kyoto twice an hour, making the run to Nara in 35 minutes. On slower but more-frequent Kyūkō (急行) services, the trip takes about 50 minutes and you may need to change trains at Yamato-Saidaiji Station. The trip costs ¥620, plus ¥500 extra on the Tokkyū. For Japan Rail Pass holders, JR's Miyakoji Kaisoku (みやこ路快速) runs during mid-day hours from Kyoto to Nara in 45 minutes (¥690, no charge with rail pass).
A select number of Kyoto subway trains on the Karasuma line (running north-south) run directly to Kintetsu Nara, offering convenient one-seat rides for those coming from the northern part of Kyoto city. These trains are designated as express trains to Nara - running local through the subway, then continuing to Nara as an express service. For example, a one-seat journey to Nara from Kyoto's Shijō subway station (connection with the Hankyu Railway) costs ¥860 and takes one hour.
The fastest route from Osaka is to take the private Kintetsu Nara Line from Namba Station. Kaisoku-Kyūkō (快速急行) trains run three times per hour to Kintetsu Nara (40 minutes, ¥540). For Japan Rail Pass holders, JR runs up to three Yamatoji Kaisoku (大和路快速) trains each hour from Osaka, Tennōji, and intermediate stations on the Osaka Loop Line. The run to Nara is 45 minutes from Osaka Station and 30 minutes from Tennōji (¥780 and ¥450 respectively, no charge with rail pass).
Hanshin offers services from Kobe's Sannomiya Station to Kintetsu Nara via the Hanshin Namba line for ¥940. Direct Kaisoku-Kyūkō services leave three times per hour during most of the day; otherwise, you change trains at Amagasaki. The trip takes about 90 minutes.
If traveling between Kyoto, Nara and Osaka consider purchasing the Kansai thru-pass which enables unlimited travel for 2 or 3 days on private railways, buses and subways (not-JR) in the Kansai area.
As Nara is a major tourist attraction, there are a good number of buses that run between Nara and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to train fares.
The following buses run from Tokyo and take approximately 7-8 hours to reach Nara: (Current as of March, 2012)
A major operator of the bus routes from the Tokyo area is JR Bus (Japanese website). Seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. JR Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and the JR Highway Bus Terminal (JR高速バスターミナル) located adjacent to Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line (one stop south of Shinjuku). In Nara, buses stop at the JR Nara train station.
JR Bus offers, in order of comfort and price, Seishun (youth) buses with 2x2 seating configurations, Standard buses with individual seats arranged 1x1x1, and Premium Buses that offer wider seats and more amenities.
JR Bus' overnight one-way fares to/from Tokyo start from approximately ¥3500 for overnight trips in Seishun buses up to ¥7400 for premium buses with advanced purchase. Daytime buses to Kyoto start from ¥4200, from which Nara can easily be reached by train. Fares are typically higher on weekends and holidays.
Discount bus operator Willer Express does not operate any direct bus services into Nara. The nearest Willer Express stop is in Kyoto, from which you can easily reach Nara by train. The advantage to using Willer is that journeys can be booked online in English, and their Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions.
Direct buses to Nara
A few bus operators run direct service between Tokyo and Nara, stopping at both Kintetsu Nara and JR Nara train stations, without going through Kyoto:
- Keisei Bus: Runs from Tokyo Disneyland (¥9480 one-way), Tokyo Sky Tree (¥8400), Keisei Ueno station in Ueno, Tokyo (¥8400), and the Yokohama City Air Terminal adjacent to Yokohama station (¥7800).
- Nara Kotsu/Kanto Bus: Runs from Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal and the Shinjuku Keio Plaza Hotel. ¥8400 one-way; trip discounts are sometimes available.
Once within Nara Park, you can walk to almost all the other major sites. The conventional round course (from Kintetsu Nara Station to Kōfuku-ji, Nara National Museum, Tōdai-ji, Kasuga Taisha and back to Kintetsu Nara Station) is about 6km long, a pleasant walk for the typical tourist.
