The ancient capital of Japan, Nara, which celebrated its 1300th anniversary in 2010, is located in the Nara Prefecture of the Kansai region. Overshadowed by its more famous “neighbor” Kyoto, Nara is an overlooked tourist destination for those pressed for time. And Nara, however, is home to many significant historical sites and presents its main attractions with much more appeal than Kyoto. Check JIBIN123 for Japan customs regulations and visa requirements.
With its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Nara is Japan’s second-largest “repository” of cultural heritage.
Along with its socio-political development, Nara (the old name of Heijo-kyo) was the capital of Japan in the period 710-784. – flourished under the influence of Buddhism, which led to the creation of a huge number of cultural values – buildings, works of art, historical chronicles, poetic anthologies and alphabets.
To date, Nara has the largest number of buildings declared national treasures of Japan.
How to get there
Nara does not have its own airport, and most visitors arrive at Kansai International Airport or Osaka International Airport, which is more charter oriented.
Limousine Buses run every hour from Kansai Airport to both Nara train stations (1 hour 30 minutes, 2050 JPY). Alternatively if you have a Jayaru (Japanese Railways) pass, take the Haruka express train to Tennoji Station, then transfer to the Yamatoji Line train to Nara (1hr 15min, 2360 JPY). Otherwise, it’s cheaper to take the Nankai Line express train to Shin-Imamiya Station, from where the Yamatoji Line train goes to Nara (1hr 30min, about 2000 JPY).
From Kyoto to Nara, trains run on the Nara Line of Japan Railways and trains on the Kyoto Line of the Kintetsu Private Railway Company. At the same time, Nara Kintetsu Station is located more conveniently than Nara Station of Japan Railways. Limited express trains, or the so-called tokkyu (Kintetsu Railway Company), depart from Kyoto twice an hour and reach Nara in 35 minutes. Slower but more frequent express trains, or kyuko, reach Nara in 50 minutes (sometimes a transfer is required at Yamato-Saidaiji station). The trip will cost 620 JPY plus 510 JPY on top of the tokkyu fare. Jayaru Pass holders can use the Miyakoji train (45 min., 710 JPY).
The fastest way to get to Nara from Osaka is to take the Nara Kintetsu Line train from Namba Station. Kaisoku-kyuko trains (something between an ambulance and an express train) run three times an hour and arrive at Nara Kintetsu Station (40 min., 560 JPY). For Jayaru pass holders, the Yamatoji-kaisoku express train departs from Osaka Station, Tennoji Station, and intermediate stations on the Osaka Circle Line. It takes 45 minutes from Osaka Station. and will cost 800 JPY, from Tennoji station – 30 minutes. and will cost 470 JPY.
The Hanshin Private Railway Company operates the Namba Line from Kobe (Sannomiya Station) to Nara Kintetsu Station (90 minutes, 970 JPY). Direct kaisoku-kyuko trains leave three times an hour, otherwise you should change at Amagasaki.
When traveling between Kyoto, Nara and Osaka, consider purchasing the Kansai Pass, which allows unlimited travel for 2 or 3 days on private rail, bus and subway lines (excluding use of Japanese Railways) in the Kansai region.
Since the sights of Nara are very popular among travelers, a large number of bus routes have been laid between Nara and other cities throughout Japan, the use of which can significantly save on transport.
Buses of several companies run from Tokyo to Nara (journey time 7-8 hours) – these are Japanese Railways buses (from 8800 JPY) and Nara Kotsu buses (from 5980 JPY).
In addition, the low-cost operator Willer Express provides connections to Kyoto, from where you can get to Nara by train. The advantage of Willer Express is that you can buy a bus ticket online, and the pass is valid on all company routes with a couple of exceptions.
Entertainment and attractions in Nara
Nara is the “tourist mecca” of Japan. Most of Nara’s attractions, including numerous temples and shrines, are concentrated in Nara Park, which is also home to over 1,200 wild spotted deer, previously considered divine messengers. After the Second World War, deer were officially deprived of their divine status and began to be revered as a national treasure.
Nara Park, founded in 1880, stretches at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. The park is home to Todai-ji Temple (8th century), the largest wooden building in the world (57 m) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Daibutsu-den Hall, which houses one of the world’s largest Buddha statues (14.98 m). Two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites deserve attention – the Kofuku-ji temple with three golden pavilions (8th century) and the Kasuga-Taisha Shinto shrine (8th century) with the forest (primordial forest) adjacent to it. Here in the park are the Shin-Yakushi-ji temple (8th century) and the National Museum of Nara, founded in 1889, with a collection of Buddhist art, including paintings, sculptures and temple manuscripts. Although the official area of the park is 502 hectares, with the adjacent lands of Todai-ji.
In addition to the already listed 2 Buddhist temples, 1 Shinto shrine and the forest, the UNESCO-declared cultural monuments of Ancient Nara include 3 more Buddhist temples – Gango-ji (6th century), Toshodai-ji (8th century) and Yakushi-ji (7th century BC).), as well as the Heijo Palace, which once served as the Imperial residence.
Yakushi-ji is one of Japan’s most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples, and is especially revered for the Yakushi-nyorai, or so-called Medicine Buddha, who gave the temple its name and is one of the first Buddhist deities brought to Japan from China in 680.