Nara, famed for one of Japan’s largest Buddhas housed in the world’s largest wooded structure, is an easy and worthwhile day trip from Kyoto, just 35 minutes on the express train.
Train to Nara
The Kintetsu Line runs express trains from Kyoto station to Nara and back every half hour or so. There is also a regular train than may require a transfer. For the express train you will need a special ticket with a seat reservation. Tickets can be bought at the ticket window in Kyoto or Nara or at a machine, (instructions are given in English), just remember to get both a regular ticket and an express ticket supplement if you are taking the express train.
Lonely Planet Nara Walking Tour
LP has a walking tour of Nara’s highlights starting and ending from the train, although their map doesn’t have the sights numbered correctly for #6 Kasuga-taisha and onwards. The Nara koen (park), however, is well signed so you shouldn’t have a problem.
At the entrance to Nara koen you are greeted with herds of deer and packs of school children, get used to it. We spent most of the morning surrounded by both until we were close to Kasuga-taisha. No wonder, there are deer cookie stands where you can buy special treats for the deer and the deer know it.
Todai-ji, Nara’s Great Buddha
Don’t miss the massive gate at the entrance to the temple with the two Nio guardians, wooden statues. Unfortunately they are very poorly lit.
We found the hall that houses the Great Buddha more impressive than the Buddha itself. Lonely Planet explains that this rebuilt structure is only two thirds the size of the original. Its massive size diminishes the size of the crowds, but just barely.
Inside is still pretty packed. Photos are allowed and you don’t need to remove your shoes, so I don’t think they really treat this place as a true place of worship anymore.
The Buddha is impressive, although it’s difficult to show its massive scale in a photo. For a figure that has had various parts destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries he looks pretty good.
Continuing around the on the Lonely Planet walking tour with a stop at Nigatsu-do for the view from its veranda. Still packs of school children, the air heavy and humid it was not the most pleasant day.
As we headed on past a couple of other temples and shrines the crowds and deer thinned a bit except for along this park.
It’s a pleasant forest walk to Kasuga-taisha. At the shrine entrance starts the myriad stone lanterns in various sizes. Topped with bright green moss they look like fancy hats.
If you like lanterns it’s worth the 500 yen to enter the complex, great rows of lanterns at every turn. Near the end of the route is a dark mirrored room with rows of lanterns. It looks like they go on forever.
A massive ancient tree in the courtyard dwarfs the structures next to it.
Walk Back to the Train Station
On our way back to the train station more lanterns and deer line the forested path through the Shinto orange gate and on to the Kofuku-ji shrine with a 5 story pagoda, our last stop of the day.
Sticking to the main sights, we completed the walk in about 3 and half hours.
October 3, 2017
For links to all the posts in this series see the Japan page.