- Nara Kotsu Bus Service. Adults ¥180, children 12 and under ¥90. The City Route Loop runs every 30 minutes.
Several temples are on the outskirts of town. Tōshōdai-ji, Yakushi-ji, and Horyu-ji are accessible from JR and Kintetsu Nara train stations without change by Nara-Nishinokyo-Ikaruga Excursion Bus line (Line No. 97).
- Tōshōdai-ji (E-8) from JR and Kintetsu Nara stations (E-6, E-7), ¥240.
- Yakushi-ji (E-10) from JR and Kintetsu Nara stations (E-6, E-7), ¥320.
- Hōryu-ji (E-15) from JR and Kintetsu Nara stations (E-6, E-7), ¥760.
See also World Heritage Tour in Nara.
Taxis are available at Nara but those who do not know Japanese may find it difficult to make the Taxi-driver understand where they want to go.
If you only have one day to spend in Nara, focus on Nara Park. With more time, though, there's more to see.
Most of Nara's sights, including temples, shrines and famously mercenary deer, are concentrated in Nara Park (奈良公園 Nara-kōen), a wide, pleasant space of greenery. According to legend, the god of the Kasuga Taisha came riding a white deer in the old days, so the deer enjoy protected status as envoys of the god; however, based on their current behavior, either the deer have lost the job, or the god has taken an extremely passionate interest in biscuits from tourists (¥150), empty food wrappers and harassing shopkeepers.
- 1 Tōdai-ji (東大寺). Nov-Feb 8AM-4:30PM, Apr-Sep 7:30AM-5:30PM, Mar and Oct 8AM-5PM. Home to the famous Daibutsu (大仏), the largest Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The Daibutsu-den, which houses it, is said to be the largest wooden building in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The giant front gate, Nandai-mon, is guarded by two fierce, awe-inspiring protectors. It's also swarmed by deer, who know this is the best place to come looking for a hand-out. Through the gate is a stone path leading to the outer walls surrounding the Daibutsu-den. Follow the signs to the left to enter the inner courtyard, and if you happen to have a stick of incense with you, join the crowd around the incense offerings before you head onward. The Daibutsu-den contains four other giant statues. Once you've taken in the Daibutsu itself, walk around it to the left to see the other statues, as well as a few old tiles and leftover relics. There's a stand inviting you to sponsor a tile in order to help with the upkeep of the temple, and English-language fortune scrolls (omikuji) are on sale year-round. Take a final look at the Daibutsu as you leave; don't let the souvenir stand be your last memory of this incredible sight. Just before the souvenir area, behind and to the right of the Daibutsu, is a wooden column with a small hole carved through the bottom. Enlightenment is reportedly promised to anyone who can squeeze through this hole. In practice, this means a lot of kids have enlightenment in store (thanks in part to other kids who kick their feet to "help" them through), and all but the skinniest adults can only look on in envy. To the right of the entrance to the Daibutsu-den is a statue of the Yakushi Nyorai. Though a bit scary-looking on first glance, it's actually a Buddha of medicine and healing. Touching a part of the Yakushi Nyorai and then the corresponding part of your own body is said to heal any ailments you have there. ¥500.
- 2 Kōfuku-ji (興福寺), 登大路町４８, ☎ . 9AM-5PM. This temple has a three-story and a five-story pagoda; historically, the latter has contended with Kyoto's Toji for the title of Tallest Pagoda in Japan, although Kofuku-ji seems to have surrendered for now. Eastern Golden Hall ¥500.
- 3 Sarusawa Pond (猿沢の池), 登大路町４９. This small pond at the east end of Sanjō-dōri with Nara Park behind or Naramachi to its south is a very popular viewing spot for Kōfukuji.
