50 things to do in Nara, Japan's Oldest Capital

Located just a little south of Osaka and Kyoto, Nara prefecture is surrounded by many green mountains, has a number of World Heritage temples and shrines, naturally beautiful mountaintop scenery, historical roads that cannot be accessed by cars and so much more. Here in this article we are going to introduce 50 great things to do in Nara.

Nara

Things to Do

21. Tōdaiji Nigatsu-dō (Nara)

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Located in Todaiji, this Buddhist temple was established in the 8th century. “Nigatsu” means February and in the old capital, “Omizudori” was a traditional event held to call in the spring. Because it was held at this temple every February according to Japan’s old lunar calendar, the temple became known as “Nigatsudo”. We also recommend the view of Nara city from here.

HP: www.todaiji.or.jp/contents/guidance/guidance6.html (Japanese Only)

Address: Zoushi-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

22. Nara Prefecture Art Museum (Nara)

This art museum is located on the north side of Nara city’s government office. Primarily featuring collections of modern Japanese art and Edo era prints, it also frequently features arts and crafts from new artists in the city. Nowadays it also features international art from modern China and Buddhist art and holds special exhibits. (Entry: paid admission)

HP: www.pref.nara.jp/11842.htm (Japanese Only)

Address: 10-6 Noborioji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

23. Nara National Museum (Nara)

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Nara National Museum has collected the masterpieces in sculpture, painting and craft at the center of the Buddhist art in an exhibition that holds for the first time, an unparalleled number of National Treasures and important cultural assets. Beginning with statues and images of Buddha, it has also collected a wide range of items including sacred books containing the teachings of Buddha, picture scrolls, Buddha’s ashes, sutras, various items used in sacred rituals and so on. (Entry: paid admission)

HP: www.narahaku.go.jp/english/index_e.html

Address: 50 Noborioji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

24. Akahada-Yama Motogama Pottery, Gyozo Furuse  (Nara)

In Nara there’s a studio for the famous craft “Akahada-yaki”. They hold sessions where you can have a “Ceramic painting experience” and “Handcrafting experience”. You can decorate the ceramics by drawing your own original picture, words or song onto it and can even make your own small tea bowl (chawan). If you want to experience traditional Japanese crafts, this is the perfect opportunity! (Reservation required).

HP: www1.kcn.ne.jp/~akahada/newpage7.html

Address: 1049 Akahada-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

25. Naramachi (Nara)

Maarten Heerlien/Flickr

This area popularly known as “Naramachi” is located nearby Nara Park and is a street of merchant houses from the Edo period (1603-1869). Because many of the historical houses have been reconstructed into restaurants and cafes, they are popular spots for tourists and going on a date. This traditional town feels like slipping back in time so you can have fun just by walking around. This is a must-go place for sightseeing around Nara!

HP: narashikanko.or.jp/naramachi/ (Japanese Only)

Address: Gengoji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

26. Nara Tokae [Traditional event] (Nara)

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This wondrous event held every year during summer, paints the night of Nara’s ancient city like a fairy-tale. Spreading out from Nara Park in 8 areas, the beautiful lights of over 20,000 candles bloom like flowers. This event is not only for simply spectating, “Ikkyaku Itto (one candle for one visitor)” means anyone can take part and you can also make a wish and light a candle. Isn't that a perfect night to make beautiful travel memories?

HP: www.toukae.jp/tokae_e/index.html

Address: Nara Park, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

27. Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum (Nara)

In one of the traditional houses in Naramachi, is an old toy facility that has remained unchanged till now, where you can have a hands on experience playing with the toys. The children from long ago would have fun playing with the “mechanical toys”. To help convey the charm of these mechanical toys as well as Japan’s traditional culture and craftsmanship, once a month a toy manufacturing course is held. (Entry: Free).

HP: karakuri-omochakan.jimdo.com/ (Japanese Only)

Address: 7 Inyo-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

28. Sarusawa-ike (Nara)

soranyan/Flickr

The famous scenery of Kofukuji’s five story pagoda and the willow tree reflects on the surface of Sarusawa pond, an exemplary tourist spot nearby Nara Park. Very close to the pond is Sanjo-dori which has many souvenir shops and restaurants and is usually bustling with tourists. Around the pond you can see the figures of many deer and it is a little resting place for the townsfolk.

HP: nara-park.com/annnai2_6.html (Japanese Only)

Address: 543 Shibatsuji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

29. Shoso-in (Nara)

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Located to the north-northwest of Todaiji’s Daibutsuden, Shosoin is a raised floor style treasure house built using a style of architecture called “Azekura zukuri” which cleverly intersects pieces of lumber. It holds a large number of industrial art with a focus on the 7th and 8th century (Tempyo period). It was designated as a national treasure in 1997 and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the following year.

HP: shosoin.kunaicho.go.jp/en-US

Address: 129 Zoshi-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

30. Nara City Comprehensive Tourist Information Center (Nara)

Saigen Jiro/Wikimedia Commons

When you arrive at JR Nara Station, the first thing you should do is visit the tourist information center. Nara’s mascot “Sento-kun” will be there to greet you. Originally constructed in 1939, the old building of JR Nara Station has become a building that symbolizes the modern architectural heritage of Western and Japanese style which are combined both in the building’s facade and it’s interior design.

