A Two-Day Itinerary to See the National Treasures of Nara
The Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple and the surrounding area has to be one of the most popular sightseeing destinations of Nara. However, there is so much more to Nara. In this article, we'll show you a 2-day itinerary to guide yourself through Nara's many charms.
Day 1: Stroll around Nara Park
9:00 am: Depart from Kintetsu-Nara Station
There are two stations in the center of Nara - Kintetsu Railway's Kintetsu-Nara Station and JR's Nara Station. It is about a 20-minute walk to the first destination, Todai-ji, from Kintetsu-Nara Station and about a 30-minute walk from JR Nara Station.
9:30 am: See Todai-ji and walk around Nara Park
The first stop is the popular tourist destination of Todai-ji, located within Nara Park. In 743, the emperor of the time issued a proclamation for the building of a Great Buddha. Todai-ji was built to house the Great Buddha, and as a temple to protect the country. There are many national treasures on the temple grounds, including the Great Buddha Hall, which is a must see. It is one of the largest wooden structures in the world, and the Great Buddha housed there is also a national treasure and is the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. You are sure to be amazed at the sheer size of it!
Entrance fee: 600 JPY/general, 300 JPY/elementary school age
*Required for each of the Great Buddha Hall, Hokke-do, Kaidan-in and Todaiji Museum
Take a walk around Nara Park after seeing Todai-ji. Nara Park is a 1,631 acre park located in the eastern part of Nara City, and is home to some temples and shrines, such as Todai-ji, Kofukuji and Kasuga Taisha Shrine, as well as Mt. Wakakusa and the virgin forests of Mt. Kasuga. It is famous for the approximately 1,200 wild deer living on the grounds that are designated as natural monuments of the country. It is prohibited to give the deer food other than the Shika Senbei sold in the park. The deer may be used to people, but they are still wild animals, so be careful not to get bitten when feeding them.
*Duration (approx.): 150 minutes
To the next destination: 14-minute walk to Tengyokudo Nara Main Branch
12:15 pm: Lunch at Tengyokudo Nara Main Branch
For lunch, enjoy dishes made with Honkudzu from the Yoshino area of Nara Prefecture. Honkudzu is pure kudzu* starch. Honkudzu made using a unique method that has been handed down in the Yoshino area of Nara Prefecture for generations is called Yoshino Honkudzu and is considered to be the highest quality kudzu.
*Starch extracted from the root of kudzu (Japanese arrowroot), a plant of the bean family. Kudzu available on the market often have starch from other plants, such as sweet potato, mixed in.
Tengyokudo Nara Main Branch is a kudzu specialty restaurant operated by Inoue Tengyokudo, an established kudzu maker that was founded in 1870. It is located at the site of the former large western gate of Todai-ji and is a place to enjoy kudzu cuisine and sweets while gazing at seasonal views. Recommended are dishes of udon (thick noodles made from wheat flour) made with kudzu in (864 JPY and up (incl. tax)). After your meal, make sure to try the Kudzu-mochi made by heating then cooling and setting a mixture of kudzu, water, and sugar. It is a great way to enjoy the springy yet gooey texture of honkudzu.
*Duration (approx.): 60 minutes
To the next destination: 9-minute walk to Kohfukuji
1:30 pm: See Kohfukuji
The next stop is Kohfukuji, a temple that was founded more than 1,300 years ago. It contains more than 100 national treasures and important cultural properties such as Japan's second tallest five-story pagoda, the Northern Round Hall, which is praised as the most beautiful octagonal hall still standing in Japan. There are also numerous Buddha statues, documents and paintings in the Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall. The most famous among them is the Statue of Asura (a national treasure), which has three faces and six arms. Asura is derived from a wicked deity of war in ancient India but adopted into Buddhism as a deity that protects Buddha.
Entrance fee: 700 JPY/general, 600 JPY/high school and junior high school age, 300 JPY/elementary school age
*Duration (approx.): 120 minutes
3:30 pm: Stroll around Naramachi
After visiting Kohfukuji, stroll around the old town of Naramachi, an area that retains scenes of life from Old Japan. It is a fun area to walk around, with many shops selling traditional crafts and a variety of miscellaneous goods. There are also cafes in renovated old buildings that are perfect to take a break in. Naramachi Koshi-no-ie Residence, which is modeled on a traditional machiya-style house, is open to the public, so make sure to stop by.
