World Heritage Sites in Nara
Nara has the site of ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.’, attracting many tourists. There are three World Heritage Sites and national treasures, e.g. Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and so on.
Todai-ji Temple [World Heritage]
A large temple constructed at the behest of the Emperor Shomu in the mid-8th century, the Great Buddha Hall is one of the largest wooden structure in the world. The Vairocana Buddhist statue enshrined here is the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue (estimated weight of 380t, height of 15m) and is commonly known as the “Great Buddha of Nara”. There are other noteworthy sights such as the Great South Gate, Nigatsudo Hall and Hokkedo Hall. Hours: 8:00‒16:30 (Nov. to Feb.) 8:00‒17:00 (Mar.) 7:30‒17:30 (Apr. to Sept.) 7:30‒17:00 (Oct.)
Kasuga Taisha Shrine [World Heritage]
This ancient shrine was constructed to protect Heijo-kyo at the base of Mt. Kasuga, which has from antiquity been worshipped as the mountain where a Shinto god descended. The vermillion structure looks stunning against the deep green and, in May, ubiquitous wisteria can be seen blossoming beautifully. The deer, which are considered to be the messengers of god of Kasuga Taisha Shrine, wandering throughout the grounds are an impressive sight. Hours:9:00‒16:00 (Homotsuden Hall and The Garden of Kasuga Taisha Shrine)
Attractive Sites in Nara
Nara Park is located in the central part of Nara City and has vast green area. In this park, history and nature blend in harmony. Another charm of this park is deer. Approx. 1200 wild deer roam around freely and they are so tame that you can make friends with them.
Originally founded in the 7th century, 2010 marks the 1300 anniversary of the foundation of this temple. The five-story pagoda, a symbol of Nara City, was reconstructed about 500 years ago (1426) after it had burned down five times. A lot of national treasures and cultural treasures are exhibited at the temple’s museum, Kokuhokan. Hours:9:00‒17:00 (Last admission at 16:45)
Heijo-kyo Palace Site
For about 70 years from 710, the capital of Japan was Heijokyo located in present day Nara City. Heijo Palace was situated at the northern end of the capital. Covering approx. 1.3 km from east to west and approx. 1 km from north to south, this site has been preserved as a special historic spot of Japan. Both of the Suzakumon Gate (1998) and Daigokuden Hall (2010) were restored. Hours:9:00‒16:30 (Last admission 16:00) It is closed on Mondays.
The above venues are located in Nara Park (Deer Park). Most of the world heritage sites are within a walking distance from the venues. Also, there is a fresh and tranquil air in the morning in Nara. Most shrines and temples conduct a ceremony for praying very early in the morning.
(Please refer to the section “URLs for Tourist Information” for more detailed information.)
Traditional Foods and Craftwork of Nara
Nara is known as the spiritual home of the Japanese. It is also famed for its traditional local dishes and craftworks.
Cha-gayu (Rice flavored with green tea and seasonal vegetables)
Cha-gayu is the dish most Japanese associate with this very old city. It originated as the staple food of priests at Todaiji and Kofukuji. It is the Over time it became a household breakfast favorite, and today it has grown into a traditional food popular with locals and tourists alike. Although it is a simple dish made just by cooking rice in tea, Cha-gayu is profoundly fragrant and refreshing.
Kaki-no-ha sushi (Persimmon leaf-wrapped sushi)
Kaki-no-ha sushi is a bite-sized kind of sushi, wrapped in a persimmon leaf. It consists of vinegared rice topped with mackerel or salmon and wrapped in a persimmon leaf. The aroma of the persimmon leaf gives the sushi a mellow flavor.
Asuka-nabe (Japanese stew-like dish)
Asuka-nabe is made of cow milk and soybean paste with a seasoned chicken-bone based soup stock with chicken and vegetables. The origin of the dish comes from a stew made from goat milk that a Chinese monk who came to Nara in the 7th century created to deal with the cold.
Somen is thin white vermicelli-like flour noodles. Miwa is a famous somen-producing area. Somen are said to have originated here from “Sakubei” sweets that the priest Ganjin brought from China, taking their present from 1,000 years ago. Somen are popular year-around, chilled in summer and hot in winter.
Mikasa-yaki is a great way to round off a meal. Consisting of mildly sweet azuki bean paste sandwiched between two fluffy pancakes made with flour, egg, water, and other ingredients, the giant dessert is sure to prove a hit with sweet-toothed visitors. Some Mikasa-yaki can measure as much as 20cm in diameter.
In the 8th century, a priest of Kasuga Grand Shrine is said to have made the first “Nara fan” in a form resembling an implement of war. The natural scenery and features of Nara are found in the fans’ fretwork designs.
Nara calligraphy brushes
The production of writing brushes started when Kukai (774-835), known as Kobo Daishi, introduced brush-making techniques from China’s Tang Dynasty. Owing to its large number of temples and shrines, Nara’s brush industry flourished, leading to the birth of the “Nara brush”.
URLs for Tourist Information
- Nara Prefecture (http://www.pref.nara.jp/item/79931.htm#itemid79931)
- Nara City (Nara City Sightseeing Information Center) (http://narashikanko.or.jp/en/)
- Nara City Sightseeing Guide & Map (http://narashikanko.or.jp/pamph/pdf/guide_e.pdf)
- Nara sightseeing pamphlet (http://narashikanko.or.jp/en/pdf/english.pdf)
- Kansai Window (http://www.kansai.gr.jp/en/index.html)
- Selection of 100 tourist facilities in Kansai (http://www.kansai.gr.jp/en/selected100/index.html)
- 11 tourist facilities in Nara (http://www.kansai.gr.jp/en/selected100/area29_1.html)
- Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) (http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/)
- Rekishi Kaido (http://www.rekishikaido.gr.jp/time-trip/gengo/eng/pro/top.htm)