Easy Access from Osaka or Kyoto! Tour Ancient Temples in Nara with the Help of an AI Chatbot [PR]
When it comes to famous sightseeing cities in Japan, most people probably think of the megacity Tokyo, the gourmet paradise of Osaka, or the ever-popular Kyoto. But, did you know that just an hour from Osaka or Kyoto you can find the city of Nara, which is a former capital with just as long and storied a history as Kyoto? If you've come all the way to Japan, it would be such a waste to not visit this city. This article will introduce a travel itinerary focused around visiting ancient temples in Nara, recommended by a convenient chatbot service!
Enjoy a Stress-free Trip to Nara with the "Repl-Ai" Chatbot!
This chatbot couldn't be easier to use. On top of that, it can tailor its recommendations to families, couples, adventure-seekers, history-lovers, and more in order please a variety of travelers. Try using it however you like!
This time, I asked for an itinerary centered around little-known historical areas within Nara Prefecture. What unfolded was a trip more fun than I could have imagined!
Like Kyoto, Nara is a former capital of Japan. There, the atmosphere of over 1,500 years ago still permeates to this day.
How to Use the "Repl-Ai" Chatbot
First, go to the following Facebook page: NaraExperience.com. There, you can access the "Repl-Ai" chatbot and receive a Nara itinerary tailored to your individual needs!
It's a breeze to use: just answer the questions that appear on the screen and you will surely find the perfect travel course for you.
For my trip, it gave me the following itinerary: Kintetsu Nara Station → Hasedera Temple → Muro-ji Temple → Kintetsu Nara Station.
I left Kintetsu Nara Station and headed towards Hasedera Station, with one train transfer along the way. From there, it was a 15-minute walk to Hasedera Temple.
The official name of Hasedera Temple is Busan Kagura-in Hasedera, and it is a temple with around 1,300 years of history! As is tradition, I started my temple visit by ceremoniously washing my hands at the temizuya.
Once you pass though Niomon Gate, you will come across the Nobori-ro, an atmospheric covered staircase. This 399-step staircase leads to the Hondo (Main Hall), and you can feel the long history of this temple with each and every step.
I loved looking at the botan (tree peony) flowers that were planted along the stairway. Apparently, these flowers can be enjoyed each year from early April to the start of May. As you can enjoy sakura (cherry blossoms) around mid-April and ajisai (French hydrangea) from mid-June to early July, this temple where you can enjoy flowers nearly all-year-round is also famously nicknamed "Hana no Mitera" (Temple of Flowers).
The Hondo was built in 1650 and is officially designated as a National Treasure. The large Japanese characters on the hall say "daihikaku" (大悲閣). "Daihi" is an alternate name for Kannon (Buddhist deity of compassion), and refers to the way that that Kannon cares for all people. "Daihikaku" means "a building containing Kannon."
There is indeed a statue of Kannon within Hasedera Temple, but note that it can only be seen during limited periods in the spring and autumn.
The Hondo sits on a sheer cliff face and was constructed in a unique style called "kake-zukuri," with all of its supporting pillars made of keyaki (Japanese zelkova). I was very impressed at the craftsmanship required to create this structure which has stood for over 400 years!
I felt connected to the perpetual flow of time as I looked out over the scenery that is more or less the same as it was way back when this temple was built. Looking to the right, I was treated to a scenic view of a 5-story pagoda.
Viewing the Statue of Kannon - A Special, Limited-time Treat!
As mentioned earlier, the Kannon housed at Hasedera Temple can only be viewed during limited periods each year in spring and autumn.
In order to visit the Kannon, first you have to stop at the entrance and rub some zuko (purification powder) into both hands to purify your body and soul. Then, after wrapping a 5-color rope (symbolizing your connection with Kannon) around your left wrist, you can enter an area which is usually closed off to visitors.
*These pictures were taken with special permission from Hasedera Temple. Note that photography is strictly prohibited to temple visitors.
The statue of Kannon stands over 10m in height and is located a short distance into the dimly-lit interior of the Hondo. As I looked up at the statue, I was awestruck by its impressive size and aura.
Hasedera's statue of Kannon is called the Juichimen Kanzeon Bosatsu (11-faced Kannon), as it has 10 faces in addition to its main face. Thus, it can look in all directions at once. Also, you'll notice that each face displays one of humanity's many emotions. It's also unique for holding a shakujo (staff) that is usually held by O-jizo (bodhisattva who look over children, travelers, and the underworld).
Here, you can actually touch the feet of the Kannon statue while praying!
If you look carefully at the statue's feet, you will see many marks and scars: these are said to show that the Kannon has been taking on and answering the prayers of temple visitors ceaselessly for 1,300 years.
In addition to the Kannon, be sure to look at the wooden mandalas and historical statues of Buddha that are located within the temple as well.
When I visited, the red and white plum trees were in bloom, so I was able to see for myself why Hasedera is called the Temple of Flowers.
As I left the temple, I knew I would carry memories of the covered staircase, statue of Kannon, 5-story pagoda, and more with me forever.
