Sophisticated Nara, Japan: main sights

Sights in Nara

Todai-ji Park Nara Gango-ji Temple Toshodai-ji Temple Horyu-ji Ise Jingu Museum Mikimoto Statue of the Great Buddha Yoshino settlement Kasuga Taisya Temple Yakushi-ji Kofukuji Temple

This site compiles the sights of Nara – photos, descriptions, and traveler tips. The list is based on popular travel guides and is presented by type, name and rating. Here you’ll find answers to what to see in Nara, where to go, and where to find popular and interesting places in Nara.

Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple (photo)

Todaiji Temple, located in Nara Prefecture, is the largest Buddhist temple in Japan. It currently belongs to the Kegon Buddhist school.

The temple’s name translates from Japanese as “Great Temple of the East.”

The temple was built by vow by Emperor Semu (ruled 724-749) in the then capital Nara. It was consecrated in 752. Todaiji acted as a symbol of statehood and hosted state ceremonies of a non-Buddhist nature (e.g. the awarding of official ranks).

The golden pavilion of the temple together with the huge bronze statue of the Buddha Vairochana are preserved at a scale of 2:3 in relation to the original structure, with significant alterations due to fires.

It is the largest wooden structure in the world (height – 49 meters, length – 57 meters, depth – 50 meters). In the Todaiji Temple complex is the Sesoin Storage Facility containing several thousand items of decorative and applied art from the Nara period.

Coordinates : 34.68679300,135.84113400

Nara Park

Nara Park (photo)

The vicinity of Nara Park in Japan is the most popular tourist destination, as many historical and cultural centers and buildings are located here.

The park refers to a huge area of 660 hectares with numerous temples, including the aforementioned Todaiji, Kofukuji, and Kasuga. More than 1,200 almost tame deer, foxes, raccoons and other animals live here. It has often been said of the ancient city of Nara that it is personified by “Big Buddha, nature and deer.

The deer are considered Shinto divine messengers and are a landmark of the city. The reindeer have been carefully guarded over the centuries, so they have become completely tame and are not afraid of visitors, but instead play with them and stroll around the parks and alleys of Nara. During the day, they stroll through the park and in the evening, when the reindeer keeper blows the trumpet, they go back to their pens for the night.

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Coordinates: 34.68615800,135.84396000

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Gango-ji Temple

Gango-ji Temple (photo)

Gango-ji is an ancient, founded in the 6th century A.D. Buddhist temple, in the Japanese city of Nara, Nara prefecture. The temple is protected and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The complete temple complex consists of three historic sites, of which the best preserved are the Gokurabo Hall, a miniature five-story pagoda five meters high, and the Zen Hall. The temple, at one time used by the Hosso, Sanron and Kushya Buddhist schools, and founder Dose gave sermons and speeches there. The temple is listed as one of the seven largest southern temples in Japan. The site is currently subordinate to Todai-ji Temple, a Buddhist school of kegon-shu.

The temple was badly damaged by fire in 1451, but was soon restored. Still, much of the original architecture was lost and rebuilt in a new way.

Coordinates: 34.67805600,135.83111100

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Toshodai-ji Temple

Tosyodai-ji Temple (photo)

Tosedai-ji is an ancient Japanese Buddhist temple located in the city of Nara. The temple is protected and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine is represented by the Risshu tradition and is run by the Shingon school of Buddhism.

The temple was built in 759, by the Chinese monk Jianzhen (Ganjin). Ganjing tried to get to Japan five times, but failed due to storm, shipwreck, and local officials. The sixth time Gandzin went blind, but still made it to Japan and was able to found a temple there, where he was buried.

The only surviving structure in the original style is the lecture hall (kodo), and it was formerly part of the imperial palace at Nara. In Miei Hall there is a wooden Ganjin pedestal that is shown to tourists and visitors once a year, from July 5 to 7. In the same place is Vairochana (Buddha Rusyan), a statue of the seated Ganjin, and the thousand-armed Kannon.

The main hall (kondo) was erected after Gandzin’s death, presumably in 781. From 2000 to 2010 the temple was extensively reconstructed.