- 4 Nara National Museum (奈良国立博物館), 50 Noborioji-cho, ☎ . 9:30AM-5PM. This museum has one of the world's best collections of Buddhist art and changing exhibitions. The National Treasure Hall has an impressive collection of statues. There are "English Guides" inside the museum however, they do not guide you through the museum; instead they are there to answer questions. The guides are highly knowledgeable, so if you can think of questions that require explanation, you can learn a lot more about the exhibits, Buddhism, and Buddhist art. Each year for about 2 weeks in late October - early November (dates vary) the museum hosts on a rotating basis a part of the collection of Shōsōin, the Tōdai-ji treasury (which is closed to the public). Expect enormous queues, as this is a notable event in the cultural calendar of the country, and tourists from all over Japan converge on Nara at this time. ¥500; special exhibitions up to ¥2000.
- 5 Himuro Shrine (氷室神社 Himuro Jinja) (10-minute walk from the Kintetsu Nara station. Across the street from the Nara National Museum.), ☎ . 7AM-5PM. A shrine dating from 1217 and home to several fine cherry trees. Although the architecture is unremarkable, the trees in front of the shrine explode into beautiful clouds of pale pink and white blossoms in spring (late March-early April).
- 6 Ukimidō (浮見堂). A hexagonal building built on Sagiike Pond in Nara Park so that it appears to float on water.
- 7 Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), 春日野町１６０, ☎ . Worth a visit for the beautiful approach, through the Kasuga-yama Primeval Forest (see below), more than the temple itself. What Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Taisha is for torii, Kasuga Taisha is for stone lanterns. Notice the giant rack of sake barrels near the front gate and the fountain-statue of a giant buck. The temple is occasionally closed for services, but a walk around the outside is likely to be no less rewarding. Grounds free, inside of shrine ¥500, treasure hall ¥400.
- 8 Kasuga-yama Primeval Forest (春日山原生林). A gorgeous hill of wild, undeveloped forest leading to Kasuga Taisha and some of the other sights in Nara Koen. The path is clearly marked, though, so don't worry about getting lost. It's a quiet walk at any time of day. If you're determined to feed some deer, save your biscuits for the ones out here instead of the loafers by Todai-ji.
- 9 Isui-en Garden (依水園), 水門町７４ (Between Kasuga Taisha and Kintetsu Nara Station.), ☎ . 9:30AM-4PM. Enjoy the magnificently arranged garden with full of flowers, surrounded by all the rest of Nara Park. ¥650.
- 10 Yoshikien Garden (吉城園), 60-1, Noborioji-cho, Nara City 630-8213 (Between Kasuga Taisha and Kintetsu Nara Station. Right beside the Isui-en Garden), ☎ . 9AM-5PM. Really nice garden that is worth a visit because it is free. Can be coupled with the Isui-en Garden as the entrances are right beside each other. ¥250; free for foreigners.
- 11 Shin-Yakushi-ji (新薬師寺), 高畑町１３５２ (Can be reached through the primeval forest; follow the signs from Kasuga Taisha), ☎ . 9AM-5PM. It's a single hall with twelve ferocious warrior statues (each with his own collection plate) standing guard by a Buddha of healing. The statues are quite impressive — this is as well-protected a Buddha as you're likely to find. Adults ¥600, JHS-HS students ¥350, children ¥150.
- 12 Nara City Museum of Photography (奈良市写真美術館), 600-1 Takabatake-chō (Near Shin-Yakushi-ji, a couple blocks outside Nara Park), ☎ . 9:30AM-5PM. The steel-and-glass building sits as if reflected upon the linear pond that surrounds it. Inside, there are reasonably interesting exhibits of photography on local subjects like the Mount Wakakusa Fire Festival (see below). ¥300.
- 13 Yakushi-ji (薬師寺), 457 Nishinokyo-chō (A short walk from Nishinokyo Station and Toshodai-ji), ☎ . 8:30AM-5PM. Although most of the temple was reconstructed in the 1970s after a fire, Yakushi-ji is still worth the visit. The Buddhist Yakushi trinity housed in the hondo is a great work, and the two pagodas on each side of the temple make it a unique and recognizable complex. The east pagoda has survived and dates back to 730 AD. Like Gango-ji, Yakushi-ji was one of the seven top temples in the city during the Nara Period. ¥800.
