If you base yourself around Kyoto or Osaka you can use your Japan Rail Pass to day-trip to the best sights in the area – Nara being one of them.
Nara is easily accessible from Osaka or Kyoto by taking the JR Kansai or Nara lines with your JR Pass. Nara, Japan’s first real capital, is home to 8 Unesco World Heritage sites and is a fantastic place to spend the day.
Compact and easily walkable, Nara is home to the Great Buddha, has beautiful parkland where deer roam freely, and some amazing temples from the early foundations of Japanese culture and civilisation.
A pick of the best:
Tōdai-ji 東大寺 : Nara’s jewel in the crown, an enormous temple housing a gigantic bronze Buddha in the largest wooden building in the world.
Kōfuku-ji 興福寺 : The main temple for the Fujiwara family, after fires and power-struggles only a dozen buildings from the original temple complex remain, two being the magnificent Pagodas.
Nigatsu-dō & Sangatsu-dō 二月堂・三月堂 : Wander up the hill from the Daibutsu-den Hall to find these halls with amazing views across Nara.
Nara Kōen 奈良公園 : Many of Nara’s sights can be found within the park. 1200 deer roam freely and are considered messengers of the gods. Now National Treasures you can feed them shika-senbei (deer biscuits) for ￥150, just watch out – they’re sneaky!
If you have more time to spend in the area, Asuka with its burial mounds of Japan’s first emperors, or Yoshino the destination for superb cherry blossom viewing can easily be reached with your Japan Rail Pass.
If espionage and infiltration is more your thing visit Koga-no Sato Ninja Village where you can learn all there is to know about the ninjutsu way of life, buy imitation shuriken, watch a live demo and even dress as these spies of the shadows.
View more images of Nara on our Flickr page
photo Ari Bakker