Before Kyoto, There Was Nara

Welcome to Nara, the birthplace of Japanese tradition and culture.

Where to see "Temple & Shrine"

Within the sanctuary and solitude of mountains and forests, the ancient temples and shrines of Nara have organically and harmoniously become one with the nature that embraces them. From UNESCO World Heritage Sites to vaults preserving sacred treasures designated by the Japanese people, deep within these ancient places are where the seed of Japanese culture was planted long ago. Nara is the birthplace to some of the first structures of their kind in the world. Proudly demonstrating the history of the Japanese people with the influence of multicultural exchange from the Old World, these temples and shrines are no less than exemplary displays of both Japanese history and culture.

Todaiji Temple

Tracing back to 728, Todaiji Temple, known as “Great Temple of the East” was established during the Nara period, before Kyoto was declared capital of Japan. One of the former Seven Great Temples, Todaiji Temple serves as the head temple of the Kegon school of Buddhism. Daibutsuden of Todaiji Temple is the world’s largest wooden building, and home to Daibutsu or “Great Buddha,” one of the world’s largest bronze statues of Buddha protecting relics believed to belong to Emperor Shomu within. Nigatsudo Hall, “Hall of the Second Moon” stands proudly above the city, offering a stunningly beautiful view of Nara, while discreetly housing two Kannon statues known as Hibutsu, “Hidden Buddhas” that are national treasures hidden from the public. The gardens and temple have organically merged over the centuries, offering a seamless and harmonious balance of nature and Japanese history. The deer in this temple can be seen strolling around the temple grounds, regarded as messengers of the gods in Shintoism. Todaiji Temple earns not just the title of one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, but it also holds the UNESCO World Heritage Site title.

 1 Zoshi-cho, Nara, Nara Japan
 4-Day Sunrise Highlights from Tokyo: Mt. Fuji, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara 
 6-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto & Nara 
 9-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Kamakura, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima 
 14-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko, Mt.Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama & Kanazawa 


Kasuga Grand Shrine

One of Japan’s most ancient and celebrated shrines— the grand shrine of the Fujiwara Clan of the legendary Japanese epic, Tale of Genji. Kasuga Grand Shrine is adorned with thousands of stone lanterns stands just by the Kasugaya Primeval Forest, a place worshipped for the mountain deity of Japanese Pantheon as a living artifact of Old World Japan. Kasugaya Primeval Forest remains unaltered by man for over a millennium, as both logging and hunting have been forbidden since the year 841. Home to over 175 different species of trees, as well as a vast amount of wildlife, this sacred forest is indicative of the shrine that rests just by its border. The path to this shrine has Nara’s messengers, the famous Nara deer roaming about. During the Setsubun Festival of Japan and Obon Mantoro, each and every lantern is illuminated, casting a brilliant performance of flames dancing within the shrine. It is said that in spring, when the wisteria blooms in this shrine, the verdant green hills of the sacred mountain breathes life.

 1 Zoshi-cho, Nara, Nara Japan
 4-Day Sunrise Highlights from Tokyo: Mt. Fuji, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara 
 6-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto & Nara 
 9-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Kamakura, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima 
 14-Day Japan Combination Package from Tokyo: Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko, Mt.Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama & Kanazawa 


Kofukuji Temple

Just as Nara was established as Capital of Japan in 710, Kofukuji Temple was also established in the year of 710. Isolated in tranquility, the ancient buildings of Kofukuji Temple are a vault to many national treasures of Old World Japan: the Deva statues, statues of the Ten Great Disciples of Buddha, and the Thousand-armed Kannon. Once owned by the legendary Fujiwara Clan, these temple grounds still remain as a World Heritage Site, indicative of the deep history and culture of ancient Japan. Its most defining building, the Goju no Tou is a 165 foot tall, five tiered pagoda is a designated national treasure, just like many of its numerous structures and halls. Featuring a National Treasure Museum, Kofukuji exhibits an amazing art collection that displays the marvel, history, and multicultural influence of Buddhist art. When entering Kofukuji Temple Grounds, you set foot in an environment embraced by national treasures.

 48 Noboriojicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8213, Japan


Yakushiji Temple

Yakushiji Temple is one of the former Seven Great Temples, Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient temple is also known as home of the Yakushi Nyorai: one of the first Buddhist Deities in Japan from China over a millennium ago, dating back to 680. This temple gets its namesake from the Yakushi Nyorai, translated as “The Medicine Buddha.” Yakushido, the main hall of Yakushiji Temple is a national treasure and marvel of Nara era architecture. With what is considered to be one of the finest pagodas in Japan, the East Pagoda is often referred to as “Frozen Music” because of its rhythmical appearance. The ancient Buddha surrounded by some of the oldest structures in Japan is a truly stunning and moving experience to behold. Yakushiji Temple’s layout is notable, in that it is based around symmetry; its main hall with two pagodas adjacent to it—one on each side of the temple.