Day 2: Stroll around the Ikaruga area
9:00 am: To JR Horyuji Station
On the second day, visit the Ikaruga Santo* (three pagodas of Ikaruga), which exudes a sense of history. Take the Yamatoji Rapid Service from JR Nara Station to Horyuji Station, which is around 11 minutes. Walk 17 minutes to the first destination, Horyu-ji.
*The five-story pagoda of Horyu-ji, three-story pagoda of Hourin-ji, and three-story pagoda of Hokki-ji in Ikaruga-cho in northwest Nara.
9:30 am: Visit Horyuji
Horyuji is famous as a temple that houses the world's oldest surviving wooden structures, and is registered as a World Heritage Site. It was built in 607 by Crown Prince Shotoku, a famous aristocrat and politician of the 7th century known to all Japanese people, together with the emperor of the time. There are old documents indicating that it was burned down in the middle of the 7th century, and the current temple buildings are thought to have been completed in the early 8th century. The grounds, which are roughly divided into the western precinct and eastern precinct, house 55 buildings that have been designated as national treasures and important cultural properties, including the Goju-no-To (five-story pagoda) and Kondo (main hall). There are also many outstanding works of Buddhist art, of which 38 are national treasures (150 individual items).
Entrance fee: 1,500 JPY/general, 750 JPY/elementary school age
*Duration (approx.): 90 minutes
11:00 am: Visit Chugu-ji
Chugu-ji, which is about five minutes by foot to the east of Horyuji, has been a nunnery since it was founded. It is said that it was built on the grounds of a palace that Crown Prince Shotoku built for his mother. The principal object of worship is the wooden statue of Bodhisattva in a half lotus position (national treasure), which, together with the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx, is considered to be one of the three great works of art with enigmatic smiles. The Tenjukoku Shucho Mandala (national treasure), an embroidery that Crown Prince Shotoku's wife made of the afterworld to pray for Shotoku's happiness there, is also housed in the temple (the embroidery on display is a replica).
Entrance fee: 600 JPY/general, 450 JPY/junior high school age, 300 JPY/elementary school age
*Duration (approx.): 30 minutes
11:30 am: Visit Hokki-ji and have lunch
Walk 20 minutes southeast from Chugu-ji to Hokki-ji. Hokki-ji is a temple founded in 638 that is registered as a World Heritage Site as part of the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area. It is said that Crown Prince Shotoku's son, Prince Yamashiro, created this temple out of a palace with a close connection to the Crown Prince. Its highlight is the three-story pagoda (national treasure) that was completed in 706. It is the only original building surviving on the temple grounds, and is said to be the oldest of all three-story pagodas that exist in Japan today. Between early to mid-October, it is surrounded by a beautiful scenery full of blooming cosmos. After seeing the temple, enjoy lunch at a place like Cafe Wash Gon or Garden Cafe Nagi, both of which are on the way to the next destination, Horin-ji.
Entrance fee: 300 JPY/general, 200 JPY/elementary school age
*Duration (approx.): 90 minutes
1:30 pm: Visit Horin-ji
After lunch, visit Horin-ji, otherwise known as the Mii-dera. It is located a 10-minute walk from Hokki-ji. It is said that it was built in 622 by Prince Yamashiro to wish for the recovery of his father, Crown Prince Shotoku, who was ill at the time. It has a three-story pagoda that is one of the three pagodas of Ikaruga, but the original pagoda was lost to fire caused by lightning. The current pagoda has been reconstructed using traditional techniques. The lecture hall on the grounds has Buddha statues, such as the seated figure of Yakushi-nyorai and standing figure of Akasagarbha, both of which are registered as important cultural properties.
Entrance fee: 500 JPY/general, 400 JPY/high school and junior high school age, 200 JPY/elementary school age
*Duration (approx.): 30 minutes
2:15 pm: Visit Ikaruga Shrine
Finally, visit Ikaruga Shrine, which is a 13-minute walk northwest of Horyuji. It is a small shrine, but is the only shrine dedicated to one of the four Shinto deities of Horyuji, and is thought to guard the northeastern (unlucky) direction. There is a stone torii gate facing a pond and beyond it, stone steps lead to the shrine grounds. It is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, revered as a Shinto deity of learning, and is affectionately called Tenman-san locally. It is a quiet shrine with few tourists and a great place to relax.
*Duration (approx.): 20 minutes
To the end of the tour: Walk 30 minutes to JR Horyuji Station
Many people visit Nara on day trips, but by staying there overnight, you will be able to fully enjoy its charm.
*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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