HP: https://narashikanko.or.jp/

Address: 1082 Sanjohonmachi, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

31. Ukimido (Nara)

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Located inside Nara Park’s Asajigahara garden, it is a hexagonal gazebo stretching out from the southward hill of Kasuga Taisha Sando. It’s image reflected on the water’s surface makes it a beautiful relaxing waterfront. A recommended spot in the spring when it is colored by the cherry blossoms and in fall by the multicolored leaves.  

HP: narashikanko.or.jp/spot/index.php?m=d&id=121 (Japanese Only)

Address: Takahata-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

32. Byakugō-ji (Nara)

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Byakugo-ji is located at the base of Mount Takamado. The road leading to the temple has a long stairway. It is famous as a bush clover temple as during the fall, this stairway is covered on both sides by Hagi (Japanese bush clover) . It is also regarded as a popular place for Camellias since the compound also has many “Five-colored Camellias” which are considered natural monuments. From the elevated location of Byakugoji, you can also enjoy looking at the scenery of Nara.

HP: narashikanko.or.jp/spot/index.php?m=d&id=57 (Japanese Only)

Address: 392 Byakugoji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

33. Hōryū-ji (Ikoma)

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Horyu-ji is one of the oldest known existing wooden buildings in the world. It was Japan’s first registered World Heritage site and brought global attention. Boasting of 13th century tradition, it has also attracted people's attention as a treasure house of Buddhist culture research. At Horyu-ji’s location you will also want to enjoy yourself in the tranquil streets of Ikagura town.

HP: www.horyuji.or.jp/horyuji_e.htm

Address: 1-1 Houryuji Yamauchi Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara (Google Map)

34. Chūgū-ji (Ikoma)

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Chugu-ji is a temple adjoined to Horyu-ji’s Yumedono. Made in the 7th century, the principal object of worship is the statue of the Miroku Bosatsu (a national treasure), which along with the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx is said to have one of the top 3 smiles in the world. You can also see embroidered artworks (also national treasures) which are said to depict the state of life after death.

HP: www.chuguji.jp/ (Japanese Only)

Address: 1-1-2 Horyuji kita Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara (Google Map)

35. Hokki-ji (Ikoma)

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Established in the year 708, it’s three story pagoda is the oldest and largest in the world. After the temple was built, because it was taken apart multiple times for repairs, the original design is not clear. During 1970 to 1975, it was disassembled once again and based on the results of research, it was restored to it’s original form and has remained that way up to today. It was originally built to be a nunnery.

HP: www.horyuji.or.jp/hokiji_e.htm

Address: 1873 Oaza-okamoto Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara (Google Map)

36. Ishibutai Kofun (Takaichi)

POHAN CHEN/Flickr

Ishibutai Kofun, located in the center of Asuka Historical Park is the country’s oldest stone burial mound. The total weight is approximately 2,300 tons made up of 30 several rocks, particularly the ceiling stone which weighs about 77 tons. This gives an idea of the high quality of engineering and transportation technology at the time it was built. It is not clear who is buried inside but it is said to be an influential person from around the start of the 7th century.

HP: www.asuka-park.go.jp/asuka_en/index.html

Address: Shimasho Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara (Google Map)

37. Kameishi (Takaichi)

inunami/Flickr

The lower half of this megalith (measuring 3.6m in length, 2.1m in width and 1.8m in height) has an engraving that resembles the face of a turtle and so it became known as “Kameishi” (lit. Turtle Rock). It’s still not clear who made it, when and for what purpose. Originally facing north, Kameishi slowly moved, facing east and now facing south-west. It is said that if it were to ever look west, the whole of Nara will turn into a sea of mud.

HP: www3.pref.nara.jp/kankou/1315.htm (Japanese Only)

Address: Kawahara Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara (Google Map)

38. Asuka-dera (Takaichi)

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663highland/Wikimedia Commons

Asukadera is Japan’s oldest full-scale temple. The temple’s main statue, the Asuka Buddha, is also one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist statues. According to the records of “Nihon-shoki” (The Chronicles of Japan), the temple’s architecture was a high-tech method introduced by six monks dispatched from the Baekje dynasty in the Korean Peninsula who were experts in fields like temple carpentry, acroteria, roof tiling, painting and so on.

HP: www9.plala.or.jp/kinomuku/asukadera.html (Japanese Only)

Address: 682 Oaza-asuka Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara (Google Map)

39. Takamatsuzuka Tomb (Takaichi)

Ws227/Wikimedia Commons

An ancient tomb constructed around the end of the 7th century to the beginning of the 8th century, it is a two-tiered, round burial mound measuring 23m in diameter at the bottom, 18m in diameter at the top and a height of 5m. Although the identity of the buried person remains unknown, the 3 main theories speculate that is it either: 1. A son of Emperor Tenmu, 2. A Vassal lord or 3. Royalty from the Korean peninsula.

HP: www.asuka-park.go.jp/asuka_en/index.html

Address: 439 Oaza-hirata Asuka-gun, Takaichi-gun, Nara (Google Map)

40. Nara Prefecture’s Government Building Rooftop Plaza (Nara)

From the rooftop plaza of the prefectural office, you can see the scenery of the Nara basin in one sweep of the eye. We particularly recommend the view from the east and south side where Nara’s public park, Todaiji Daibutsuden, Mount Wakakusa, Kofukuji’s five storied pagoda can be seen spread out nearby. Although entry is free, open days are decided in advance so be sure to check the prefectural office’s homepage and confirm beforehand.

HP: (Japanese Only)

Address: 30 Noborioji-cho, Nara-shi, Nara (Google Map)

 

Next: No.41-50 Further exciting spots and activities in Nara

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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