 457 Nishinokyocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8563, Japan


Hasedera Temple

A true symbol of Japanese culture blending in with the tranquility of the mountains, Hasedera Temple, the head of Buzan Shingon Buddhism has been involved with Japanese folklore— most notably the Japanese epic, Tale of Genji. For over an entire millennium, Hasedera has stood the test of time since the year 686; the main hall itself is a National Treasure of Japan with three statues built to serve as temple guardians just by Nio Gate. These temple guardians have been created with a fierce visage for the purpose of warding off demons, evil spirits, and thieves. Hasedera Temple is also home to the Eleven-faced Kannon: the Goddess of Mercy, as well as Japan’s largest wooden statue standing at 31 feet tall. Over 150 varieties of Chinese peonies bloom beautifully along its stone staircase, stretching at nearly 60 feet long. During nature’s grand finale in the autumn, the temple grounds are scattered with leaves, much like nature's own stained glass art.

 731-1 Hase, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, 633-0112, Japan


Toshodaiji Temple

Established by historically famous monk Ganjin (Jianzhen), Toshodaiji Temple has a very special place in Nara's history. Toshodaiji's temple grounds has the last remaining building from Heijo castle— a true relic of Ancient Japan. Toshodaiji Temple was Ganjin's final place of rest, and his grave may be visited here; a wooden statue of Ganjin is displayed to the public for only a few days of the year, commemorating the anniversary of the founder's life and passing. A new replica of the statue has been created to display to the public permanently for those that may not visit during the time the original is on display. Upon entering the Golden Hall, visitors are greeted by the three Buddhist statues: The seated Rushana Buddha, the standing figures of Yakushi Nyorai, and Senju Kannon — the oldest wooden statue in all of Japan. Temple monks guide visitors and tell the tale of these national treasures. The Golden Hall is considered to be fashioned as a classical archetype of Japanese architecture.

 13-46 Gojocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8032, Japan


Horyuji Temple

Home to two of the world’s oldest wooden buildings, the five tiered Pagoda of Horyuji and the Kondo, “The Golden Hall” of Horyuji just serves as another reminder of the deep history of Nara. Displaying the history of multicultural exchange in Japan, some of Horyuji’s buildings resemble both ancient Chinese and Korean aesthetic. This shining gem of Nara protects statues, murals, shrines, and monuments of Old World Japan. Among such treasures is the Tamamushi Shrine, showcasing the cultural influence of ancient Korea and China in Mainland Japan. Horyuji has served as a treasure vault of Buddhist culture from all over the world, holding over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles; within this collection includes nearly 190 designated National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. As much a wonder it is how such an elegant building was created so long ago, it’s no wonder why Horyuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga, Ikoma District, Nara Prefecture 636-0115, Japan


Murouji Temple

Standing on top of the sacred mountain, Murou-yama, Murouji Temple was established on a place of worship dating back to ancient Japanese Pantheon. Established to cure Prince Yamabe, who would grow to become Emperor Kammu, this temple has been a very important part of Buddhist culture in Japan. Much like Mt. Koyasan, where only practicing Buddhist men would go for training, Murouji Temple became a place for female students to learn. Murouji Temple has been dubbed the Mt. Koyasan for women since Murouji Temple adopted the Shingon School in 1698. Murouji Temple is home to the second oldest five tiered pagoda in Japan, as well as the smallest of its kind standing in open air. After receiving damage during a typhoon in 1997, the pagoda’s wood was found to have been logged around the year of 794; it has since been repaired and recovered, still standing as a symbol of Japanese culture and history.

 78 Murou, Uda, Nara Prefecture, 633-0421, Japan


Omiwa Shrine

Devoted to Okuninushi no Mikoto, the guardian deity of human life, the Omiwa Shrine was established on the holy mountain, Miwa. One of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, Omiwa Shrine is considered by some to be Japan’s first shrine. The lack of any images or objects of worship is somewhat of an anomaly, though it is often believed that this is because Mt. Miwa, itself is the main object of reverence. Resting humbly in a peaceful forest, its “Torii” gate is the second tallest in Japan, as well as one of the few with doors. With a diverse group of buildings made from the ancient era to the Edo era, the Omiwa Shrine is home to numerous Important Cultural Assets. In addition to the shrine itself being an Important Cultural Asset, there is a suit of red lacquer armor and a copy of the 19th scroll of the Book of Zhou. As cutting down both trees and grass are forbidden from this mountain, Omiwa Shrine is surrounded by a densely grown and organic forest of cedar, pine, and cypress trees all about the mountain.