Coordinates: 34.67558600,135.78483300

Horyu-ji

Horu-ji (photo)

Horyu-ji is a Japanese Buddhist temple located in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture. The complex of temple buildings is considered to be the oldest wooden structure in the world.

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The temple was founded by Prince Setoku, and was named Ikaruga-dera. Its construction was completed in 607. Throughout its history, the temple has been struck by lightning and burned down several times, but it has always been reconstructed and rebuilt. Several times it was even rebuilt, at the beginning of the XII century, in 1374 and 1603. According to archaeologists, it is claimed that only about 20% of the structures of the temple complex have preserved their original look and are made of the original materials from the time of its construction in the 600s.

The temple is divided into western and eastern territories. In the eastern part is the Hall of Dreams, or Yumedono, where sculptures of the bodhisattva Guanyin are on display. In the western part is the Golden Hall, or Kondo, by Kuratsukuri no Tori, which houses the famous sculpture of Shyaka. In this part there is also a five-tiered pagoda, 33 meters high and made in the old Chinese style. The pagoda is considered one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The temple also has lecture halls, a dormitory for monks, libraries, and refectories. In the main temple is a statue of the Medicine Buddha, dating back to 600. In the same temple is the Serein Pavilion, the hall where the soul of Prince Setoku resides.

Coordinates : 34.61473800,135.73417300

Ise Jingu Temple

Ise-jingu shrine (photo)

Ise Jingu Shrine is the main Shinto shrine that is located in the city of Ise.

The shrine consists of two main complexes. The first is Naiku, an inner sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu, the progenitor of the imperial family.

The second sanctuary is called Geku and was built somewhat later than Naiku. The distance between them is about six kilometers, which form a path for pilgrims. Geku shrine is dedicated to the goddess of food Toyouke.

Ise Jingu holds national treasures. For example, the Sacred Mirror, which is an imperial regalia.

Coordinates : 34.45487300,136.72591900

Mikimoto Museum

The Mikimoto museum (photo)

The Mikimoto Museum is a pearl museum named after the jeweler Kokichi Mikimoto, which is located on a separate small island.

Mikimoto is a national hero in Japan. He was the one who managed to turn a cheap popular pearl mining industry into the national industry.

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A museum was opened in his honor for these services. At the entrance to the museum you will see a monument to the famous jeweler. He started his first experiments in pearl cultivation in the second half of the XIX century, and in 1899 he opened the first store in the Ginza district of Tokyo, which still exists today.

The museum features both specimens of oysters where pearls are grown and jewelry. The museum also has collections of jewelry that belonged to the imperial family.

Despite the fact that the museum is quite far from the main tourist sites, it is quite popular, especially among the fair sex, who can not resist the real beauty.

Coordinates: 34.48361900,136.84651500

Great Buddha Statue

Statue of the Great Buddha (photo)

The statue of the Great Buddha is located at the Todaiji Temple in Nara. The Great Buddha is among the most famous landmarks in Japan.

The statue was carved in 749 by a Korean sculptor, nicknamed Kimimaro. It took 437 tons of bronze, 150 kg of gold, 7 tons of wax, and other materials to make the huge statue. The statue with its pedestal is 22 meters high. The height of the sitting Buddha figure itself is 16 meters. The face is 5 meters long and 3 meters wide. A person can freely fit through the eye sockets – they are 1 meter long. The diameter of the lotus throne is more than 20 meters and the height of each petal is 3 meters. This ancient bronze statue weighs twice as much as the Statue of Liberty in New York, made eleven centuries later.

The huge statue is hollow inside. In its depths is an intricate system of wooden structures supporting the entire figure. Once a year the Great Buddha is cleaned and several buckets of dust are removed.

Coordinates : 34.68679300,135.84113400

Yoshino Village

Yoshino village (photo)

Yoshino Village is located in Yoshino County, Nara Prefecture, Japan. It covers 95.65 square kilometers and has a population of 8,617 people with a population density of 90.09 people per square meter. This place is very revered by the inhabitants of Japan, as it is considered the town of origin of the ancient family of emperors.

