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Travel Guide Asia Japan Honshu Kansai Nara

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Introduction

Nara (奈良市) is a city (population ~370,000) in the Kansai Region of Japan. In the 8th century it was the capital of Japan in a period known as the Nara Period. A selection of stunning temples and shrines make this a popular travel destination. It is also home to a very large population of tame deer that roam freely, particularly in Nara Park. The Daibutsuden Hall, in the Todai-ji temple is the world's largest wooden building.

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Neighbourhoods

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Sights and Activities

Most of Nara's sights, including temples, shrines and famously mercenary deer, are concentrated in Nara Park (奈良公園 Nara-kōen), a wide, pleasant space of greenery. According to legend, the god of the Kasuga Taisha came riding a white deer in the old days, so the deer enjoy protected status as envoys of the god; however, based on their current behavior, either the deer have lost the job, or the god has taken an extremely passionate interest in biscuits from tourists (¥150), empty food wrappers and harassing shopkeepers.

Buddhist Temples

  • Tōdai-ji, including Nigatsu-dō
  • Saidai-ji
  • Kōfuku-ji
  • Gangō-ji
  • Yakushi-ji
  • Tōshōdai-ji

Kasuga-taisha

The Kasuga Grand Shrine was established in 768 A.D. and is the Fujiwara family's shrine. It has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. The stone lanterns lining the path to the shrine and the bronze lanterns inside make this shrine well worth a visit.

Heijō Palace

Heijō Palace was the Imperial Palace of Japan, during most of the Nara period. Its remains are part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Kasugayama Primeval Forest
  • Naramachi
  • Nara National Museum
  • Isuien Garden
  • Sarusawa Pond
  • Wakakusa-yama
  • Yagyū

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Events and Festivals

Traditional Festivals

Japan has countless traditional festivals and holidays. Then when you add the local festivals that number just grows and grows. Here is a list of the few major national traditional festivals.

  • Japanese New Year (January 1) - the most important holiday in Japan. Although there are lots of customs and traditions most of them are done in the private. This is mainly a family holiday and Japan can feel very empty as almost everyone goes home. Travelling in Japan in during this time is difficult because everything is shut down.
  • Seijin No Hi (2nd Monday of January) - the coming of age holiday for Japanese women which 20. Traditionally families will buy any young woman how turned 20 in the last year a kimono. On this day almost all Japanese women will ear a kimono.
  • Hin Festival (March 3) - Also known as doll festival the Hin Matsuri festival is meant for young women. In early february families with daughters put dolls in order to make the women happy and healthy later in life. On Girls Day, on March 3, the dolls are put away until next year.
  • Shichi Go San Festival (Novermber 5) - Boys who are 3 and 5, and girls 3 and 7 are taken to a shinto shrine in traditional Japanese dress. The children are brought there to pray for good luck, good health and wealth.

National Holidays

  • Golden Week - Is quite often referred to as the "Japanese Spring Break." It is a combination of many state holidays, including Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day, and Constitution Memorial Day in order to give a full week off. It takes place during the first full week of May. Everyone gets this week off in Japan so it is very bad time to travel because everything is crowded, expensive and most hotels will be full. There is also a major festival in the southern city of Fukuoka this week, it is called Hakata Dontaku.

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Weather

Nara has a humid subtropical climate. Summers last from June to September when average daytime temperatures are between 27 and 32 °C and nights are mostly around 20 °C. Winters last from December to February when days are approximately 10 °C and nights are around or just above zero. Most of the rain falls during the warmer summermonths. Snow is possible from January to March with 3-5 centimetres a month on average.

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Getting There

By Plane

Nara doesn't have its own airport. International flights in nearby Osaka arrive at the Kansai International Airport (KIX). Airlines flying from Europe to Osaka include KLM (Amsterdam) and Finnair (Helsinki). Osaka Airport (ITM) serves only domestic destinations.

From Kansai Airport, Airport Limousine buses run to the two Nara train stations every hour (¥2000, 1 1/2 hours). More frequent service is available by rail: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can take the Haruka limited express to Tennoji station and then transfer to the Yamatoji line for the run to Nara (¥2900, no charge with rail pass). Otherwise, it's cheaper to take the Nankai Railway's Kūkō-Kyūkō (空港急行) express train to Shin-Imamiya, and then take the JR Yamatoji line from there (¥1430). With good connections, both trips take around 1 1/4 hours and 1 1/2 hours, respectively.

Limousine buses connect Itami Airport to the two Nara train stations for ¥1440; the ride takes about one hour.

