Nara — Day 1 of a 5-Day Trip in Japan’s Kansai Region
We visited the Kansai Region in the middle of our 14-day Japan trip (+2 days for round-trip travel between Vancouver and Tokyo). The temperature was a little cooler compared to Tokyo, at around 15–20°C during the day. We had 3 cities on our itinerary — Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. Osaka is known as the food capital of Japan while Kyoto is known for its traditional look. Nara is interesting due to the deer freely roaming about the park! We stayed in Osaka for the duration of the 5 days and took the train out to Nara and Kyoto. Osaka is a good central location due to its proximity to the areas around it.
We left for Nara early from our hotel, Smile Hotel Premium Osaka Higashi-Shinsaibashi, on Day 1. The hotel is located within a 5 minute walk from Dotonbori as well as a 10 minute walk from the nearest train station, making it a prime location to stay. From the nearest station, Kintetsu-Nippombashi Station, it is another 38 minute train ride to Kintetsu-Nara Station.
The morning air was chilly. We grabbed breakfast at Yayoiken Nippombashi, just outside the Kintetsu-Nippombashi Station. They serve traditional Japanese fare. Upon entering, we purchased a meal ticket at the machine and sat down at a booth. The service was quick. I ordered the miso simmered mackerel, which came with a bowl of rice, miso soup, and a cube of tofu. A healthy start to the day!
After arriving at Kintetsu-Nara Station, we headed down the street to grab coffee to go from Rokumei Coffee and continued to Nakatanidou.
Nakatanidou, owned by Mitsuo Nakatani, is a shop that hand-makes its own mochi. Unfortunately, Mitsuo Nakatani (look him up if you have not before!) was not pounding any mochi at that moment. We bought kusa mochi, the shop’s specialty, which is made from yomogi leaves and filled with red bean paste.
Kusa Mochi at Nakatanidou Store
Nara Park is scattered with temples and shrines. Deer roam about, freely interacting with strangers. The deer are very friendly and will bow to you if you bow to them. Stalls selling deer cookies are easy to find and is one way to attract a deer’s attention. You may find yourself quickly surrounded by deer if you are offering cookies.
The nearest temple is Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist Temple. Beside it is the Kofuku-ji Five Storied Pagoda.
After Kofuku-ji, we headed to Todai-ji, also a Buddhist Temple. On the way, we stopped by Himuro shrine and the Okumura Commemorative Museum.
The Himuro Shrine, a Shinto Shrine, is small but is a nice escape from the grandeur of the main temples.
The Okumura Commemorative Museum celebrates the centennial founding of the Okumura Corporation, a Japanese company focusing on construction and civil engineering. The museum is free and provides history on the Okumura Corporation as well as information on seismic base isolation. There is an earthquake simulator for visitors to try. The museum also has an open terrace providing a viewpoint of Nara Park. The view does not offer much, mostly just homes and forest landscape, but you can see the Todai-ji rooftop.
We left the museum and continued through the Todai-ji’s main entrance before reaching the temple itself. We did not pay the admission to enter the temple, but observed from far. Todai-ji is home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, or ‘Daibutsu’, located in its Great Buddha Hall.
We walked to the backside of Todai-ji to visit the Shosoin Shrine, which is the treasure house for Todai-ji. It has a raised floor and does not allow visitor access.
We continued on our walk through Nara Park, the cool morning air completely replaced by a warm autumn breeze. Our next destination was Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do, both east of Todai-ji. They are both important structures to the Todai-ji Temple.
After a 10 minute walk, we reached Nigatsu-do. We walked up the covered pathway to reach the main area of the temple. The view of Nara Park was nice.
South of Nigatsu-do is Sangatsu-do. It is also known as Hokke-do. It is said to be the oldest structure at Todai-ji and is divided into two sections — the image hall and the worship hall.
We continued to Wakakusayama Hill. The hill (or mountain) is covered in grass. You can pay a small 200 yen fee ( ~$3CAD) to hike to the top. We trekked for about 30 minutes to reach the peak and were rewarded with a beautiful view of Nara. The route up the mountain is well taken care of and easy to walk up. At the peak, there was a large group of students accompanied by their teachers that appeared to be celebrating a milestone in their education (perhaps a semester end celebration?).
