WIT Agent Pam just returned from a fantastic trip to Japan. We look forward to hearing her feedback, but in the meantime, our blog is taking a close look at each city she’s visited so far. Next stop on the jaunt: Nara!
Established in 710, Nara was Japan’s first capital. Easily accessible by express train from Kyoto, the city and its dozens of historic monuments make a great day trip dsetination for tourists. With its abundance of trees and gardens, Nara is beautiful year-round. But one of the best times to visit is in late March or early April, when the cherry trees planted in front of the shrines erupt in stunning clouds of pale rosé and white.
Nara Park contains most of the city’s historic temples and sites; one can easily spend the whole day here wandering its grounds. Most famously, the park is home to a healthy population of deer. According to legend, a god came into Nara riding a white deer and henceforth all the deer in Nara were declared holy messengers. These days, they wander the park freely, munching on biscuits handed out by tourists.
Within the northwest corner of the park, you’ll find Todaiji Temple, a world heritage site, containing a Daibutsu Buddha. The temple’s main hall is the world’s largest wooden structure. Here blessings and fortune scrolls are sold. The hall houses a wooden column with a small hole carved through the bottom–enlightenment is promised to anyone who can squeeze through this hole (historically children).
Kofukuji is a beautiful temple complex, built around 710 for a powerful family clan. Once consisting of 150 buildings, now there are only two: a three-story and a five-story pagoda. Here you’ll also find the National Treasure Museum, a must for any connoisseurs of Buddhist art.
Kasuga Taisha is located in the southeast corner of the park, a Shinto shrine built in 768. Most notable on its grounds are the three thousand and plus stone lanterns that light the courtyard and pathways. Next to the shrine is the Manyo Botanical Garden and the Kasuga-yama Primeval Forest, both beautiful settings to get lost in.
Don’t forget to stop at the Nara National Museum, which offers incredible Buddhist art exhibitions. Every year in October/November, the museum displays the Todaiji treasury collection which is normally closed to the public–as this is a popular event among locals, expect enormous queues.
If you book your trip to Nara in January, be sure not to miss the Wakakusa Yamayaki. This is an annual festival where the grass on Mount Wakakusayama, on the east end of Nara Park, is set on fire! Fireworks light up the sky and the entire hillside is set ablaze–quite a memorable sight from almost anywhere in the city!
For Pam’s photos from the trip, check out our gallery here.
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All photos on this post courtesy of www.japan-guide.com.