Monday, January 15, 2007


Despite there being eight World Heritage sites in its vicinity and being Japans first real capital city I only ventured to Nara last weekend.Quite fortuitous,timing wise,as I was able to witness the Yamayaki or Grass Burning Festival on Saturday night.This festival involves the setting fire to long grass on a hill above the Nara Koen reserve.The second photo below shows the aftermath of the fire on the hill the morning after.

From the JR Nara Station (which is located near the middle of the city) Nara looks like any other Japanese location.Grey.Concrete.The usual suspects are evident.Lawson,Mr Donuts,and KFC encircle the carpark.However a brisk five minute walk brings you to Nara Koen reserve from where many of the sites are within walking distance.The guidebooks I read suggest that you can see the main ones in a full day.However I took a more relaxed two day approach to give me ample time to see things without being aware of time constraints and the need to "tick off" another temple and move to the next.

Of the major sites I visited I would recommend Todai-ji without hesitation.Apart from the huge entrance gates Todai-ji Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha) is the largest wooden building in the world.As the details on the admission ticket point out the current structure(the third) is in fact only two thirds the size of the original.

The Hall houses a massive Daibutsu (Great Buddha) which is one of the largest cast bronze figures in the world.It stands or sits at a daunting sixteen metres or so tall and weighs in at four hundred and thirty seven odd tonnes.

Also noteworthy is the five storey pagoda (Goju-no to) the second tallest of its type in Japan and Kofuku-ji Kokuhokan the National Treasure Hall which contains a variety of statues,figures and objects from previous structures;most of which were destroyed by fire.
If one walks in a southern direction away from the pagoda and Nara Koen you can wander about in the Naramachi area where there are still some old style warehouses and homes (machiya) in use.

Finally,Kasuga Taisha Shrine is also worth the effort to visit.The walks to the shrine are bordered with lichen covered lanterns offering many photo opportunities and a pleasant meander under the trees.

There are various ways to get to Nara.I took a longer,cheaper option.Some three and a half hours or so and two thousand two hundred yen by train.There are some cheap hotel choices around both the JR and Kintetsu stations.I would recommend you book ahead to reserve a room as there seems to a festival of one type or other on nearly every weekend.
I dont why I left it so long to visit Nara.Its certainly walkable and easily accessible.
It also, in my opinion, has in its favor a less crowded modern environment than Kyoto.Unfortunately both cities now only seem to have pockets or islands of "old Japan" left among the surge of concrete and modern construction that threaten to completely overwhelm them and the atmosphere these areas once had.


K.W.Wan said...

Some great pictures Tim! I never visited Nara. Always wanted to, but... you know what it's like... Will definitely go when I return.

tim said...

Cheers Kwok..took me awhile to get there too but worth it plus the added bonus of seeing a mountainside going up in flames..only in Japan