Majestic temples, a paradise of wild deer, and the most popular spot to see cherry blossoms in Japan – what’s not to love about Nara, Japan? It’s only an hour–or less–away from the megacities of Osaka or Kyoto, making it a perfect side trip on your Japan itinerary. If you only have one day to spend in the former capital of Japan, here are the places you should see:
A city enveloped in historical significance, Nara is where Japanese civilization sprang. It is known for its UNESCO World Heritage sites, Buddhist temples, monuments, and ruins. As these treasures take you back in time, you can fully immerse yourself in the city’s history by wearing a kimono as you wander through the streets of Nara and visit its historical destinations.
Visit Kofuku-ji Temple
Fujiwara, the well-known aristocratic clan during the Nara and Heian Periods, used to be live in Kofuku-ji Temple. Built in 710, the temple boasted over 150 buildings, most of which have historic value. The temple houses the five-storied pagoda, standing at 50 meters and considered as Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda. This pagoda serves as a landmark and a symbol of Nara. The Central Golden Hall, the Eastern Golden Hall, and Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum can be viewed by the public for a fee.
Meet Adorable Deer at the Nara Deer Park and Mt. Wakakusa
Encounter over 1000 freely roaming deer at Nara Deer Park, a public park lying on the foot of Mount Wakakusa in the city of Nara, Japan. Built in 1880, Nara Park covers the grounds of Todaiji, the Nara National Museum, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Kasuga Taisha. The park’s deer are considered a national treasure, a symbol of Nara, and known as the messengers of the gods. You can feed them with crackers for sale around the park. To reach Nara Park, you can book a day tour that will take you to the park and other amazing places in Nara.
Relax at Isuien Garden
Explore the lush Isuien Garden. Isuien means “garden founded on water” and it was named so because it is supported by the ponds of the Yoshikigawa River. You can start your journey with the front garden, which was built in the mid 17th century, and then move to the rear garden, which is larger in size. You can check out the small museum in the garden and see artifacts, pottery, and mirrors from ancient China and Korea. These make up the collection of the family who owns Isuien Garden.
Make Your Way to the Todai-ji Temple
Known as the world’s largest wooden structure, Todai-ji Temple is a UNESCO world heritage site. The size of the building and the fact that it is made of wood will astonish you. Constructed in 752, the temple once served as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. When you go to the Great Buddha Hall, you can easily recognize one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha. You can also spot smaller Buddhist statues in the Daibutsuden Hall.
Set Your Sights on Kasuga-Taisha
A glorious shrine awaits you at Kasuga Taisha. It was built in honor of the deity responsible for the protection of the city. Kasuga Taisha also became the tutelary shrine of the clan Fujiwara throughout the Nara and Heian Periods. You can go to the inner area of the shrine for a fee if you want to see the inner buildings. You’ll also notice the bronze lanterns hanging from the buildings around Kasuga-Taisha. These are donated by worshippers and are only lit twice a year for two Lantern Festivals.
Buy Souvenirs at the Higashimuki Shopping Street
Higashimuki Shopping Street is a haven for shoppers. Before you enter this covered shopping area, you will be welcomed by the statue fountain of the monk Gyoki Bosatsu. Higashimuki Shopping Street is lined with unique stores, restaurants, cafés, and food stands. The ceiling is designed with posters of deer, forest and other elements representing Nara. If you’re hungry, you can find sushi, mochi, and bean buns here. For souvenirs, you can buy ceramics, kimono, and Japanese sweets for your friends and family back home.
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*Featured image from Shutterstock