Knowing will make your trip twice as fun! Basic Information About Nara
Don't you feel that you are able to better enjoy your trips when you know about the special characteristics of the place you are going to visit? Here is some information about Nara, a city with a long-standing history. Please read on to find out more!
What kind of place is Nara?
Nara has, since ancient times, been a place where travelers can experience Japanese culture and history. It is said to be the roots of Japan, where the capital was during the Asuka and Nara periods (then called Fujiwarakyo and Heijokyo, respectively) up until the year 794, when the capital was moved to Kyoto. "Asuka style" masonry and burial sites remain in the Asuka region to this day, where the city was built upon ruins of the Jomon period. Also, the influences of Buddhism and China on Nara's Tenpyo culture from the 8th century are evident in the architectural design of Todaiji, since it was constructed during the time that Heijokyo was the capital of Japan.
The city of Nara is located in a basin in the northwest of Nara Prefecture, and a characteristic of the climate here is that it gets really hot and humid in summer, and freezing cold during winter. Similar to the northeastern Yamato Plateau, there is a large temperature difference between day and night. Also, in the mountainous southern region, especially Mt. Odaigahara in the southeast, rainy days are almost guaranteed. In particular, heavy rainfall can be expected in summer and the snow can pile up during winter.
The citizens of Nara are said to be conservative, straightforward, and friendly. The importance placed on maintaining the status quo by these easygoing people is further evident in the southern region of Nara. There is even a Japanese phrase "Nara no nedaore," which loosely translates to "Nara is a town that loves to sleep until they lose their fortune," aptly describing the easygoing lifestyle in Nara.
The dialect spoken in the northern region is largely different from the one spoken in the south. The dialect spoken in the central north is similar to the Kansai dialect spoken throughout the Kansai region including areas like Kyoto and Osaka, but the one spoken in the south, particularly in Okuyoshino, has an accent sounding more like standard Japanese. The northern part of Nara has had frequent dealings with the people of Kyoto and Osaka, whereas the Okuyoshino region rarely has any interactions with its surroundings due to the mountainous geography. This accounts for the difference in spoken dialects.
Nara neither has an airport nor a shinkansen bullet train station, and the main form of transport to get here would be by train. It takes approximately 3 hours from Tokyo. Taking the shinkansen to Kyoto Station, then taking a local train (either JR or the Kintetsu) to Nara Station would be the fastest option. Travelers may also wish to travel via JR trains from Kansai International Airport, which takes at least an hour, or by limousine bus, which takes about 80 minutes.
Local trains are also the main form of transport within Nara Prefecture. In the case of sightseeing, the main lines used are the Kintetsu Kyoto Line and the Kintetsu Kashihara Line. The Kintetsu Yoshino Line is also used by travelers who wish to make their way to the mountainous regions of Yoshino. If you wish to do some sightseeing within the city of Nara, the Nara-Nishinokyo-Ikaruga Line bus is really convenient because many bus stops are located just outside the entrance of many tourist attractions including World Heritage Sites. For certain bus routes, you may purchase a Nara Park-Nishinokyo-World Heritage One-Day Pass or a Nara Park-Nishinokyo-Horyuji World Heritage One-Day Pass Wide 1 day bus pass, which allows you to ride the bus as many times as you want throughout the day.
Iconic Tourist Spots
A must-visit tourist spot would be Nara Park, a wide and spacious park which spans 4 kilometers east to west, and 2 kilometers north to south. The park houses various temples and shrines, such as Todaiji, famous for its giant Buddha statue, Kasugataisha Shrine, and Kofukuji. Nara Park is also home to approximately 1,100 deer, as well as an assortment of green grass and old pine trees, some of which have been around for over 1000 years! Within the park, you may also buy some senbei (rice crackers) to feed and interact with the deer. Some of them even bow to you upon receiving the senbei! If you travel a little further out of the city of Nara, you can also visit Horyuji, the world's oldest wooden structure built in the year 607, or the Ishibutai-kofun, a megalithic tomb that was made by stacking 30 large stones. In the south, Mt. Yoshino is also famous as a location for the best cherry blossoms in Japan.
Famous Meals to Try
The dish most representative of Nara is kakinoha sushi. Kakinoha sushi is prepared by sprinkling vinegar onto sushi rice, topping the rice with a slice of fish, then wrapping it with persimmon leaves. A wide variety of fish is used as toppings, but the standard is mackerel. The fish is also marinated in vinegar and gives it a traditional taste. If you are not a fan of bluefish, you can simply try the salmon, or the lighter-tasting sea bream. Also try the Asuka nabe, a hotpot dish that incorporates chicken broth and milk. Chicken meat, vegetables, tofu, and other ingredients are simmered in the hotpot, giving the soup a mellow yet full-bodied flavor. Other than that, chagayu (tea porridge) and the unique-flavored narazuke (vegetables pickled in sake lees) are also famous local foods that warrant a try.
Many forms of traditional art are still alive in the rustic town of Nara. One of them, the Nara Ittobori Doll (or Nara Doll for short), is made by quickly and skillfully carving a single block of wood into the shape of a doll with a chisel. Colorful paint,gold leaf, and iwa-enogu (stone pigment) is then applied on the boldly carved doll, giving it a harmonious and exquisite appeal. The art of making Nara wchiwa (fans) has also existed since the time when Nara was the capital of Japan. The surface of the fan is made by decorating colorful washi (handmade Japanese paper) with precise openwork with motifs of deer, five-storied pagodas, and/or treasures stored in Shosoin (the treasure house of Todaiji), expressing a Nara atmosphere. These fans would make for great souvenirs!
With its long-standing history of 1300 years, Nara is a treasure trove of Japanese culture. Please visit Nara and experience it for yourself!
*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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