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Nara 奈良 Travel Tips

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Nara (Japanese: 奈良 ) is the capital of Nara Prefecture in Japan. The modern city has a population of around 370,000. Much of the tourist interest in Nara centers upon its many historical sites.

Nara was the capital of Japan from AD 710 to 784, a time frame in Japanese history known as the Nara Period. Originally known as Heijo-kyo, the city was modelled after the Chinese Tang Dynasty city of Chang'an in present-day Xi'an.

The temples in Nara grew so powerful that the emperor decided to relocate the capital to Kyoto, away from interference from the Buddhist clergy.

The Mizutani teahouse, NaraThe Mizutani teahouse, Nara (31 March, 2007)

Tim and Chooi Yoke with the sakura of NaraTim and Chooi Yoke with the sakura on the grounds of Hōryū-ji in Nara (31 March, 2007)

Places of Interest in Nara

  1. Gango-ji Temple
    Buddhist temple in Naramachi district of Nara.
  2. Horyu-ji Temple
    Temple recognised as the cradle of Japanese Buddhism, and containing some of the world's oldest wooden structures.
  3. Isui-en Garden
    Meiji-era garden with plum, cherry, maple and azaleas.
  4. Kasuga Grand Shrine
    One of the most photographed Shinto sites, with its approach lined with some 3,000 Japanese stone lanterns.
  5. Kofuku-ji Temple
    One of the important temples in Nara dating back to AD 669.
  6. Nara National Museum
    Museum exhibiting artifacts from the Nara and Heian periods, housed in a main Beaux-Arts building ana a modern annex.
  7. Nara Park
    1,300 acre park with a thousand tame deer.
  8. Naramachi District
    District with many medieval merchant houses.
  9. Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple
    Temple built by Empress Koemyo as an offering to the gods to cure her husband of an eye disease.
  10. Todai-ji Temple
    The most important temple in Nara, which also includes the biggest wooden building and the largest bronze Buddha in the world.
  11. Toshodai-ji Temple
    Temple in Nishinokyo District founded in AD 759 by a blind Chinese sage.
  12. Yakushi-ji Temple
    Temple built by Emperor Tenmu as offering to the gods to cure his ailing wife.

Todaiji Temple, NaraTodaiji Temple, Nara (31 March, 2008)

Planning your trip to Nara

By Plane Kansai International Airport on Osaka Bay is the main airport serving Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and Nara. From the airport, you can take the limousine bus to Nara train station. The journey takes 90 minutes and costs ¥1,800.

You can also take the Haruka Limited Express train from Kansai Airport to Tennoji Station, and then transfer to the Yamatoji Line that goes to Nara. No charge if you hold a Japan Rail Pass, otherwise the total journey costs ¥2,900. The whole journey should take about 75 minutes.

Nanendo Building, Kofuku-ji Temple, NaraNanendo Building, Kofuku-ji Temple, Nara
photo source
authorshipBernard Gagnon
photo licensing

By Train
You can also reach Nara by train from Kyoto and Osaka. From Kyoto Station, you can take the JR Nara Line (no charge if you hold the Japan Rail Pass) or the private Kintetsu Kyoto Line. Of the two, the Kintetsu Kyoto Line terminates at the Kintetsu Nara station, which is closer to the main tourist attractions around Nara Park compared to the JR Nara Station.

On the Kintetsu Kyoto Line, you can take the Tokkyu train that goes to Nara twice per hour, arriving in Nara 35 minutes later.

On the Japan Rail Line, you can take the Miyakoji Kaisoku train which takes 45 minutes to reach the JR Nara station. The fare is ¥690 without the Japan Rail Pass.

The lanterns at Kasuga Grand ShrineThe lanterns at Kasuga Grand Shrine (31 March, 2007)

Planning your travel within Nara

It is quite possible to explore Nara on foot. Most of the major sites are within walking distance, though admittedly some of them are quite sprawling. Alternatively you can take the Nara Kotsu Bus, which makes a loop around the city. The ticket is a flat rate of ¥180 per adult and ¥90 per child regardless distance travelled.

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