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Take a Day Trip from Osaka! Five Recommended Sights in Nara

Nara is a popular tourist destination with a history spanning 1300 years. It's about an hour from Osaka by train, so a great place to go on a day trip. Here are five standard sightseeing spots in Nara not to miss. They are all World Heritage Sites so you won't be disappointed!

1. Todaiji

This temple was established in the mid-eighth century and is representative of Tempyo culture, which thrived during the Nara period (710−794). In 1998, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. The vast temple grounds house numerous sites including the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsu-den), which is the world's largest wooden structure; Hokkedo, which houses statues made during the Nara period; Nigatsudo, where Omizutori, a ceremony that signals the arrival of spring, is held; and the Great South Gate, which houses the national treasure, the Kongo Rikishi statues. A day may not be enough to really see all the structures, but the Vairocana Buddha sculpture, which is a national treasure sitting in the Great Buddha Hall, is a must see. The majesty of the great Buddha up close is breathtaking. Please appreciate its grandeur with your own eyes.

Todaiji Kondo, the largest wooden structure that is a national treasure.

The Vairocana Buddha, known familiarly as the Big Buddha of Nara, is the largest sculpture that is a national treasure with a height of 14.98m, a face 5m 33cm long, and a weight of 250t.

1. Todaiji

406-1 Zoushi-cho, Nara-shi, Nara

2. Kohfukuji

This is a popular tourist site on par with Todaiji. It was the tutelary temple of the Fujiwara family, which was powerful during the Heian period (794-1185). The temple on which it was based was built in 669 and moved to the present location in 710 when the capital relocated to Nara. Kohfukuji, which, like Todaiji, is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is a veritable treasure trove of cultural assets with four structures that are national treasures. These include the Eastern Golden Hall, 68 sculptures in 17 groups that are national treasures, and many other important cultural properties! The Eastern Golden Hall, which is its representative structure, and the Northern Round Hall, which is the oldest standing structure in Kohfukuji, are must sees! Also, don't miss the National Treasure Hall, which was renovated in 2010 and exhibits valuable national treasures and important cultural properties such as sculptures of the Eight Kinds of Mythological Beings, including the world-famous Ashura, and the Ten Great Disciples!

*The National Treasure Hall will be closed through 2017 for earthquake retrofitting but sculptures such as the Ashura are scheduled to be shown in the Temporary Lecture Hall in the spring and fall.

2. Kohfukuji

48 Noboriojicho, Nara-shi, Nara

3. Kasugataisha Shrine

This is a shrine in the verdant Nara Park and was built in 768 to wish for national prosperity and happiness of the people. As the main shrine of the approximately 1,000 Kasuga shrines around the country, it is a shrine with a long and distinguished history and one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are many sites to see such as the approximately 2,000 stone lanterns that line the main path, the Nanmon and Chumon gates distinguished by their bright red color and beautiful form, and the approximately 1,000 hanging lanterns in the east-west cloister surrounding the main shrine. Based on the belief that the deity enshrined in Kasugataisha, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, came to Kasuga on a white deer, deer are considered to be the deity's messengers. The omikuji fortune-telling paper strips held by white ceramic deer are cute, so why not get one to commemorate your visit?

The hanging lanterns that are lit just two times a year create a dreamy atmosphere

3. Kasugataisha Shrine

160 Kasuganocho, Nara-shi, Nara

4. Nara Park

This vast 660ha park which houses various must-see Nara sightseeing spots, such as Todaiji and Kohfukuji, is a popular tourist destination visited by many tourists throughout the year. The nature-rich park is also a perfect resting place for tourists tired from walking around. Approximately 1,200 of the deer that are symbols of Nara live in the park, so you can play with them while taking a break. The deer in Nara Park have long been cherished as messengers from god, so they are very friendly and cute.


A herd of deer relaxing in spacious Nara Park

4. Nara Park

30 Noboriojicho, Nara-shi, Nara

5. Horyuji

This is a temple that was built at the beginning of the seventh century, and was the first temple in Japan to be registered as a World Cultural Heritage site. The western area, centered on the main hall and five-story pagoda, are considered to be the world's oldest group of wooden structures. The buildings that express the sense of beauty and dedication at the time, such as the five-story pagoda which is a beautiful isosceles triangle formed by five layers of roofs that become smaller as they go up, the cloister with neat rows of pillars built using a technique called "entasis," and the Chumon, a gate made with a rare square shape, are worth seeing. The Gallery of Temple Treasures, exhibits such masterpieces as the Tamamushinozushi, which is considered to be a treasure among treasures of Japanese craft, and the breathtakingly beautiful Kudara Kannon statue with a slender figure and graceful and merciful expression. There is so much to see you may lose track of time.

The main hall is characterized by two layers of roofs, the top layer of which slopes in two directions and the bottom layer of which slopes in four directions. It appears to be a two story structure from the outside, but there are no stairs indoors, and no rooms on the upper level.

Pillars in the cloisters built using a technique called "entasis" with a thicker bottom and thinner top.

5. Horyuji

1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara

There are many more wonderful historical sites and places of scenic beauty in Nara. Please make repeated trips to find your favorite spots.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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