If you are planning on traveling to Japan, you should consider stopping by the city of Nara. This city is home to eight sites that are recognized collectively by UNESCO as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.” You can spend time exploring these eight sites and learn a great deal about the history of this ancient city. Modern Nara is the capital of its prefecture, so now the city has its own centers of commerce. The population of the city is roughly 373,000, so this city is a great place to visit if larger cities (like Tokyo) aren’t appealing to you.
The city of Nara in Japan functioned as the capital city from 710 to 784. During this time period, Nara grew because of Buddhism’s influence and popularity. This explains why there are many Buddhist temples in this city which are still preserved to this day. Unfortunately, Nara is not as well-known as Japan’s other ancient capital, Kyoto, so many tourists do not pay a visit to this wonderful historic city.
If you visit Nara, you must visit this temple! This temple is home to the Daibutsu, the biggest Buddha statue in Japan. This temple is also unique because of the deer that roam the grounds freely. You can purchase food to feed them, pet them, and take pictures of them—they are really tame and don’t mind people at all! But be careful, sometimes they can get angry if provoked. The temple grounds are beautiful, so plan to stay a while and enjoy the scenery!
While in Nara you can also pay a visit to the Nara National Museum in order to see some of the history of the city. There are English speaking guides at this museum who can answer your questions about the exhibits. Another museum you can check out is the Nara City Museum of Photography.
There are two well-known gardens in Nara. You can visit these for a relaxing experience in a park with beautiful scenery. There is the Yoshikien Garden and the Isui-en Garden. Foreigners actually get in to the Yoshikien Garden for free!
Mount Wakakusa Fire Festival
This festival is held the night before the second Monday in January, weather permitting. At this festival, you can see a large section of dry grass set on fire and watch fireworks.
This is a section of Nara that was founded in the eight century. There are unique shops and cafes to visit here, as well as Harushika. Harushika is a sake brewery where you can go on tours of the establishment and participate in sake tastings.
While in Nara, you should check out a restaurant that offers local cuisine. Hiraso is a good place to dine for this type of meal! This restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from ten in the morning until eight in the evening. There is an English picture menu available here, so you should have no trouble ordering, even if you don’t speak any Japanese.
You may also want to pay a visit to Udon-tei. This restaurant serves udon noodles in different forms, so you can find a dish you’ll enjoy. Udon noodles are very popular in Japan, but be advised that these noodles are much thicker than ramen noodles! Some tourists don’t like udon because of its thickness, but you should at least give it a try!
You can also find a few take out places in Nara, if that is more your style. There are a few places that will serve western-styled dishes as well.
If you enjoy alcohol, there are a few places you should visit besides just a sake brewery. Kuramoto Hoshuku is a popular place which serves sake, beer, and snacks. If you rather be in an atmosphere with foreigners, House of the Rising Sun is a bar where many tourists hang out. Wembly Crown is a British pub which caters to foreigners and locals alike.
Places to Stay
There are many places to choose from, and the prices vary greatly. If you are traveling to Japan during the holidays or in August (or even just during peak season), you should make your reservations very early in advance. This will ensure you get the rates and rooms you want! Many hotels book up during the peak seasons, and this drives the prices up for other hotels that still have vacancies.
The Yuzan Guest House is very small and cozy, but the owner speaks good English so you can communicate well. This house also offers great accommodations such as free wireless internet and a Western-style breakfast.
Ryokan Seikanso is a traditional Japanese-style hotel. While ryokans are more expensive, they are very, very nice to stay at. If you can afford to splurge a little, even just for a night or two, make sure you book a ryokan!
There are a few mid-range hotels in Nara. These include the Hotel Fujita Nara and Nara Washington Hotel Plaza. Both of these offer nice amenities and are western-style. The rooms are small, which is typical of Japan, but the hotels are still really nice and comfortable.
No matter where you choose to stay in Nara or what you choose to do, don’t leave this wonderful ancient capital out of your tour of Japan! Nara is a nice, fairly quiet city that has a lot to offer!