- 14 Gangō-ji (元興寺), 11 Chuin-chō (In Nara-machi, near Kofuku-ji), ☎ . 9AM-5PM. It was considered to be one of the seven most important temples in Nara back in the days when Nara was the nation's capital. The original temple burned down in the 18th century, but the architectural style remains true to the original, with its unique Korean-style roof. The mandala within the temple is one of the most famous in the nation. Around the outside of the temple there are many Buddhist statues, but perhaps more interesting are the various demon statues scattered about among them. While the Buddhist statues are quite typical and obviously religious, the demon statues are comical and seem out-of-place. Some even appear sacrilegious, with a demon doing Zen meditation among the Buddhist statues and another in a rather erotic centerfold-like pose. There is a story that supposedly associates the demons with the temple. For visitors, it is fun to try to spot them all. ¥400.
- 15 Heijōkyū Palace Site (平城宮跡), 2-9-1 Nijo-chō, ☎ . The Suzaku Gate (朱雀門) is a replica, along with the newly built Daigoku-den (大極殿). In the center of this large expanse of land you'll find the best preserved excavation area, with some foundation structures on the site. On the rest of the grounds, you can still see where structures once stood by looking at the elevated and sunken areas. On opposite ends of the site there are museums where you can learn about the history of the palace, see artifacts recovered from the excavation, and learn about the excavation process. As a part of 1300th anniversary celebration in 2010, there are free shuttles running from JR Nara, Kintetsu Nara and Yamato Saidaiji stations.
- 16 Tōshōdai-ji (唐招提寺), 13-46 Gojo-chō, (A short walk from Nishinokyo Station and Yakushi-ji), ☎ . 8:30AM-5PM. A temple that was important in helping to spread Buddhist teachings in Japan, Toshodai-ji is where the great Chinese priest Ganjin preached. His grave is within the precincts of the temple. ¥600, ¥700 with treasure house.
- 17 Nara Century Hall (なら100年会館), 7-1 Sanjo Miyamae-machi (Next to JR Nara station), ☎ . Hosts a variety of events, concerts, and musicals. Sometimes a flea market is held in front of the hall.
- Mount Wakakusa Fire Festival (若草山焼き Wakakusa-yamayaki), Wakakusayama, Nara Park. The night before the 2nd Monday in January. In case of bad weather the date may change, so call to check.. Great fireworks and the dry grass on the slopes of this mountain is set on fire by two temples. The size of the burn depends on how dry the grass is.
- 1 Shuni-e (Omozu-tori) (修二会 (お水取り)), Nigatsu-dō, Todai-ji.. Mar 1-14, evening. An annual Buddhist memorial service that has been carried out first in 752 AD and continues today without a year off. Priests run around the Nigatsu-dō carrying large flaming torches.
- Nara Tōka-e (なら燈火会). Aug 6-15. An annual light festival. 10,000 candles illuminate the area around Nara Park and major temples.
- Deer-horn Cutting Ceremony, Rokuen, Nara Park. Oct.. Deer have their horns cut to prevent people from being injured.
- Naramachi (奈良町) (Ten minutes on foot south of Kintetsu Nara station.). The neighborhood, originally founded in the 8th Century when Heijōkyō was the capital of Japan, today contains several small museums, machiya (町家) (traditional Japanese merchant houses from Edo Period), unique cafes and restaurants. (David Bowie is rumored to have owned a house here.) It's well worth the time to stop and do a tasting at Harushika (春鹿), Naramachi's fabulous Nihon-shu (sake) brewery.
