Nara is a very easy day trip for those visiting Japan, as it's located less than an hour from Osaka and Kyoto. Believe it or not, Nara (once named Heijo) was Japan's first established capital in 710. As many people only spend one day there, here are 5 things to do in Nara:
1. Check out the Big Buddha and wiggle through a pillar…
Todaiji Temple, built between 710-794 AD, is the largest wooden structure in the world. It is better known for its huge Vairocana Buddha (“Buddha that shines throughout the world like the sun”) that dominates the central area of Great Buddha Hall.
The Todaiji is the Head Temple of the Kegon Sect of Buddhism, where the Vairocana Buddha is the central Buddha in the Kegon Sutra. Otherwise known as Nara’s “Big Buddha,” this statue was originally built in 752 but has been damaged and repaired many times over the years.
Many people think it good luck to slide themselves through a hole in one of the pillars of this temple.
2. Take a selfie with a deer.
A visit to Nara would not be complete without going to Nara Park. Established in 1880, Nara park is home to hundreds upon hundreds of deer. According to Shinto belief, deer are messengers from god and thus deemed a national treasure.
They love their selfies, and have even learned how to wait until green to cross the road. Yes, those are deer waiting patiently at the crosswalk. And, yes, they walked when the light turned green and the pedestrians began crossing.
3. Try Kakinohazushi.
Kakinohazushi is the typical food from Nara. It consists of pressed sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf.
Unroll the leaf (don’t eat it), to reveal rectangular-shaped compounded rice commonly topped with mackerel and salmon.
Each sushi piece is wrapped individually for preservation purposes, and we enjoyed have our Kakinohazushi for lunch in Nara Park.
4. Visit the Naramachi Traditional House.
This traditional Japanese tradesmen’s home is 100 years old and showcases local architecture and materials. Since there are few tradesmen’s houses still around today, this is a great look into life as it used to be — a life where people valued hard work and Japanese nature in their daily lives.
Walk through a house that’s simple but elegant, smell the tatami in the air, observe the gardens, and imagine just how different your life would be had you been born 100 years ago.
5. Feel at home at Guesthouse Makura
From the US, it was difficult to find good accommodations in Nara. There weren’t many options available on sites like booking.com and so I had asked my Japanese friend to secure us a bed for our visit in Nara. Guesthouse Makura was perfect for our time there. Run by Katsu, with his wife and adorable baby, this little guesthouse is as homey as it gets. With lovely owners, a central location, and comfortable sleeping conditions, Guesthouse Makura contributed to our enjoyment in Nara.
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**Special thanks to Japan Experience for sponsoring my journey. As always, all opinions are my own.