By Train

From Kyoto Station, both the JR Nara Line and the private Kintetsu Kyoto Line will get you to Nara quickly. The Kintetsu Nara Station is better located than the JR Nara Station, and all-reserved Tokkyū (特急) trains leave Kyoto twice an hour, making the run to Nara in 35 minutes. On slower but more-frequent Kyūkō (急行) services, the trip takes about 50 minutes and you may need to change trains at Yamato-Saidaiji Station. The trip costs ¥620, plus ¥500 extra on the Tokkyū. For Japan Rail Pass holders, JR's Miyakoji Kaisoku (みやこ路快速) runs during mid-day hours from Kyoto to Nara in 45 minutes (¥690, no charge with rail pass).

A select number of Kyoto subway trains on the Karasuma line (running north-south) run directly to Kintetsu Nara, offering convenient one-seat rides for those coming from the northern part of Kyoto city. These trains are designated as express trains to Nara - running local through the subway, then continuing to Nara as an express service. For example, a one-seat journey to Nara from Kyoto's Shijō subway station (connection with the Hankyu Railway) costs ¥860 and takes one hour.

The fastest route from Osaka is to take the private Kintetsu Nara Line from Namba Station. Kaisoku-Kyūkō (快速急行) trains run three times per hour to Kintetsu Nara (40 minutes, ¥540). For Japan Rail Pass holders, JR runs up to three Yamatoji Kaisoku (大和路快速) trains each hour from Osaka, Tennōji, and intermediate stations on the Osaka Loop Line. The run to Nara is 45 minutes from Osaka Station and 30 minutes from Tennōji (¥780 and ¥450 respectively, no charge with rail pass).

Hanshin offers services from Kobe's Sannomiya Station to Kintetsu Nara via the Hanshin Namba line for ¥940. Direct Kaisoku-Kyūkō services leave three times per hour during most of the day; otherwise, you change trains at Amagasaki. The trip takes about 90 minutes.

If traveling between Kyoto, Nara and Osaka consider purchasing the Kansai thru-pass which enables unlimited travel for 2 or 3 days on private railways, buses and subways (not-JR) in the Kansai area.

By Bus

As Nara is a major tourist attraction, there are a good number of buses that run between Nara and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to train fares.

A major operator of the bus routes from the Tokyo area is JR Bus (Japanese website). Seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. JR Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and the JR Highway Bus Terminal (JR高速バスターミナル) located adjacent to Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line (one stop south of Shinjuku). In Nara, buses stop at the JR Nara train station.

JR Bus offers, in order of comfort and price, Seishun (youth) buses with 2x2 seating configurations, Standard buses with individual seats arranged 1x1x1, and Premium Buses that offer wider seats and more amenities.

JR Bus' overnight one-way fares to/from Tokyo start from approximately ¥3,500 for overnight trips in Seishun buses up to ¥7,400 for premium buses with advanced purchase. Daytime buses to Kyoto start from ¥4,200, from which Nara can easily be reached by train. Fares are typically higher on weekends and holidays.

Discount bus operator Willer Express does not operate any direct bus services into Nara. The nearest Willer Express stop is in Kyoto, from which you can easily reach Nara by train. The advantage to using Willer is that journeys can be booked online in English, and their Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions.

A few bus operators run direct service between Tokyo and Nara, stopping at both Kintetsu Nara and JR Nara train stations, without going through Kyoto:

  • Keisei Bus: Runs from Tokyo Disneyland (¥9480 one-way), Tokyo Sky Tree (¥8,400), Keisei Ueno station in Ueno, Tokyo (¥8,400), and the Yokohama City Air Terminal adjacent to Yokohama station (¥7,800).
  • Nara Kotsu/Kanto Bus: Runs from Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal and the Shinjuku Keio Plaza Hotel. ¥8,400 one-way; trip discounts are sometimes available.

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Getting Around

By Car

Taxis are available at Nara but those who do not know Japanese may find it difficult to make the Taxi-driver understand where they want to go.

By Public Transport

Nara Kotsu Bus service (City Loop Route) offers a bus services every 30 minutes. Adults ¥180, children 12 and under ¥90.

Several temples are on the outskirts of town. Tōshōdai-ji, Yakushi-ji, and Horyu-ji are accessible from JR and Kintetsu Nara train stations without change by Nara-Nishinokyo-Ikaruga Excursion Bus line (Line No. 97).

By Foot

Most of Nara's sites are easily explored on foot. Once within Nara Park, you can walk to almost all the other major sites. The conventional round course (from Kintetsu Nara Station to Kōfuku-ji, Nara National Museum, Tōdai-ji, Kasuga Taisha and back to Kintetsu Nara Station) is about 6km long, a pleasant walk for the typical tourist.

