The Old Capital of Nara


12/08/2014 Writter: Hideki Motosue
serials nara

Interacting with “wild deer” in Nara.

Be careful when feeding the deer with deer crackers! A large number of tourists visit the city famous for its various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, I shall not go into that today. Instead, today I will introduce you the deer of Nara Park. Since the ancient times, the Nara deer have been considered to be messengers of the gods of the Kasuga Grand Shine, and therefore highly valued. The deer living at Nara Park have been designated a national treasure. Nara’s nearly 1200 deer are all wild animals that have not been tamed. Wild deer are wary of their surroundings and do not trust humans easily. However, the deer […]

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Play hide-and-seek with a ”deer in Todaiji Temple”: A deer in Nara during the morning

deer in Todaiji Temple

Hello, as you can see, I’m deer. I live in Todaiji Temple in Nara. People recognize me as a sacred being because the God,“Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto” rode me here. Well, I don’t really care for many things, just as long as I can get rice crackers. Guarding the temple is my everyday duty. Yeah, I sometimes feel like I live in such a good place. Going on patrol in the morning… Hmm…I got bored. Take a break. Won’t you play hide and seek with me? Find me! Oops, I need to disguise myself! Can you tell which one is me? I’m here! Still can’t tell? I think I’m giving you a big […]

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『Nara』travel to meet the Sake god and the roots of refined Sake

The ornamental ball represents newly produced Sake that is made from cedar leaves. Have you ever seen the large ornamental ball hanging under the eave of a Sake-shop? The name of it is Sugidama, and is a symbol for the Sake-shop. The Sugidama is made from cedar leaves and is hung under the eaves of Sake-shops to announce that new sake has been made. The Sugidama’s changing of color from green to brown represents the maturity of the Sake and is also a signboard for the Sake-shop’s announcement. Reason for making the Sugidama from cedar leaves Omiwa jinja shrine is the oldest shrine in Japan and is located in Nara. […]

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All creatures take a rest at『 Sarusawa-ike pond 』, near the Kofuku-ji temple

Naramachi might be even nicer than visiting major temples. Taking a break at the Sarusawa-ike pond after venturing around Naramachi. Nara is home to Naramachi, where many Machiya (town houses) from Edo period still stand. There’s a nice area for venturing about, a cafe and Japanese cake shop, and a restaurant on this historic street. After traveling Naramachi, I took a short break at the edge of Sarusawa-ike pond. There are benches around the pond where you can enjoy a poetic view with willows and Koufuku-ji temple’s five-story pagoda. When you look onto the pond, you can see turtles and carp in a relaxed state. Actually, it is not a […]

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Let’s get in touch with the beautiful lotus flower at Toshodaiji-temple in Nara

The lotus flower blooms at Toshoudai-ji temple The high priest Jianzhen from Tang founded Toshoudai-ji temple during the Nara period. It’s a historical monument from ancient Nara city and was designated as a Unesco world heritage site in 1998. Lotus flowers have been cultivated here ever since the temple was founded. There’s about 130 lotus water bowls with two lotus ponds on the temple grounds. You can enjoy them in bloom from the middle of June to end of July in their water bowls, and from the middle of June to September 1st in the lotus ponds. The Buddha statues on a lotus stage Upon entering to the Kondo (Main […]

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Let’s go to the Samurai’s village, Yagyu in Nara and eat traditional cuisine at “Jyubee Shokudo”!

Souvenir shop

Look at the restaurant’s sign… its logo is two Japanese bamboo hats! The Japanese swordsman’s home village of Yagyu takes about 1 hour to get to from the center of Nara city by bus. It takes about 50 minutes from Kintetsu’s Nara station and Jyube restaurant is just in front of the Yagyu-kami bus stop. Jyube restaurant serves Udon, Soba, various types of rice bowl dishes, and an edible wild plant meal. You can even enjoy eating a wild boar meal during the winter season. Its sign consists of the name of Jyube’s swordsman and two Japanese bamboo hats on a wooden sign. You might see its logo many times, […]

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Horyuji Temple was built 1,300 years ago and is a mysterious wooden building

Horyuji Temple

Horyuji temple is the oldest wooden building and was established by Prince Shotoku. It was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993. Nara’s Todaiji Temple was built during the Nara period (710 to 794) and is more famous, but Horyuji temple actually has older history dating back 1400 years, and was influenced by early Buddhist arts and the Asuka period (592 to 710). The Asuka period has international features that were influenced by Greece, India, and China. The Horyuji Temple is known in Japan for its mystery as well as Prince Shotoku. Today, I’d like to introduce the myths of this temple!

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A helpful tourist information center in Nara where you can get cute “Shikamaro-kun” products!

