Kofuku-ji Temple's Nanen-do -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
The typical tourist to Nara is prone to squeeze it into their Kansai area itinerary, most probably with Kyoto, Osaka and possibly Kobe taking up most of their time. They will usually only give this town about 1/2 a day sandwiched in between the back and forth from one of the two large cities nearby. I understand that people only have limited time on their vacation to Japan, but I see a great opportunity in Nara to learn about the history as well as the current culture of Japan and its coexistence within the lives of the Japanese people, by allowing yourself to stay here for at least two days.
Large gate to Todai-ji Temple -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
Of course, the city is particularly famous for Nara Park, its friendly deer, big Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and they are absolutely worth seeing! However, my first time in Nara those were all I went to see, because that was all the information I had and I wasn’t brave enough to simply wander around and discover what else the city had to offer.
So here are three of my favorite slightly unknown places to wind down and enjoy different aspects of Japanese culture in the Nara Park area:
After checking out your first couple of spots in Nara Park, why not pop into this little Italian inspired cafe for a relaxed lunch? They offer amazing pasta dishes with a Japanese twist and also wonderful sweets, like the Yomogi Panna Cotta (Japanese mugwort creme). Their outdoor terrace, stylish interior and super friendly staff are just the icing on the already marvelous cake.
From Cafe I-Lunga it is just a short walk to this wonderful gem. Yoshiki-en is a traditional Japanese garden, easily overlooked as it is hidden on one of the little streets leading to the Todai-ji Temple area (from the backside.) And the best thing is: Foreign tourists enter for free! Just show your passport and they’ll let you right in.
Right down the street from Yoshiki-en Garden you’ll find this little souvenir shop. True to its Nara identity it is entirely deer-themed, from earrings to postcards to clothes hangers - and the best part, everything is handmade by the lovely shop owner and her staff. This is true local, sustainable economy at its finest.