Nara, A Golden Week Escape

09.04.00

It was my first golden week in Japan. People warned me that during this holiday period, everywhere will be crowded. But as a new resident who eager to explore everything around, I couldn't help to go out. Nara, a neighbor of Kyoto, is the city that I picked to be explored. I went with 7 Indonesian friends and 1 Japanese friend, Daisuke.


My first impression about Nara: it is a compact city.  Unlike Kyoto that has many touristy spots, Nara has only one area with a lot of touristy spots inside. Therefore, it is convenient to explore the city by foot. 

Getting here
By train: Take JR Nara Line or Kintetsu Nara Line

Getting around
The city is in the walkable distance to be explored. However, there is also Nara City Loop Bus that will stop at main tourist attractions.

Places


Nakatanidou
Near to Kintetsu Station, there is a mochi shop that does mochi pounding in front of their store, named Nakatanidou. Nakatanidou's specialty is yomogi mochi, a green mochi which color is obtained from a Japanese wild plant. As we standing in front of the shop, we watched the old man pounding mochi very fast. Apparently, Nakatanidou is the fastest mochi pounder in Japan!


Kofukuji Temple
After having a bite of mochi, Daisuke took us to a complex of a temple, which later I found named Kofukuji. We walked surrounding a lake, then arrived at a three-story pagoda. Here, Daisuke explained to us that the top of the pagoda was made in such way so that people who pray from afar can see. I assumed it probably like qibla of Buddhist.


We continued our walk and arrived at the main area of Kofukuji, which is a building called The Eastern Garden Hall and a five-story pagoda. They also have a National Treasure Museum, but unfortunately, we decided not to enter any of those buildings and continue our exploration instead.


Details
Kofukuji Temple
Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Fee: 600 yen (National Treasure Museum), 300 yen (Eastern Golden Hall), 800 yen (both)

Naramachi
Being a complex of old houses that preserved and open to the public, Naramachi feels like Kyoto to some extent. We entered two houses, the first one is Koshi-no-le Residence, and unfortunately I did not remember the name of the second house. Both houses have classic Japanese house elements such as tatami and stone garden. Since it was Children's Day (こどもの日 Kodomo no Hi), there is a drawing of koinobori and a samurai doll that represents the strength of a boy in Koshi-no-le Residence. These houses that I entered are open for free. In the area, there are also Gangoji Temple, Craft Museum, and other historical places.




Nara Park
It's a lunch time! Actually, we kind of skip the lunch because we had a long walk before arriving at Nara Park. It was already 3 pm when finally we opened a mat, took out our lunch boxes, and started eating. 




Nara Park is a big open space in the center of the city, which is very convenient to have your leisure time doing a picnic with your closest one. Inside the park, there are lots of deer around. After finished with our lunch, we bought biscuits and fed the deer. On this kind of national holiday, the deer looked exhausted eating too many irresistible biscuits from overflowing visitors. 


Todaiji Temple
Across Nara Park, there is a temple named Todaiji, which famous for its Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall). We arrived late afternoon. I enjoyed the beauty of the sun shined through the garden of the temple, which somehow makes me feel relax. Todaiji is the first temple that gave me such calm feeling that I cannot explain. 


After walked through the fascinating wide garden in front of the main hall, we entered the Daibutsuden and saw a big buddha statue rose in front of us. On the back of the statue, there are other displays of statues, and a kind of attraction of a hole in a pillar which said to represent Daibutsu's nostril. People were lining up to enter the hole, as it is said that those who can pass through the hole will be given a life enlightenment.



Details
Todaiji Temple
Opening hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (sometimes slightly earlier/late depends on the season)
Fee: 500 yen

Nigatsudo Hall
It was almost sunset when we arrived at Nigatsudo Hall. Located in the eastern part of Daibutsuden, this hall is a beautiful place to see Nara city from above. We were standing still on the edge of the hall, watching the sun slowly goes down. It was such a beautiful moment to close the day.




Kasuga Taisha Shrine
It was already late, but Daisuke insisted on taking us to the last attraction of the day: Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Daisuke said this is the most famous shrine in Nara, as it was established at the time Nara being the capital of Japan. Yes, Nara once was the capital of the country! I thought only Tokyo and Kyoto have ever been the capital, but no, Nara once the capital during the 8th century.

The shrine has a botanical garden in front of its entrance, a walkway with old lanterns, and a hall. During my visit, apparently there was a kind of ceremony being held inside the hall,  but since it was in the closed inner area, I could not see anything. Maybe it is better to visit the shrine in a daytime or in a night time on February or August as it is said the shrine will light up the lanterns.


Details
Kasha Taisha Shrine
Opening hours: 6:00 to 18:00
Fee: Free (outer area), 500 yen (inner area)
Botanical Garden
Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00, closed in December-February
Fee: 500 yen

Closing Remarks
Nara is a nice city to be explored in a day, especially if you are into temples and shrines. If you are not really interested in such places, a half day trip will be nice. My suggestion will be having your late afternoon snacks at Nara Park, take a look inside Todaiji, and close your day seeing a beautiful sunset at Nigatsudo Hall.

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