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Eat

A local specialty is kaki-no-hazushi (柿の葉ずし), which is sushi (usually mackerel or salmon) wrapped in persimmon leaves, and actually originates from nearby Yoshino. Kudzu, also from Yoshino, is a very renowned product of Nara, which is used for making various food ranging from kudzu noodles (葛切り kuzu-kiri) to Japanese sweets (和菓子 wagashi). Somen (thin wheat noodles) from Miwa region (三輪そうめん Miwa sōmen) have a history as old as Nara. The noodles are served either hot or cold. Another well-known culinary product is shika-senbei, a rice cracker sold around Nara Park. Don't try eating it yourself though - it's meant for the deer! Note that closing times may be as early as 10:00pm.

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Drink

Yamato-cha (大和茶) is the locally produced Japanese green tea which is healthy and tasty. There are also numerous sake brands, among which is Harushika brand, produced by one of the oldest existing sake breweries in Japan.

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Sleep

As usual throughout Japan, make your reservation as early as possible for August (the time of yearly vacations and Bon festivals, when it is customary for the Japanese to travel to their and their ancestors' birthplaces) and around Christmas/New Year, and also in early November, when Shosoin treasures are on display at the National Museum. Cheaper accommodations may sell out and/or raise prices.

View our map of accommodation in Nara or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Work

There are many English conversation schools near Kintetsu Station.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Manga cafes are dotted along the streets of almost every city in Japan. For a very reasonable price (about ¥100 per 15 minutes), you receive a private cubicle with a PC with internet access at blistering Japanese internet speeds. The chairs are incredibly comfortable (making them an excellent place to sleep for the cash-deprived), and you can even order snacks and drinks from the staff.

A number of business hotels have Internet access available if you have your own device, sometimes for free. It is also possible to find Wi-Fi "hot spots" around many large cities in Japan, especially near tech-related businesses and large corporate buildings with unsecured wireless networks. 3G Wireless Data and Pocket Wifi are other options.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Payphones (公衆電話 kōshū denwa) are easily found, particularly near train stations, although with the popularity of mobile phones, public pay phones are not quite as numerous as they once were. Gray and green pay phones accept ¥10 and ¥100 coins and prepaid cards. Be aware that not all places with public telephones have phones that accept coins, so it may be worthwhile to buy a phone card for emergency use. Some of the gray phones, as indicated on the display, can make international calls. Pre-paid cards can be purchased at convenience stores, train station kiosk stores and sometimes in vending machines next to the phone.

Modern Japanese mobile phones (携帯電話 keitai denwa or just keitai) tend to operate on unique cellular standards not always compatible with the rest of the world. 3G phones using the UMTS/WCDMA2100 standard and equipped with a 3G SIM card will most likely work. If your phone is up to spec, double-check with your carrier if they have a roaming agreement with either SoftBank or NTT DoCoMo. Coverage is generally excellent, unless you are heading to some remote mountainous areas. If you have no 3G phone but still have a 3G-compatible SIM card, you can rent a 3G phone in Japan and slot in your card, allowing you to keep your home phone number in Japan. For a longer trip, you can also purchase a phone, but doing this legally requires an Alien Registration Card (or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you).

The easier way is to get a prepaid phone. Prepaid phones are sold in most SoftBank and AU stores. If you already have a 3G phone, go with Softbank as it can sell SIMs as opposed to au whose prepaid service is phone-based like most CDMA carriers. Prepaid phones use a "card" with a pass key to "charge" a phone with minutes. These prepaid calling cards, unlike the phone itself, can be found in most convenience stores. A prepaid cell phone is available for as little as ¥5000 plus ¥3000 for a 60-90 day call time package, which will get drained at a rate of ¥100 per minute (¥10 per 6 seconds for AU's prepaid service). Both SoftBank and AU offer prepaid phones.

Post

The Japanese postal service is excellent! Domestic and international mail service is very quick and reliable. The prices for sending letters, postcards and parcels vary depending on where you send if from and to which country you send it too, and of course depends on weight as well, so check this calculation page of Japan Post for more details. Post offices generally are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, closing at weekends and also on national holidays, though a few open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Central post offices are sometimes open until 7:00pm, open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00am to 12:30pm. There are post offices in every major city and minor town. Another thing to remember is that the post office is one of the few places in Japan that is guaranteed to have ATMs that take international cards.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 34.6850869
  • Longitude: 135.8050002

Accommodation in Nara

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Nara searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Nara and areas nearby.

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This is version 14. Last edited at 12:35 on Aug 18, 17 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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