 1422 Miwa, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, 633-0001, Japan


Where to do "Activities"

  • Tour at the Gassan Japanese Sword Making School

    Imbuing the Japanese spirit into raw metal since the Kamakura era, nearly 800 years ago, the Gassan school of sword crafting has been highly regarded among the already high standards of Japanese sword smithing. The Japanese Sword (Nihonto) often has a reputation of being a deadly weapon, but for many others, it is a cultural art and tradition. Known for the “Ayasugi” style craft, containing grain lines tempered into the steel, creating a glossy, wooden like texture to the blade, the Gassan family swords are a work of beauty, tradition, and art. Such blades have for generations been created for emperors and museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Tour the Gassan school with a master swordsmith and see the school, as well as some of its finest handicraft.

  • Miwa Town and Omiya-Jinja Sacred Sake Tour

    See the Omiwa Shrine, as well as the as Miwa Town and the Imanaishi Sake brewery, guided by the master brewer or owner of this sake brewery with a 350 year old tradition. This tour will demonstrate the kami, sake, and residents are connected within the sacred brewery.

  • Katakami Shoyu Tour

    Katakami has been preserving the tradition of making Shoyu (soy sauce) for generation after generation. Most of its soy beans are selected from the Nara region and are naturally aged and fermented in a large container made of cedar wood. This tour will be guided by a Shoyu master, and allow visitors try to join in on the tradition dated back many generations with a soy sauce making workshop.


Where to eat "WA (Traditional Japanese Cuisine)

The essence of Japanese cuisine (and culture) is translated from the word for "Harmony;" in making the flavors of the freshest seasonal ingredients stand out, Japanese culinary tradition shows us that less is more. By harvesting the freshest vegetables in season, Japanese cuisine eliminates the necessity of intricate seasoning, as well as the possibility of over-seasoning. As such, simplicity is often an important component in Japanese culinary arts; simple seasoning such as stocks, soy sauce (Shoyu), salt (Shio), and soy paste (Miso) are often used in order to compliment the natural flavors of seasonal ingredients. In everyday cooking, we often lose the most delicate of flavors to the palate with seasoning; the concept of Japanese culinary tradition is in preserving even the most subtle of flavors. Traditional culinary techniques dating back from the Nara and Edo eras, with just a subtle touch of modern cooking make Nara cuisine a truly unique experience, and one worth visiting Nara in itself.

  • AWA Naramachi

    Dine with tradition and elegance in this traditional restaurant dating back two centuries. Awa Naramachi brings the gourmet traditions of Edo era Japan and the heart of Nara Cuisine to guests of this historical restaurant on a single plate. Taste the flavors of Old World Japan, including the famous Wagyu beef, known for its delicate texture and marbling. With a menu that changes based on the season, the Awa Naramachi will present Nara on a plate to you.

     1 Shonamicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8363

  • Chogakuji Temple

    Offering a truly unique and worldly dining experience, Chogakuji is said to be the oldest temple in Japan, established in 824 by the founding priest of the Shingon school of Buddhism. A walk in nature through this temple seen in the Tale of Genji can be adjourned with the locally crafted Miwa Somen noodles for guests.

     508 Yanagimotochō, Tenri-shi, Nara Prefecture, 632-0052

  • Gojo Genbei

    Tour Edo food culture in this elegant restaurant with a 250 year tradition built in this 400 year old town. Created with a deep understanding of over 50 types of vegetables harvested by local farmers, Gojo Genbei’s cuisine specializes in creating fine dishes that are ideal for both vegetarians and meat eaters. Knowledgeable of the finest details, such as harvest weather, the chef de cuisine at Gojo Genbei meticulously adapts to every season to maximize flavor of each ingredient. With cuisine masterfully crafted served on traditional Japanese lacquered dishes, this is a place foodies and history buffs will enjoy equally.

     2 Chome-5-17 Honmachi, Gojō-shi, Nara prefecture, 637-0041

  • Nishiyamato Saeki

    Embracing nature’s bounty and splendor, the Wakakusayama mountain can be seen from view of the Nishiyamato Saeki. Hand selected ingredients are prepared with generations of masterful culinary traditions. Nishiyamato Saeki is an ideal place to enjoy an excellent meal in an excellent environment. Tea connoisseurs will also find their palettes satisfied with the tea ceremony offered in the tea house.

     674 Owada, Kawai-cho, Kitakatsuragi-gun, Nara prefecture, 636-0093

  • Tsurube Sushi Yasuke

    Serving a different form of the famous culinary art, Tsurube Sushi Yasuke is the oldest sushi restaurant in Japan, dating back to 1185-1189. Signature dishes are from the tradition of serving trout (Ayu): a remarkable rarity in sushi culture, as freshwater fish sushi do not have nature’s preservative that all ocean fish have— salt. The secret is in the location just by the riverbank, where fresh fish can be caught for same day preparation, ensuring only the freshest of food from this rarity in Japan.