The village of Yoshino is the center of a syncretic religion called shugendo, which combines Shinto, Buddhism, and some elements of Taoism. The shugendo (pilgrim trail) runs from the village to Mount Omine. The Kumano-Kodo Pilgrim Trail, which leads to Shinto shrines such as Kumano-Hayatama-taysha, Kumano-Hongu-taysha and Kumano-Nati-taysha, begins here.

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Yoshino is known for its blooming sakura trees growing on the mountain of the same name, which number 100,000. The trees grow at different heights, so they bloom for a long time, alternating with each other. Thousands of tourists come here to see the cherry blossoms.

Another attraction of the village is the Kimpusen-ji Temple. It is an ancient temple complex that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Yoshino, you can also visit two Shinto shrines, the tomb of Emperor Go-Daigo, a large number of temples, ruins of the imperial palace, and hot springs located in the mountains.

Coordinates : 34.40000900,135.85000200

Kasuga Taisya Temple

Kasuga Taisya Temple (photo)

In addition to being an object of pilgrimage, Kasuga Taixia Temple attracts many tourists because of its countless lanterns. These were donated to the temple from all over the country. You can only see them lit twice a year during Setsubun (February 2-4) and Obon (August 15-16).

Kasuga Taixia Temple was built in 768 but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since. The temple is painted in the traditional bright red color.

Kasuga Taishya Temple holds an important place in the spiritual life of the Japanese. It is often visited by the imperial family and hosts many festivals and traditional performances of the ceremonial music and dance of ancient Japan.

Coordinates: 34.68148000,135.84831300

Yakushi-ji Temple

Yakusi-ji Temple (photo)

Yakushi-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple in the Japanese city of Nara. The temple is protected and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is represented by the Japanese Hosso tradition, and is famous for its sculpted Yakushi trinity, which includes the Medicine Buddha (Yakushi-nerai) and the bodhisattvas Chandraprabhu and Suryaprabhu. Yakushi-ji is listed as one of the seven largest temples in southern Japan.

Yakushi-ji was founded in the city of Kashihara, in 680, by Emperor Temmu, but construction was delayed and the emperor eventually died. Beginning in 697, a statue of Yakushi-nerai was erected near the temple, and the temple was completed. In 710 it was decided to move the temple to the city of Nara. The process lasted 8 years, and in 718 the shrine was moved.

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The complete temple complex consists of the main Kondo Hall, the Kodo Lecture Hall, the Western Pagoda, and the Eastern Pagoda. The structure of the shrine symbolizes the Buddhist paradise on earth. Several times Yakushi-ji has survived fires and natural disasters. They only miraculously did not affect the Eastern Pagoda, which is one of the oldest wooden buildings on the planet. On the walls of the temple you can see the paintings telling about the journeys of the monk Xuanzang. The shrine is built in the traditional Japanese style.

Coordinates: 34.66835600,135.78431100

Kofukuji Temple

Kofukuji Temple (photo)

Kofukuji is one of the oldest and most important temple complexes in Nara. The temple was erected on a hill overlooking Lake Sarusawa as a shrine to the Fujiwara clan, the most influential clan of the Heian period.

The Kofukuji temple, which began as a family temple in the twenties of the eighth century, became an official temple and retained that status for centuries. The ruthlessness of time has dealt with it severely. The history of Kofukuji is filled with fires and destruction. During the 11th century alone, the temple burned three times. As a result, of the 175 buildings that made up the complex, only a few precious structures have survived. The Tokondo (Oriental Pavilion), the octagonal Hokuendo Pavilion with the Miroku-bosatsu statue by Master Unkei, and the three-tiered and five-tiered pagodas are still standing. The five-tiered pagoda is almost 55 meters high and is reflected in the waters of Lake Sarusawa, visible from anywhere in the city. It has become a kind of symbol of Nara.

In the temple there are remarkable works of sculptors of different epochs from the 7th century up to the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of them are among the best examples of Japanese sculpture. The main treasures of Kofukuji Temple are kept in the Kokuhokan Treasury.

The temple park is home to over a thousand tame deer, considered sacred animals, messengers to the gods. Throughout the park there are tents that sell special cookies for them. They are not afraid of people, on the contrary, they can follow a person demanding food.

Coordinates: 34.68334300,135.83349100

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