- Saturday Walking Tour (Meet the guide and fellow walkers by 9:55AM in front of the Tourist Information Center on the ground floor of Kintetsu Nara Station.). Apr-Jul, Sep-Nov Sa 10AM-1PM. This tour is led by a professional English-speaking local guide. You will see old "machiya" houses and lively local alleys full of interesting sights. The tour ends near Kasuga Shrine and Todai-ji Temple so that you can visit these major sights of Nara afterwards. adults ¥2000, children under 15 free.
- Nara Walk (meet the guide at JR Nara Station). Mar - Sep: daily 10:00AM. Tour covers popular destinations around Nara Park: Great Buddha, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Deer Park and Kasuga Grand Shrine. Reservations not necessary for regular tours. Private tours or tours in French available with reservation. ¥3000.
- Nara YMCA Goodwill Guides, ☎ .
- Nara Student Guide, ☎ .
- Nara S.G.G. Club, ☎ .
There are many English conversation schools near Kintetsu Station.
Narazuke (奈良漬), a local specialty pickle made of various vegetables and fruit and traditionally melon cucumber, is quite popular. The distinctive strong flavor comes from the use of sakekasu, the sediment of sake fermentation, and the pickle also has some residual alcohol. Nara is also famous for its calligraphy brushes, called narafude (奈良筆), which are available in the specialist stores on Sanjō-dōri Avenue. However, as these brushes are made with a special kind of animal hair, they are expensive and rare, and customers will need to make a specific request for them. Other brushes sold in the specialist stores will be less expensive than narafude, but still generally of reputable quality. Lastly, Nara sarashi (奈良晒), or Nara fabrics are a local specialty. Originally made of boehmeria variation plants in the older ages, cotton has become the major material since Edo Period. Towels, handkerchiefs, blankets, blinds and many other cloth products can be found in stores on Mochiidono Shopping Street or in the Naramachi area. One other unusual local specialty is chopsticks and other small objects carved from the sawn-off horns of the Nara Koen deer. They should be readily available from any tourist stall in the park, but for best selection and prices travel east from Todai-ji until you bump against the barren side of Wakakusa-yama and turn right - the entire right-hand side of the street is taken up by two-story shops, with souvenirs on the ground floors and shokudo (Japanese fast food restaurants) up top. Just follow the throngs of students being herded there for a bite after seeing the sights.
- Higashimuki Shopping Street (東向き商店街) (Starts at Kintetsu Nara Station and stretches about 250m south.). A covered shopping arcade with many souvenir shops and restaurants.
- Yamazaki-ya (山崎屋), 5 Higashimuki Minamimachi (Along the covered Higashimuki Shopping Street.), ☎ . 10AM-8PM. A well-known purveyor of narazuke.
- Mochiidono Shopping Street (もちいどの商店街) (Ends at the center of Naramachi, and connects to Higashimuki Shopping Street.). Another covered arcade.
- Sanjō-dōri Avenue (三条通り) (Between JR Nara Station and the south end of Higashimuki Shopping Street.). Many souvenir shops, traditional writing brush and ink stores, narazuke stores as well as various bars and restaurants are located on this avenue. Most major banks have a branch here.
- Nara Family (ならファミリー), 2-4-1 Saidaiji Higachi-cho (3 minutes walk from Yamato-Saidaiji Station.). 10AM-9PM. One of the largest shopping malls in Kansai.
A local specialty is kaki-no-hazushi (柿の葉ずし), which is sushi (usually mackerel or salmon) wrapped in persimmon leaves, and actually originates from nearby Yoshino. Kudzu, also from Yoshino, is a very renowned product of Nara, which is used for making various food ranging from kudzu noodles (葛切り kuzu-kiri) to Japanese sweets (和菓子 wagashi). Somen (thin wheat noodles) from Miwa region (三輪そうめん Miwa sōmen) have a history as old as Nara. The noodles are served either hot or cold. Another well-known culinary product is shika-senbei, a rice cracker sold around Nara Park. Don't try eating it yourself though — it's meant for the deer! Note that closing times may be as early as 10PM.