Did you know that there are three information centers on a busy street in Nara? I’d like to introduce one tourist information center in Nara. It’s located between JR Nara station and Nara Kintetsu station on Sanjo street. The guide is offered in English and Japanese. They also have many Shikamaro-kun souvenirs available for purchase.

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The Nara city General Tourist Information Center speaks 4 languages!

Nara city General Tourist Information Center

The Nara city General Tourist Information Center is considered “The best” tourist information center by the Japanese Tourism Department. They speak 4 different languages and it’s available anytime. The building was renovated on December 1st of last year and new booths are open.

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You must visit, if you like Japanese history! The hidden village of warrior who prays a peace in Nara Japan.

The hidden village of a great swordsman The village of ‘Yagyu’ takes about one hour from the Kintetsu station by the bus in Nara. It is from lively Nara station around to pass the way in the mountain and then arrived the mountains surround the village. The peaceful mountains surround village inside, there is silent scene. You will discover something interestings, if you consider not only there nature and historic landscapes but also form of casual house roof and decoration of the bridge by walking. Visiting the great swordsman home village Yagyu is the birthplace of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu that is one kind of representative swordplay in Japan. There also famous […]

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A famous meeting point at Kintetsu Nara station: The statue of “Gyōki”

Gyōki statue in front of Nara station

What’s this statue? Who’s this monk? A statue of a monk stands in front of a small fountain near the kintetsu Nara station. Local people know this statue as a meeting point. People in Nara don’t know the name of this monk, but they use it as a landmark. Who on earth is this? The monk is called Gyōki and is from the Nara period (710~794). He is also called Gyōki Bosatsu. Bosatsu is a level of Buddhism principle and refers to those who practice its doctrine and strive to do something good for others. People called him Bosatsu because of his caring behavior. What was he like at the […]

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The mysterious stone, “Ittoseki” passes down the legend of battle between a master of swordplay and a Tengu


A large, mysterious stone in Iwayato, Yagyu The stone is clearly split into two and looks like as if it was easily cut by knife. It’s hard to imagine that someone brought a cutting machine for this into the deep parts of the mountain. I question why this large stone is here and how it was cut. The faith of an large, ancient stone and Amanotateishi Shrine. The rock called, “Ittoseki” is located at Amanotateishi Shrine. Amanotateishi Shrine is located in the back of Iwayato Mountain and enshrines a large rock as a substitute for a God. A faith of this stone is rooted in the local area. There are […]

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”Heijyo-kyo”, the capital of Japan during the Nara period and the Heijyo palace site ruins


What’s there you ask? Vast green grounds and Chinese style construction If you take the Kintestu train from Osaka to Nara, you may see vast green grounds and Chinese style construction between Saidaiji station and Shin-Omiya station. This is where the palace ruins from the Nara period are located. The palace name was Heijyo-kyo. There was an emperor’s house and government office. Nowadays, local people jog and walk their dogs here. During the New Year season, you’ll find children flying kites. ‘Heijyo Tenpyo Sai’ will be held with brilliant lighting ‘Heijyo Tenpyo Sai’ will be held from August 28th to the 30th. During this festival, Heijyo-kyo will be decorated with […]

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Play with old world Japanese toys at the “Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum”!

The Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum

Toys when there were no computer games. What did you play with when you were a child? When I was young, I remember playing with marbles and a kaleidoscope. These toys are less seen nowadays, because of the Internet and new trends. What do you imagine children played with, 320 years ago when there were no video games in Japan? There are very rare toys from the Edo period (1603 to 1868) exhibited at the Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum. Let’s take one and play! The museum is in an old Japanese house, where you can see and even play with, very nostalgic toys. You will need to take off your shoes […]

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Amazing craftsmanship at the Nara Craft Museum

A work of art created by carving a single piece of wood

How and Who makes the traditional crafts in Nara? Let’s see how they work! There are many opportunities to see the work by the craftsmen of Nara, but there are very few opportunities to meet the actual people who create them. You might wonder how and who creates these works of art, so please visit Nara Craft Museum. A simple creation by carving a single piece of wood Ittobori, or a work of art created by carving a single piece of wood, is also called a Nara Ningyo doll. Nara is strongly connected to Buddhism and sculptors of Buddhist images have started making toys. The feature of Ittobori is its […]

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Offering a more convenient and comfortable trip! The Kuroneko Nara TABI information center.


Kuroneko Nara TABI is an information center in Nara. It is operated by Yamato Transport Co., Ltd, a popular Japanese courier. The center’s services vary from local information to delivery services. The center is authorized by the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) as a place for official tourist information. The staff speaks both English and Japanese.

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The Great Buddha is surprisingly big! The beautiful statues at Nara Todai-ji temple.


Nara’s famous Buddha statue is a colossal piece of artwork by 8th century craftsmen. How large is it? Its palm is 2.56 meters and its total height is 18 meters!

