Before 2015 ended, Visit Japan tourism board invited me to an informative session about Nara, Japan. Have you heard of Nara? It’s often known for spotted deer that live in Nara Park and don’t seem shy around people. Others see Nara as an ideal day trip, from 40 minutes from Osaka or Kyoto or an hour from Tokyo. This session also showed there was more to this city than a short visit.
I was told by representatives from Nara’s tourism board that Nara was actually Japan’s first capital. These officials told me that Nara considered to be the birthplace of Japan’s culture and civilization, and was the last stop of the famous Silk Road. Here are some other neat tidbits that I learned about Nara.
Temples and Shrines
As with throughout Japan, there are buddhist temples and shinto shrines to definitely visit in Nara. Kasugataisha Shrine is a main complex comprised of four different shrines that visitors can approach along a route graced with many moss-covered stone lanterns. The shrine has additional 1,000 lanterns inside it. During a festival known as the Mantoro Festival, the inside lanterns are lit. Another place to visit is the Mt. Shigisan Chogosonshiji Temple, especially during spring. This temple is said to be a good spot for viewing the cherry blossoms and has a festival that celebrates their bloom. Plus, it’s known for the tiger figures that are on temple grounds. And Kofukuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a five-story wooden pagoda.
Nara has interesting culinary offerings, with ones that fuse in Western influences. According to the representatives from Nara, the city has Michelin Guide restaurants and sake breweries where visitors can go for tastings. As for native dishes, one local specialty is kakinoha-zushi – sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. It’s made of rice seasoned with vinegar and topped with a slice of salted mackerel or salmon. It’s also then pressed into a rectangle and wrapped in the leaf.
To further push aside the notion of Nara as a day visit, travelers can stay in accommodations. Along with modern boutique hotels and refurbished townhouses, one unique option is a ryokan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that can consist of communal baths and public areas. One place to look at might be the Nara Hotel. Set near Nara Park, this hotel dates back to 1909, when it was constructed to serve as a guest house for visiting dignitaries.