- Sanshū-tei (三秀亭), In the Isui-en Garden (依水園).. W-M 11:30AM-1:30PM. It's worth a visit more for the attractive old house and garden than the menu, which consists of two very traditional dishes: mugi tororo (plain rice with ground yam, ¥1200), and unagi tororo (the same with grilled eel, ¥2500).
- Hiraso (平宗), 30-1 Imamikado-cho (south of Sarusawa Pond), ☎ . Tu-Su 10AM-8PM. nice sampling of local foods such as kakinohazushi and chagayu (tea gruel, which tastes better than it sounds) are included in dinner sets miyoshino and heijou. An English picture menu available. Around ¥2500.
- Udon-tei (うどん亭), 6 Higashimuki-Nakamachi (inside Higashimuki Shopping Street arcade), ☎ . Daily 11AM-8:30PM. Serves udon (thick wheat noodles) in various ways: hot or cold, plain or with tempura, etc. Always packed with local people at lunch times. Suitable for time-savers and relatively small appetites. ¥500-1000.
- Okaru (おかる), 13 Higashimuki-Minamimachi (inside Higashimuki Shopping Street arcade), ☎ . Th-Tu 11AM-9PM, open on W if it's a holiday. A restaurant specialized in okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), a pan-fried cabbage cake with selection of meat. Okonomiyaki is definitely shortlisted on Kansai people's most beloved dishes. A choice of western or traditional Japanese tables are available. English menu available. ¥530-1500.
- Totogin (inside Higashimuki Shopping Street arcade off the south-east entrance near the Kintetsu Nara stop), ☎ . 11AM-10PM. A conveyor-belt sushi restaurant that won't break your wallet. Sushi is handmade and prepared fresh; just watch out as the different plates correspond to different prices so read the menu (both sides) carefully before chowing down. starting at ¥126 per sushi plate.
- Yatagarasu (やたがらす), 13-1 Hayashi-kōji-cho, ☎ . Daily 5PM-midnight. Fresh poultry from local farms cooked and served in many different ways (eg. grilled, fried, even raw) with a variety of either local or other regional sake available. Around ¥2500 depending on your appetite.
- Nara Shōya (奈良庄屋), 48-5 Takama-cho (Keiwa building B1F), ☎ . Daily 11:30AM-2PM, 4:30PM-11PM. A branch of large chain pub restaurant with traditional food like raw fish (さしみ sashimi), sushi, tempura, yakitori available. Though little (except for sake) is Nara local, quality of food is excellent for a chain type of restaurant. The restaurant is always filled with a dynamic, yet agreeable mood.
- Maguro Koya (まぐろ小屋) (Exit Kintetsu Nara station, and you'll see a fountain of a Buddhist monk. Cross the lights to the other side of the big street there, and go into the small street that runs perpendicular to the big street. Walk a couple hundred meters, passing an am/pm convenience store on your right, and you will see an Asahi beer sign on the road, with the words まぐろ小屋 written on it on your left side.). A tiny hole-in-the-wall place that specializes in tuna. Tekka-don (rice bowl with raw slices of tuna and thinly sliced nori), tuna karaage (breaded deep fried pieces of tuna), tataki (seared on the outside, raw on the inside slices of tuna), and many other methods of preparations. For most meals you can choose a maguro (tuna), honmaguro toro (Japanese fatty tuna), or chuutoro (fatty tuna) version of the dish. The proprietor is an ojiisan (elderly gentleman) who seems to really like what he's doing, is friendly and welcoming.
Alternatively, you can take out kaki-no-hazushi, the persimmon leaf wrapped sushi, which is actually very popular for domestic travellers. There are three kaki-no-hazushi stores that can be easily spotted around Kintetsu Nara Station. Packages of various size and combination are available.
- Nakatani Honpo (中谷本舗) (Inside the Kintetsu Station concourse.).
- Honpo Tanaka (本舗たなか) (In front of the bus terminal and taxi zone above Kintetsu Nara Station.).