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Deer herding to the beautiful sounds of a horn in Nara!

Herding deer

Herding deer started in 1892 with the establishment of a shelter for deer called Rokuen. The building was lost during the war, but rebuilt, and they hold events to interact with Nara’s wild deer.

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What is the ancestor’s wisdom of “Kakinoha-zushi” , the cuisine traditionally inherited in Nara.


Opening the package is fun! What is “Kakinoha-zushi”, a local dish in Nara? “Kakinoha-zushi”(or Persimmon leaves sushi) is different from what you may know as “sushi”. It is wrapped neatly like a present, and is a local cuisine inherited in Nara. Its history dates back to Edo period. Nara is an area where doesn’t face the ocean, so the merchants at the time put lots of salt on the fish to prevent from decay when carrying them from the port of Wakayama Pref because there was no such refrigerators like today. However, the fish get too salty when arriving at Nara, and people cannot eat them no matter how they […]

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“Houba-zushi” is sushi wrapped in a leaf and is a local food of Yagyu village in Nara.


Wrapped sushi with a magnolia hypoleuca tree leaf What do you imagine when hearing the word “Sushi”? You may imagine a ball of rice topped with a slice of raw fish. Nara uses leaves to wrap its sushi and is a local food. The most famous is called Kakinoha-zushi. There is another type of wrapped sushi that is unknown to most people in Japan. This particular sushi is wrapped with a large magnolia hypoleuca leaf. Eating Houba-zushi with a magnolia hypoleuca harvested in yagyu village. Houba-zushi (wrapped sushi) was born in May 2001 at the guesthouse, ‘Kubota-tei’ in Yagyu. It was originally the “Hougashiwa-bentou” that was wrapped with magnolia hypolecuca […]

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Tasting sake at S. Imanishi Co., Ltd. Harushika brewery in Nara.

S. Imanishi Co., Ltd. is a Japanese sake brewery located about a 5-minute walk from Gangoji temple (A World Heritage Site). The brewery is behind the store where “Harushika” sake and various goods are sold.
You can enjoy tasting five different types of seasonal sake. The brewery is a great place to visit. Imanishi shoin is located next door and was registered as an Important Cultural Property in 1959.

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“Substitute monkey”, the amulet that’s hung in front of houses in Nara.

Substitute monkey

The monkey came to Japan via a silk road!? When you walk around the town of Nara, you’ll notice that there are several stuffed toy monkeys hanging in front of each house. They are called Substitute monkeys and are believed to drive off the evils of the Koshin faith. The origin of this monkey is said to have started in Dunhuang, China. Interestingly enough, the same substitute monkey was found at an altar in Dunhuang’s stone cave. Monkeys are believed to drive off evil in China. Nara is known as the final destination of the silk road, so this monkey ended up here. The legend of Nara-machi and the substitute […]

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The beautiful Bugaku and Noh play are performed at the stage on the pond in Nara Tōdai-ji temple to commemorate a deed of Emperor Shomu!

’The Emperor Shomu Festival’ is held for Emperor Shomu, for his contribution to the construction of Tōdai-ji Temple and the Great Buddha, on every May 2, the anniversary of Emperor Shomu’s death at Tōdai-ji temple in Nara Prefecture. I’ll show you Bugaku and Noh plays at the stage on the Kagami Pond in Todai-ji Temple.
Both are open to visitors at no charge!

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Emperor Shomu Festival, Nara Tōdai-ji Temple. Don’t miss the 300-Buddhist monks’ procession!

The Emperor Shomu Festival is a Buddhist memorial service held annually for Emperor Shomu on May 2 at Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture. The famous Great Buddha of Tōdai-ji Temple was built at the wish of Emperor Shomu, the emperor who ruled during Nara Period (710-794). This Buddhist memorial service is held at the Ten-no Hall at the eastern side of the Nandaimon Gate. Ten-no Hall is usually closed to the public, but it is open for worship exclusively during the memorial service. You also can appreciate a procession of a group of Buddhist monks, Japanese court dance and music, and Noh play (Japanese traditional masked dance-drama) at the stage on the Kagami Pond.

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An area of ice where the God of ice is enshrined, “Himuro Shirayuki” Festival

People and the ice to freeze before the precincts.

The Himuro Shirayuki Festival with the God of ice The festival started in August of last year (2014) at Himuro Shrine. 1300 years ago, the city was moved to Heijo-kyo Castle in Nara and a pond of ice and icehouse were built to make ice in Kasugano. It was difficult to artificially make ice at the time, so the ice was preserved in underground or mountain shelters. The beginning of Himuro Shrine is said to be the first time when people enshrined the god of ice in an icehouse. The festival was started to promote Nara as a city of, the God of ice. Let’s compare the Himuro shaved ice […]

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