Apr 1, 2016
Located less than an hour away by train from Osaka by train is a city steeped in history, and home to some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. Welcome to the beautiful city of Nara, where fascinating sights and mouthwatering culinary delights await you.
Arriving at Nara is like stepping back in time. As Japan’s first permanent capital, in the 8th century, Nara is filled with many of the country’s national treasures and cultural assets. History buffs and shutterbugs will have a whale of a time at the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”, a group of eight places that consists of five temples, a Shinto shrine, a palace, and a primeval forest. Collectively, these places have been accorded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, Nara’s wonders don’t just stop at Nara City.
Venture beyond Nara City and you’ll find yourself in Yoshino and Tenkawa where the uniquely Japanese religion of Shugendo first planted its foundation. Besides its awe-inspiring temples and shrines, these areas are also renowned for their splendid scenery and breath-taking nature spots such as the Mitarai Canyon.
As for foodies, Nara promises to widen to your culinary horizon in a whole new way. The prefecture’s gourmet offerings are delicate in flavours and varied in textures. Kuzu (Japanese arrowroot), which can be found in abundance in this region, is used to create unique sweets perfect for the traveller in need of a mid-day snack. In the following page, you’ll learn just why this plant is so loved by locals and how they use it in their cuisine.
Don’t miss out on visiting the place where “The Water Of Gods” flow. Miwa is steeped with a deep respect for its eponymous mountain, which locals revered as a deity. It is here at Miwa where you will also find Japan’s oldest shrine. Although there used to be several sake breweries here, there is now just one remaining so be sure you get your hands on a bottle of sake when you’re here!
But what ultimately draws visitors to Nara is its strong atmosphere of spirituality. Mantou Kuyo-e is a festival that happens on August 15 every year and, during this time, the famous Todai-ji Temple will light up some 2,500 lamps on its grounds. These lanterns are dedicated to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) as well as to departed family members who are believed to visit this world during the “Obon” festival. Be prepared for a massive crowd of people if you’re visiting the Todai-ji during Mantou Kuyo-e, for it is only at this time that a little window at the top of the main hall is opened so that people can view the Great Buddha’s face from the outside. Bear with the long queues and you can also enter the temple to see this statue up close and personal.
The next few pages will show you even more of Nara’s wonders. It’s a journey bound to enrich your mind and soul.
(Text Deborah Tan • Photography YUUKI TAKESHITA)