- Maruchū (丸忠) (In the Kintetsu Nara Station concourse.). A take-out sushi store with a selection of prepared packages. ¥400-1000.
Yamato-cha (大和茶) is the locally produced Japanese green tea which is healthy and tasty. There are also numerous sake brands, among which is Harushika brand, produced by one of the oldest existing sake breweries in Japan.
- Kuramoto Hoshuku (蔵元 豊祝), 28 Higashimuki (Nara Kintetsu Bldg B1F) (in the Kintetsu Nara Station concourse), ☎ . Daily 11:30AM-2PM, 4PM-9PM. Directly operated by a local brewery Nara Toyosawa. A popular drop-by place for people commuting back home on Kintetsu lines. Sake test set of 3 small glasses ¥350, snack and either sake or beer ¥500.
- Wembley Crown (ザ・ウェンブリー・クラウン), Nishimura Bldg, 14 Mochiidonochou (A 3-min. walk from the north entrance of Mochiidono Center Arcade, on the east side.), ☎ . 5PM-11PM. A British pub with local and import beers, pub food and naturally premier league, rugby and other English sports on the TV.
- House of the Rising Sun (大和茶 蔵祝), 299 Namibashi-Kudo 2-chome, ☎ . Popular foreigner bar.
- Harushika Brewery, 24-1 Fukuchiincho, Nara 630-8381. A highlight of Naramachi neighbourhood. Taste six sake flavors distilled here with accompanying narazuke for ¥500. The brewery will guide you through the different taste profiles (with varying dryness and fruitiness).
As usual throughout Japan, make your reservation as early as possible for August (the time of yearly vacations and Bon festivals, when it is customary for the Japanese to travel to their and their ancestors' birthplaces) and around Christmas/New Year, and also in early November, when Shosoin treasures are on display at the National Museum. Cheaper accommodations may sell out and/or raise prices.
- 1 Takama Guest House (たかまゲストハウス), 27-1 Nasiharacho, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. This Japanese style house transformed into a cosy hostel is run by a modest welcoming guy. It has two clean 4 bed dorms for ¥2000 per person and a double for ¥3000 per person. Free Wi-Fi and a shared PC available. It was opened around September 2011. ¥2000.
- 2 Yuzan Guesthouse (遊山ゲストハウス), 1-4-10 Omiya-cho (Use the WEST exit of the JR station. Walk into the Nikko Hotel entrance and use the escalators to go downstairs. Walk through the mini shopping area and cross the road at the intersection on your left (Sanjo Honmachi). You can see a pharmacy and convenience store (Takiya). Cross the road and stay on the left side.), ☎ . Check-in: 4PM-10PM, check-out: 11AM. This is a Japanese style house that has a very cozy feel. Owner speaks good English and is very helpful. Free Wi-Fi and a shared PC available. Bike rentals and Western breakfast available. Ceilings are low so be prepared to hit your head on random beams often. Mixed dorms start at ¥2400.
- 3 Ryokan Seikanso (旅館静観荘), 29 Higashi-Kitsuji-cho (15 minutes south of Nara Kintetsu station, along Mochiidono Street.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 10AM. In the Naramachi section of the town, among the tangle of narrow lanes and old houses. Tatami mats, classical architecture, and a well-kept inner garden feature in this traditional ryokan. The rooms are showing their age, but each features a samovar for tea and a small room with a table overlooking the garden. The shared bathrooms have been recently remodeled. Japanese/Western breakfast for ¥700/450 is served in the tatami dining room. Curfew 11PM. The manager speaks very passable English, can lend you a variety of guidebooks (in several languages) and puts out his own laptop in the common room in the mornings and evenings for guests to catch up on e-mail. ¥4320.
- 4 Ryokan Matsumae (旅館松前), 28-1 Higashi-Terabayashi-cho (Located off Sanjo-dori, close to Sarusawa Pond and Gango-ji. About 7 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station and 15 minutes from JR Nara.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The owners profess to be familiar with Buddha statue carving and calligraphy. Single without bath ¥5250, single with bath ¥5750, double without bath ¥8820, double with bath ¥9450, triple without bath ¥13,230, triple with bath ¥14,175.
