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10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling in Nara, Japan

Updated on September 29, 2012
Kofukuji Temple
Kofukuji Temple | Source
Kasuga Grand Shrine
Kasuga Grand Shrine | Source

Nara – Japan’s First Capital

The first capital of Japan founded in 710 under the ancient name of Heijo or Heijo-kyo, Nara is an old Japanese city with a long, rich history.

Nara was the seat of political power in Japan from 710 until 784, when the capital was moved to Nagaoka and eventually to Kyoto.

It is a place where powerful Buddhist factions rose and became influential.

These factions built across Nara large, imposing temples, some of which have disappeared over time while some have managed to survive wars and natural disasters for many people to visit up to this day.

Because of its history as a former Japanese capital and base of dominant Buddhist groups, Nara has nestled historical treasures, which include temples, shrines, and hallowed natural sites found in its vast forest areas.

Interestingly, Nara had strong trade relationships with China.

In fact, the city is said to have been patterned after the magnificent city of Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty of China.

Definitely, there are more than 10 beautiful places to see in Nara.

Below are just some of the places that tourists should not miss visiting when travelling in Nara, Japan.

10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling in Nara, Japan

1. Horyuji Temple

Built on the orders of Prince Shotoku, regarded as the founder of Buddhism in Japan, Horyuji Temple is the world’s oldest wooden architecture that dates as early as the 7th century.

It earned the recognition of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 for it houses historically important architectures and treasures.

  • Pagoda – Standing 122 feet with its five levels, the pagoda in Horyuji Temple is believed to preserve one of Buddha’s bones at its massive base. The pagoda is surrounded in the north, south, east, and west directions by sculptures depicting certain chapters of Buddha’s life.
  • Kondo – Kondo is a two-storey hall that houses Horyuji Temple’s treasures – the Shaka Triad, Yakushi and Amida Nyorai statues, and others.
  • Yumedono – Called the Hall of Dreams where Prince Shotoku is believed to have meditated, Yumedono contains the Yumedono Kannon that is thought to represent Prince Shotoku himself.
  • Kudara Kannon – An antique kannon sculpture with vague origins, Kudara Kannon is one of the most important artistic religious creations in Japan.
  • Shaka Triad – A Buddhist statue with mysterious origins, Shaka Triad represents a central Buddha accompanied by two attendants to his left and right sides.

2. Kasuga Taisha or Kasuga Grand Shrine

Built to gain sacred intercession for the protection of the whole of Nara, the historic Kasuga Taisha or Kasuga Grand Shrine was the shrine of the influential Fujiwara family, the most powerful in Nara in ancient times.

It has been the head shrine of 3,000 Kasuga shrines spread across Japan.

The Kasuga Taisha has a somber ambiance.

Its main path is lined with 2,000 stone lanterns and its main precinct is lit up by 1,000 lanterns.

3. Kinpusenji Temple

The second largest wooden structure in Japan is the old Kinpusenji Temple in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture.

Its Zaodo Hall measures 27.7 meters high, lower only to the Daibutsuden Hall in Todaiji Temple that can also be found in Nara.

The Kinpusenji Temple is an important temple for the Shugendo sect, which fuses Buddhism, Shintoism, mountain worship, and other philosophies in its teachings.

It was founded by Ennogyoja, who had trained in Mt. Katsuragi in Nara.

Kinpusenji Temple is most famous for its Zaogongen statues that each towers at seven meters.

4. Kofukuji Temple

Standing in the midst of Nara’s Deer Park, the Kofukuji Temple once consisted of over 150 structures and was once the family temple of the great Fujiwara family of ancient Nara.

It was first constructed in 730 but had to be rebuilt in 1426 due to civil wars.

Today, only two buildings remain in the area – a five-storey pagoda and a three-storey pagoda.

At 50 meters, the five-storey pagoda is the second tallest in Japan, next only to the Toji Temple in nearby Kyoto.

5. Kumano Sankei Michi Kohechi

Kumano Sankei Michi Kohechi is a sacred route of pilgrims in the Hatenashi Mountain Range.

Stretching for about 12.5 kilometers, this route is where mountain ascetics of old had trained.

All throughout its path, stone sculptures of Buddha can be found perched on stone steps.

The Kumano Sankei Michi Kohechi is part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Mt. Kasuga-yama

A UNESCO World Heritage with an impressive cultural landscape is Mt. Kasuga-yama, where in 9th century the local shrine prohibited the cutting down of trees to conserve the surrounding virgin forests.

Mt. Kasuga-yama is home to large trees as old as 400 years.

It is also home to rare breeds of animals.

7. Tanzan Shrine

Nestled in temple grounds where 3,000 maple trees burst in beautiful autumn colors during fall, the vermillion-shaded Tanzan Shrine houses the remains of the founder of Nara’s Fujiwara family whose members ruled the country from 794 to 1185.

Originally called Tonomine Temple, the Tanzan Shrine was a Buddhist temple that was converted to a shrine during Japan’s Meiji Era, which started in 1868 and ended in 1912.

In this era, rulers tried to establish Shintoism as the country’s official religion.

8. Todaiji Temple

A landmark of Nara, Todaiji Temple is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Its Daibutsuden Hall is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

This hall is also the house of the Great Buddha of Nara, a bronze Buddha statue that weighs 250 tons and measures 15 meters high.

9. Yatadera Temple or Kongosenji Temple

A temple with a beautiful garden of 10,000 plants of about 60 kinds of hydrangeas is the Yatadera Temple or Kongosenji Temple, which is also popularly called Yata-no-ojizosan.

Yatadera Temple is known for its statue of Jizobosatsu, an important figure in Japanese Buddhism.

10. Yoshinoyama Mountains

Long considered as one of Japan’s most popular cherry blossoms viewing areas, the Yoshinoyama Mountains is covered with about 30,000 cherry blossom trees that have flowers that bloom during the spring season, in the month of April to be exact.

The Yoshinoyama Mountains is also beautiful in autumn when the colors of the leaves change and in winter when the mountain slopes are enclosed in snow.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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