     533 Shimoichi, Yoshino District, Nara Prefecture, 638-0041


Where to eat "KASHI (Traditional Japanese Sweets)"

Japan has a long fascination with Kashi (confections) such as shaved ice (Kakigori), sweet bean buns (Manju), and jam-filled wafers (Monaka). Wagashi (Japanese confections) are typically and traditionally crafted with natural and organic plant ingredients. Many Wagashi have traditions stemming from the Edo era (1603 – 1867), often comprised of rice cakes (Mochi), sweet beans (Azuki), and fruits (Kinomi). Shaved ice is a popular treat in Japan for people of all ages during any time of year, best enjoyed where the deity of ice is said to be enshrined in Nara. Jam-filled wafers, known as “Monaka” are created with azuki paste, sesame seeds, chestnuts, and mochi. Japanese Kashi is best enjoyed any time with tea, or after a seasonal meal to enjoy the full culinary experience while in Nara.

  • Kashiya

     Kakigori (Shaved Ice)

     22-3 Chuincho, Nara 630-8392, Nara Prefecture 
     +81 742-22-8899

  • Sohonpo Shirozakeya

     Mugwort Rice Cakes

     746 Hase, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture 
     +81 744-47-7988

  • Miyake

     Kakigori (Shaved Ice)

     1-5-1 Torimicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 631-0065
     +81 742-51-3008

  • Honke Kikuya

     Monaka (Sweet Bean Jam Wafers)

     25 Higashimuki Kitamachi, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 639-1134 
     +81 742-33-5023

  • Shiratamaya Eiju

     Traditional Confections

     660-1 Miwa, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, 633-0001 
     +81 744-43-3668

  • Tsuruyatokuman

     Traditional Confections

     29 Shimomikadocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8365 
     +81 0742-23-245


Where to stay "Hotel or Ryokan"

Hospitality in Japan is among one of the most unforgettable things to experience. Resting a weary body and mind in Nara makes the Japanese experience genuinely seamless. From temple lodging (Shukubo) with breath-taking mountain views to an elegant Ryokan experience, travelers can feel the difference during their stay in Nara, waking anew in the morning.

  • Nara Hotel

    Capturing the essence of Japanese architecture and standing for over a century, Nara Hotel maintains the elegance of the old capital. Preserving a tradition of hospitality since the Meiji era, where the commitment to Japanese hospitality remains the most treasured business philosophy.

     1096 Takabatake-cho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8301 
     +81 742-26-3300

    Kashihara Royal Hotel

    Offering both standard western rooms, as well as traditional Japanese rooms, the Kashihara Royal Hotel is ideal for both business and leisure. With French, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine, as well as a bar and lounge, there is something to please any palette in the Kashihara Royal Hotel. The hot spring and Japanese cypress baths are perfect after a long day of sightseeing.

     652-2 Kumecho, Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, 634-0063 

    Hotel Nikko Nara

    For the most convenient stay in Nara, Hotel Nikko Nara is adjacent to the Nara JR Station. With onsite spa treatments and massages, the Hotel Nikko Nara will take care of you from the moment you arrive. The bright and clean rooms in this hotel are indicative of Japanese hospitality standards. Hotel Nikko Nara is your nexus in Nara to easy sightseeing transit.

     8-1 Sanjo Hommachi, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8122 
     +81 742-35-8831

  • Shigisan Gyokuzo-In

    Experience Temple Lodging (Shukubo) within the temple complex at Gyokuzo-in for a truly different cultural experience. With a splendid landscape during all four seasons, guests can wander the temple halls and experience Buddhist practices, such as sutra transcription (Shakyo), and wake to the fire ceremony in the early morning.

     2280 Shigisan, Ikoma-gun, Heguri-cho, Nara Prefecture, 636-0923 
     +81 745-72-2881


    Settled in Nara Park is a quaint Ryokan where the spirit of Japanese hospitality lives and breathes. This exemplar Ryokan where the deer can be seen walking outside is perfect for a stroll at any time of day before kaiseki breakfast and dinner. Spacious, luxurious, and reasonably priced, Edosan is the perfect place to experience the spirit of Nara.

     1167 Takabatakecho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8301 
     +81 742-26-2662

    Nara Tsukihi-Tei Ryokan

    Giving lodging a new meaning in this sublime location, this luxury Ryokan is just by the UNESCO World Heritage site, Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Just like the sacred forest it stands by, the true spirit of Old Japan can be found in the hospitality offered here. With only three guest rooms, this gem is in a perfect location for sightseeing, leisurely strolling, and fine Kaiseki Cuisine.

     158 Kasuganocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture, 630-8212 
     +81 742-26-2021

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