- 5 ML International Hostel, 2-11-1-5f Shibatsuji-cho (30 second walk from Shin-Omiya Station), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 10AM. A cozy hostel run by a very friendly and helpful Japanese gentleman. Easy access to train station. 8 bed mixed dorm, kitchen, shower. Small quarters but very clean and good for getting to know people. ¥2000.
- Hotel Fujita Nara (ホテルフジタ奈良), 47-1 Shimosanjō-cho (On Sanjō Avenue.), ☎ , fax: . A modern western style hotel, very conveniently located in the middle of JR and Kintetsu Nara stations. Singles ¥7500.
- Nara Washington Hotel Plaza (奈良ワシントンホテルプラザ), 31-1 Shimosanjō-cho (On Sanjō Avenue.), ☎ , fax: . Nationwide western-style hotel chain. Rooms have internet at no extra charge. Singles ¥6900.
- Tempyō Ryokan (天平旅館), 9 Higashimuki-Nakamachi (In the Higashimuki Shopping Street Arcade.), ☎ , fax: . Japanese and western style rooms available. ¥6500-8000.
- Kikusuirō (菊水楼), 1130 Takabatake-cho, ☎ , fax: . Deluxe Japanese-style ryokan inn. ¥40,000 depending on days and season.
- 6 Nara Hotel (奈良ホテル), 1096 Takabatake-cho, ☎ , fax: . Classic westernized style hotel of deluxe class, since 1909. Room for ¥22,000-90,000.
- Hotel Nikko Nara (ホテル日航奈良), 8-1 Sanjō-Hommachi (Close to JR Nara Station), ☎ , fax: . A JAL (Japan Airlines) group chain hotel. ¥10,500-27,000/room.
The deer in Nara Park tend to be friendly and perhaps overly eager to eat shika-senbei (¥150) biscuits from the hands of tourists - simply possessing some will inevitably attract a small crowd of five or six deer, whose extreme and single-minded interest in these biscuits and accompanying lack of respect for your personal space may well be a bit startling when experienced en masse. Publicity shots of the deer being happily petted are, suffice to say, almost complete lies as they can sometimes be aggressive in pursuit of those who have food while thoroughly uninterested in anyone who doesn't have any. Small children in particular may be frightened to have the suddenly manic deer coming after them, so it may be best to feed the deer yourself and let the kids watch. While in the Kasuga-yama forest, steer clear of any deer which still have their antlers. They can be aggressive and their antlers can injure you.
If you are allergic to pollen, beware: the heaviest cedar pollen fluctuation in this area is usually from mid-February to April.
There are several tourist information centers.
- Nara City Tourist Information Center (奈良市観光センター), 上三条町２３−４ (On Sanjo-dori.), ☎ . 9AM-9PM.
- JR Nara Station Tourist Information Center (奈良市観光案内所ＪＲ奈良駅), 三条本町１−１, ☎ . 9AM-5PM.
- Kintetsu Nara Station Tourist Information Center (奈良市観光案内所近鉄奈良駅), 東向中町２８, ☎ . 9AM-5PM.
- Sarusawa Pond Tourist Information Center (奈良市観光案内所猿沢), 登大路町４９, ☎ . 9AM-5PM.
As the center of a plain dense with history, Nara makes a good hub for exploring the vicinity.
- If you have three days, consider doing the World Heritage Tour in Nara, which goes to Asuka, Hōryūji, and Yoshino.
- Kashihara — the site of Japan's capital city, Fujiwarakyo (藤原京), before Nara.
- Imai (今井町) — part of contemporary Kashihara City, still full of old merchant houses dating back from Edo period.
|Routes through Nara|
|Osaka ← Horyuji ←||W E||→ Iga → Nagoya|