Name: Hasedera Temple
Opening hours: (Apr. - Sep.) 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, (Oct. - Nov., Mar.) 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, (Dec. - Feb.) 9:00 am - 4:30 pm
*Extended hours during the Peony Festival and other special events
Closing days: None
Admission fee: 500 JPY/Adult (middle school age and up), 250 JPY/Elementary school student
Address: 731-1 Hase, Sakurai-shi, Nara
How to get there: 15-minute walk from Hasedera Station on the Kintetsu Railway Osaka Line
Kannon viewing period (2019): Spring: Mar. 1 - Jun. 30, Autumn: Oct. 12 - Dec. 1
Viewing times: (Mar.) 9:30 am - 4:00 pm, (Apr. - Jun.) 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Viewing fee: 1,000 JPY (does not include 500 JPY temple admission), 1,300 JPY (includes 500 JPY temple admission)
Official homepage: http://www.hasedera.or.jp/ (Japanese)
After Hasedera Temple, it was time to ride a combination of train and bus to get to Muro-ji Temple, located deep within the mountains. Once you cross a red bridge called "Taiko-bashi," you will be in the precincts of the temple. I was relieved to find out that even though this temple was located deep in the mountains, it actually had free Wi-fi throughout the grounds!
There is a direct bus that goes between Hasedera Temple and Muro-ji Temple during limited periods in the spring and autumn.
Muro-ji Temple is one of the top hidden gems in Nara. It is said to have been constructed during the end of the Nara era (770 - 780) and contains several National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties, and statues of Buddha.
After passing through Niomon Gate, you will reach a staircase called "Yoroizaka," which is apparently bordered on each side by blooming rhododendrons each April.
At the top of Yoroizaka lies the Kondo (Golden Hall), which is registered as a National Treasure. The hall contains the "Shaka Nyorai Ryuzo" (Standing Shaka Nyorai), itself another National Treasure, as well as the Important Cultural Property "Jizo Bosatsu." I was struck by the artistic beauty on display.
There are convenient QR codes placed around the grounds that provide information about the various buildings and artifacts in 6 languages, including English, Traditional Chinese, Korean, and more.
*Note that it is prohibited to take photos of any of the statues of Buddha within the temple grounds
This is the Kanjodo (Main Hall), yet another National Treasure. Built in the year 1308, it enshrines the Important Cultural Property "Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu."
Yet another National Treasure, the Five-story Pagoda is located up some stairs from the Kanjodo. The view of the pagoda showered in the smattering of light shining in from the tree branches above struck me as almost magical.
Surprisingly, this pagoda is the smallest of its kind to be found outdoors. However, it is one of the oldest pagodas, next to the Horyuji 5-story Pagoda.
Muro-ji Temple's Okunoin
You will definitely want to visit the Okunoin (inner sanctuary) of Muro-ji Temple, located behind the 5-story Pagoda and up some more flights of stairs. I truly felt the endless passing of time as I walked among the giant cedar trees that towered over the path.
I must warn you that you will have to climb a great number of stairs to arrive at the Okunoin. For those who lack the confidence to make the trek barehanded, there are free bamboo walking sticks that can be borrowed from the front of the temple.
After quite the hike, I reached the Okunoin, which includes structures such as the Jotodo (pictured) and Mieido. There are also other highlights such as the 7-story stone monument placed on the bare cliff-face and more. I was healed by the stunning scenery amidst the giant cedar trees in this alcove deep within the mountains.
The Okunoin is also home to a group of Muro-zan tropical ferns, a protected plant species that has been growing and thriving here naturally for over 1,000 years.
I returned to Kintetsu Nara Station via Muroji Station while reflecting on the highlights of my trip to Muro-ji Temple: the impressive 5-story Pagoda, the several statues of Buddha, and the giant cedar trees in the Okunoin.
Name: Muro-ji Temple
Open hours: (Apr. 1 - Nov. 30) 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, (Dec. 1 - Mar.) 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Closing days: None
Admission fee 600 JPY/Adult (middle school age and up), 400 JPY/Elementary school student
Address: 78 Muro, Uda-shi, Nara
How to get there: Take a bus toward Muro-ji Temple from Muroguchi-Ono Station for 15 minutes and then get off at the last stop, then it is a 5-minute walk
Closing time: 3:45 pm
Official homepage: http://www.murouji.or.jp/(Japanese)
Stop by Nara Park, Close to Kintetsu Nara Station
While it's not technically part of the recommended itinerary from the "Repl-Ai" chatbot, Nara Park is located close to Kintetsu Nara Station, so I just had to make a quick detour. This park is populated with thousands of wild deer wherever you look! If you buy a pack of shika-senbei (rice crackers made for deer) for 150 JPY, you will quickly be surrounded by a group of cute deer looking for a snack!
These deer are a protected species that have been revered as holy in Nara for over 1,000 years. Please refrain from feeding them anything other than shika-senbei, or chasing or hitting them.
After spending the night in the Kintetsu Nara Station area, I just had to give the adorable deer another visit in the morning! The park was much less crowded than during the evening, giving it a whole new atmosphere!
Todai-ji Temple, with its famous Great Buddha statue, is also close by, and is worth a visit if you have the time.
Did you know there's such a fascinating area located so close to the popular tourist destinations of Osaka and Kyoto? By all means, use a chatbot to plan your trip to this area and learn all about the wonders of Japan in Nara!
*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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