My initial itenary to Japan actually did not include Nara as it seemed not as popular as Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Fortunately, I included the place after suggestions from my office colleagues. It became one of three favourite cities for me to visit in Japan along with Kyoto and Hakone.
How To Get There ?
Same as other cities in Kansai prefecture (Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto), the nearest international airport to go to Nara is Kansai international airport. Meanwhile for domestic, you can take Itami airport in Osaka.
People normally visit Nara together with Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. From Kyoto, you can take JR line using your JR pass for free by taking JR Miyakoji Kaisoku for about 45 minutes. You will need to pay ¥690 if you do not hold JR pass. Other alternative is private Kintetsu Kyoto line which takes 35 minutes to Nara from Kyoto.
For my visit, I I went through Osaka using JR line, Yamatoji Kaisoku on Osaka Loop line in Osaka station for about 45 minutes. You need to pay ¥780 to Nara from Osaka station using Osaka loop line or ¥450 from Tennoji station for about 30 minutes. Other alternative is using private line, Kintetsu Nara line from Namba station for about 40 minutes with ticket price ¥540.
Should you not hold JR pass, and travelling around Kansai region, you can consider having Kansai thru pass, which enable you to have unlimited travel for 2 or 3 days on private railways, buses and subway in Kansai area, but this pass not include the access to JR lines.
As my itenary schedule is tight, I plan to visit Nara only for half day trip which will be continue to Osaka city tour. It’s early in the morning, Osaka train station are full of people taking the train from or to Osaka station.
The journey through Nara is quite pleasant, an opportunity to see suburb area of Kansai.
I was a bit sleepy when arrive Nara in the morning due to not enough sleep last night. Fortunately there was convinience store inside Nara station for me to look for a cup of hot coffee, a nice drink to energize as well to warm the body in cold place. Looking into the store, it seems the store do not have hot coffee, as I only see drink in cans only, not the usual cup of coffee you find in 7 eleven in countries like Hongkong, Taiwan or South Korea, where you can just pay and pour the hot water by your selves. Not finding ones, I was asking the store keepers with limited Japanese I had which store keepers show me the coffee. I just notice that the shelves have hot drink section in addition to the cold one, however of course for me, the drink not really hot as the one with hot water, but quite warm.
Most of interesting sights in Nara are located around Nara Park, including Todaiji, the biggest buddhist temple in Japan. From the JR station, you need to walk approximately 15 minutes to go to Nara Park. As it’s still early in the morning, many shops around were still closed and it’s nice to walk around.
In middle way to Nara Park, I find this small temple beside the street with beautiful garden. Some plants looks beautiful in the mid of cold weather of Japan in February.
Finally I arrived at Nara Park. The first place I visited was Kofuku-ji. This temple has 5 storeys pagoda which become the second highest pagoda in Japan after Kyoto’s Toji pagoda.
In Nara park, you can see many deers are being freed and go around the park. You can also touch the deer or give some foods. There are street vendor who sold food for the deer. The deer might follow you especially if you have some food with you. In Nara, deer are being freed and protected. It’s also become the symbol of the city together with buddhism, hence Nara make the symbol of the city, a monk with deer’s horn.
The view surround Nara park is also beautiful. If you have sufficient budget, you might want to try the Japanese tricycle same as the one you find in Kyoto.
Next destination is Todaiji, the most famous sight in Nara as well the biggest buddhist temple in Japan. It’s also Unesco heritage site and home to famous Daibutsu, the largest buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The area of Todaiji is huge and have 2 gates. Even you did not intend to go inside Todaiji, you might want to admire the surrounding of Todaiji. For entrance to Todaiji area is free, but you need to pay to go inside the temple.
The giant front gate of Todaiji, Nandai mon is guarded by two fierce huge protectors statues.
From Todaiji, next destination was Ukimido, a hexagonal building built on Sagiike pond which you can see the reflection of the building on the water.
To explore Nara on half day is actually not enough time to roam around, which need a least one day to go around the city. Nara, itself also as very good tourist information center, where you can rest a while after long walk, shelter from hot or cold weather or would like to use public toilet. Automatic machine selling can drinks are also available inside the building as well map. Unfortunately the map I found during the time is not really good as it’s in Japanese.
It’s time for lunch before continue journey of that day back to Osaka to roam around Osaka town. I try one Japanese restaurant and having sushi set. It’s a nice lunch, even the taste is not as delicious as the one in Tsukiji Fish Market. The price is also lower. The restaurant also serve blow fish, exotic fish dining which need special skill of chef to cut or get poisoned.
Our next article will be the last city in Kansai prefecture, Osaka and then continue with other places in Japan.