After descending from Wakakusayama Hill, we continued south to Kasuga-Taisha, a Shinto Shrine.
We had visited all the main temples and shrines on our list and headed back to Nara’s city centre to grab late lunch. We were so focused on wandering Nara Park, we had skipped lunch! Note: There are restaurants and small food shops in Nara Park that you can stop at (or bring snacks). I was craving tempura. After a google search, we headed to a popular tempura restaurant in Nara called Tendon Makino Narahigashi. On the way we stopped to buy matcha/vanilla soft serve ice cream and some crackers to feed the deer.
We waited about 20 minutes for a seat at Tendon Makino Narahigashi. We each ordered the Tempura Rice Bowl “C”. The portion was generous and the tempura light. For those sitting at the bar, you have the opportunity of watching the chefs prepare the food.
Tendon Makino Narahigashi is located about a minute walk to Kintetsu-Nara Station. We had completed our visit to Nara, so we hopped on the train and headed back to Osaka.
We headed straight to Shinsekai, an older neighbourhood in Osaka. It is often recognized by the balloon ‘fugu’ (blowfish/puffer fish) at the restaurant Zuboraya. If prepared incorrectly, fugu can be a poisonous dish (we did not take that risk). Another noticeable landmark in the Shinsekai district is the Tsutenkaku Tower. The tower sparkles in the background as its colour changes every few seconds. The tower has an observation deck, but we did not go.
Shinsekai has a good selection of restaurants — fugu, kushi katsu, takoyaki, etc. We decided on conveyor belt sushi for dinner. We were not too hungry due to having a late lunch, but we had space for sushi! We saw at least two conveyor belt sushi locations, but decided on Kura Zushi Shinsekai Tsutenkaku. The sushi was delicious and very reasonably priced! We ended up eating a lot more than we originally planned and only paid about 2600yen for the both of us ($35 CAD). We especially enjoyed the tuna ‘otoro’ (the fattiest part of the tuna) and the steak sushi.
With our bellies full and our eyelids heavy, we headed back to our hotel for the evening.
Complete Day 1 Itinerary
Travel times may vary and do not include walking distances to and from train stations. Check Google Maps for most accurate travel details.
8:00am: Head to Yayoiken for breakfast. It is a chain-restaurant in Japan. Head to Nara from Osaka (about a 40 minute train ride if you are staying near Dotonbori)
10:00am: Arrive at Kintetsu-Nara Station. Grab some coffee at Rokumei Coffee (1 minute walk). Continue to Nakatanidou for kusa mochi (4 minute walk). Continue to Kofuku-ji in Nara Park (2 minute walk).
11:00am: Visit Todai-ji (10 minute walk from Kofuku-ji). On the way, drop by Himuro Shrine (6 minute walk from Kofuku-ji) and the Okumura Commemorative Museum (1 minute walk from Himuro Shrine). Grab lunch at one of the restaurants near Nara Park. Possible lunch spot is Tendon Makino Narahigashi.
1:00pm: Continue walking through Nara Park. Stop at the Shosoin Shrine (4 minute walk from Todai-ji), Nigatsu-do (6 minute walk from Shosoin Shrine), and Sangatsu-do (6 minute walk from Nigatsu-do).
3:00pm: Hike up Wakakusayama (33 minute walk to the peak from Sangatsu-do). Enjoy the view from the peak.
4:00pm: Head down to Kasuga-Taisha (27minute walk from the Wakakusayama peak to Kasuga-Taisha). Head back to Kintetsu-Nara Station (30 minute walk from Kasuga-Taisha). Stop to buy deer crackers to feed the deer. Grab some ice cream on the way for yourself.
6:00pm: Head to Shinsekai in Osaka (39 minute train from Kintetsu-Nara Station to Kintetsu-Nippombashi Station, another 2 minute train from Nippombashi Station to Ebisucho Station).
7:00pm: Grab dinner at Kura Zushi Shinsekai Tsutenkaku. Wander the stores or grab a drink at Shinsekai.
16-Day Japan Itinerary
Click “Download” below for an excel version of my 16-Day Japan Itinerary. Feel free to use the excel file as a planning template for your own trip in Japan!