Japan Chronicles Part 5 (2017) | The Ancient Japanese Capital of Nara

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Japan is so addicting. It’s a wonderful country I could return to every year and never get sick of it. How could you, when it boasts the iconic Mt. Fuji, countless parks and gardens, only in Japan theme parks like DisneySea, mouthwatering Japanese cuisine, ancient cities and samurai towns, and many more. That’s without even taking into account the locals’ exquisite politeness and hospitality. There are lots of beautiful places to go to, so if you are a first-time traveler, planning your trip may be a daunting task. This post will focus on one of my favorite cities in Japan – Nara!
tourist feeding the deer at Nara Park
Nara is the ancient capital of Japan from the year 710 to 794 AD. Next only to Kyoto for having the most number of ancient historical treasures, Nara is also home to hundreds of wild deer roaming freely in the city. If you are planning a day trip in this city from either Osaka or Kyoto, then you would not be disappointed. 
the beautiful manhole cover art of Japan
How to get to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto:
Option # 1 (JR Yamatoji Line from JR Osaka Station – covered by JR Pass)
The JR Yamatoji Line Regional Rapid Service from JR Osaka Station has direct trips to JR Nara Station in under 60 minutes for only 800 yen (covered by JR Pass). There are also JR Yamatoji Rapid trains with stops at either Tennoji or Shin-Imamiya going to JR Nara Station in about 70 minutes for only 800 yen (also covered by JR Pass).

*Please note JR Osaka Station is different from the Shin-Osaka Station. The former is one of the stops of Osaka Loop Line while the latter is a bullet train (shinkansen) stop.

Option # 2 (Kintetsu Railways from Osaka-Namba Station – not covered by JR Pass)
If you are staying near the Osaka-Namba Station, then there are direct trains going to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is about 39 minutes and one-way train fare is 560 yen. There are also direct trains from JR Namba Station going to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is 44 minutes and one-way train fare is 560 yen.

Option # 3 (JR Miyakoji Line from Kyoto Station – covered by JR Pass)
If you choose Kyoto as your base in the Kansai region, then you may take a direct train from Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station. Travel time is about 71 minutes and one-way train fare is 710 yen (covered by JR Pass).

Option # 4 (Kintetsu Railways from Kyoto Station – not covered by JR Pass) 
You may also take direct Kintetsu Ltd. Exp. From Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station. Travel time is approximately 35 minutes and one-way train fare is 1,130 yen. 
at Osaka waiting for JR Yamatoji Rapid Service
How to get around Nara
Nara is a compact city which can be easily explored on foot or by bicycle. If you want to save time or if you are on a day-trip, you may get around easily using the city’s public transportation system. Nara Kotsu buses take you to Nara’s major sightseeing locations. To save money, you may purchase a 1-day Nara Buss Pass (500 yen), which provides unlimited use of Nara Kotsu Buses around Nara. You may also get the 1-day Nara Bus Pass Wide (1,000 yen) if you plan to include Horyuji Temple and its surrounding area in your itinerary.

If you don’t have a JR Pass, another budget-friendly option is the 1-day (1,500 yen) or 2-day (2,500 yen) Kintetsu Rail Pass. This pass provides unlimited use of Kintetsu trains between Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. It also provides unlimited use of Nara Kotsu Buses around Nara including the Horyuji area.
Japanese kids on an educational trip to Nara
lots of locals and tourists biking around Nara
One Piece's Chopper and Luffy
lots of deer inspired souvenirs items around Nara
wooden prayer tablets called Ema
a lady offering candles or incense
What to see and do in Nara
Nara Deer Park
This park is probably the number 1 reason why visitors want to go to Nara. Home to hundreds of tame deer roaming freely around the city, Nara Deer Park holds a sacred status because according to local folklore, the wild deer were messengers of the gods. If your travel date happens to be in December, then you are lucky to witness the winter activity known as Shikayose. Held at around 10:00 AM, a French horn player summons the wild deer to be fed with an acorn. Hundreds of wild deer gather around the man waiting to be fed. We weren’t able to see but I bet this would really be an amazing sight!
Nara deer really know how to pose beautifully in front of the camera :)
a young tourist feeding a deer with deer biscuits
Todaiji Temple
One of the city’s major attractions is Todaiji Temple, which is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just a short walk from Nara Park, this Buddhist Temple was once the world’s largest wooden building until 1998.It is also home to the largest bronze status of Buddha known as Daibutsu. Aside from the main hall and the Buddha statue, another must-see in this area is the imposing Nandaimon or Great South Gate (dates back to the 13th century), which is guarded by two gigantic statues.

Kofukuji Temple

One of the “Big Three” of Nara, along with Todaiji Temple and  Horyuji Temple, Kofukuji Temple is another significant temple in the city and is also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site. It used to be a family temple of the most powerful aristocratic clan in Japan, the Fujiwara, Kofukuji is one of the two head temples of the Buddhist Sect, Hosso. The temple features the second largest wooden pagoda in Japan (second to Kyoto’s Toji Temple), the Central Golden Hall (500 yen admission fee), the Eastern Golden Hall (300 yen admission fee) and the National Treasure Museum (700 yen admission fee). 

Nara Day Trip vs Nara Overnight Trip
While most tourists, my friends and I included, made a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto, staying overnight is the best way to explore all of Nara’s major attractions. The city is quite big. I did not realize that a day trip wasn’t enough until I got there myself. There are so much to see and do that a day trip barely scratched the surface. If I ever find myself in the Kansai area again, I would definitely stay overnight in Nara! 

Planning a trip to Nara? Check out the best hotels below!
Onyado Nono Nara
1-1-6 Omiyacho, Nara 630-8115, Nara Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability

Hotel Sunroute Nara
1110 Takabatakecho, Nara 630-8301, Nara Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability

Hotel Nikko Nara
8-1 Sanjo Hommachi, Nara 630-8122, Nara Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability
junior high or senior high students or an trip to Nara
If you plan to stay in Osaka instead, then here are some of the best budget hotels:
Arietta Hotel Osaka
3-2-6 Azuchimachi, Chuo, Osaka 541-0052, Osaka Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability

Hotel Chuo Oasis
1-9-15 Taishi, Nishinari-ku, Osaka 557-0002, Osaka Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability

Hotel the Lutheran
3-1-6 Tanimachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 540-0012, Osaka Prefecture
Check Rates and Availability

Check out my other Japan 2017 posts right here:
The 9-Day Ultimate Japan Trip (2017) - Travel Expense Breakdown + Tips + Itinerary
Japan Chronicles Part 1 (2017) | My Second Time in Shirakawa-go
How to get to Fuji Shibazakura Venue from Tokyo
Japan Chronicles Part 2 (2017) | Fuji Shibazakura Festival, Harajuku and Shibuya
Japan Chronicles Part 3 (2017) | Tokyo Disneysea

Have you visited Nara? Which of the city's major attractions is your favorite? Let's chat down below?

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