In the past, tourists have sometimes been known to overlook Nara and give it a miss, favouring other more obvious travel destinations. Actually, Nara was founded as Japan’s capital 1,300 years ago and the city is like many old capitals in the world – rich in historic sites and monuments in charming and peaceful surroundings but the list of things to do in Nara is not just limited only to sightseeing.
There are many places in Nara that host the elegant Japanese tea ceremony but if you are on a budget, try a local volunteer group called ‘Join Japan Nara’ for a lovely tea party with an English-speaking guide. They hold a regular tea ceremony once a month at the Nara City Chubu Kominkan and attendees are lent a kimono, free of charge.
- Opening Hours: Usually on the second Tuesday of each month from 10:00 – 14:00
- Location: At the Nara City Chubu Kominkan (public hall)
- Tel: Tel: +81 (0)74 222 3900
Japanese Cooking Class
Part of the fun in learning how to cook Japanese food is getting to know how to use their cooking utensils. Despite all the confusion (when one first looks at Japanese cooking utensils and kitchenware a little head scratching is understandable), it is always fun to discover the use of each device. Some of the more common Japanese kitchen tools include makisu (a small bamboo mat for making rolled sushi), saibashi (Japanese chopsticks used only in food preparation, not for eating), oroshigane (a grater), urokotori (a fish scale remover), zaru (a draining basket made from bamboo), kushi (skewers used to hold food for grilling) and shamoji (a rice spoon used specifically to stir rice while cooking).
- Opening Hours: Hours vary depending on each class
- Location: Around Nara City
Wear a Kimono
No one knows how much impact the 2005 Hollywood movie Memoirs of a Geisha has had on tourist arrivals to Japan but it is true that you will see many visitors wearing kimonos around Nara’s Old Town. Prices differ depending on the type of kimono you choose but expect them to start from around 2,500 yen for a yukata (Japanese summer dress) and from 3,000 yen for a basic kimono.
- Opening Hours: Most kimono shops are open from 10:00 to around 17:00
- Location: Visitors may spot a few kimono rental shops located along Nara’s historical street Naramachi or alternatively
- Tel: Kimono Asobi Nikkori at Tel: +81 (0)74 225 0029 or Sara at Tel: +81 (0)74 224 1302 (two days’ advance booking is necessary)
Nara Prefecture is home to many sake breweries. Nara is actually considered the birthplace of sake which was first made in 689 when the city was the capital of Japan. Every year around mid-November the brewery owner and people in the sake industry pay respects to the ‘god of liquor’ at the 17th century Omiwa Shrine in Nara.
Out-of-town visitors will discover that quite a few sake breweries organize simple sake tastings around town as well as at some restaurants. But if you ask the locals they will probably point you to the most well-known sake brewer in Nara the Harushika (meaning ‘spring deer’).
- Opening Hours: 08:15 – 19:15 (each sake tasting session lasts approx 30 minutes)
- Location: 27-4 Imamikado-cho
- Tel: +81 (0)74 223 2255
Cycling Around Naramachi
Naramachi is the old quarter of Nara and a former merchant district. Here you will find many well-preserved ‘machiya’ – long and narrow traditional shop-houses used both as homes and businesses in the past that nowadays have been transformed into restaurants, cafes, shops and even museums. Many famous attractions are to be found in the Naramachi Area including the Gangoji Temple, Naramachi Shiryokan Artifacts Museum, Koshi-no-ie Residence (a former merchant home) and Imanishike Shoin Residence (a former home of an important temple officer) where you can stop by for Japanese tea and traditional sweets. One can rent a bicycle at the Naramachi Joho-kan Information Centre and cycle around this lovely district. The costs are quite reasonable at about 200 yen per hour and 800 yen per day.
- Opening Hours: Naramachi Joho-kan Information Centre open daily from 10:00 – 18:00
- Location: A few minutes’ walk south of Sarusawa Pond
- Tel: +81 (0)74 226 8610
Sightseeing Nara by a Rickshaw
The rickshaw (or jinrikisha) was invented in the Meiji period (1868-1912) and was very popular until the advent of modern cars. Nara is trying to preserve this traditional form of transport by using them in the tourist industry and one can catch them at the intersection near Todai-ji Temple. But they are not cheap: for example to go to Nara’s main attractions like Kasuga Grand Shrine or Daibutsu-den Hall is about 2,000 yen per person or 3,000 yen for two people for about a short 10-minute ride each or you can hire one for a longer period of time to tour around Nara Park, Naramachi Old Town as well as Kofuku-ji Temple. The drivers do not have great English-language skills. Some can hold a basic conversation and explain about their destinations in English but still it can be a memorable experience riding such a unique vehicle in an ancient city like Nara. Don’t be surprised to find that some rickshaw drivers are women – most of them are just as fit and strong as men!
- Opening Hours: Daily from 10:00 – 17:00
- Location: At the intersection near Todai-ji Temple
- Tel: +81 (0)74 222 9123
English-speaking Japanese Calligraphy Classes
The art of calligraphy is practiced in many Asian countries including China, Korea and Japan. It was first developed in China using ink and brush in writing Chinese characters and also in their fine paintings. With the connection of China and Japan in ancient times, the art of calligraphy traveled to Japan and subsequently became one of the country’s top art forms. Visitors can learn the basics of Japanese calligraphy with a professional English-speaking Japanese artist. Yoko Nishina holds regular two-hour calligraphy classes in the area of Nara and Kyoto.
- Opening Hours: Hours vary depends on each class
- Location: Nara and Kyoto
Join Naramachi Old Town’s Walking Tour
Naramachi District is a special part of Nara with a long history and many interesting nooks and crannies to explore. To fully appreciate it join a three-hour walking tour, led by a professional and experienced English-speaking guide.
- Opening Hours: Every Sat from 09:55 – 13:00 between Apr – Jul and again from Sep – Nov
- Location: Starts from the Tourist Information Center in Kintetsu Nara Station
- Tel: +81 (0)74 355 6609
Golf in Nara
If you fancy a game of golf or just want to practice your swing, Nara has many beautiful golf courses. You can find more of their details from your hotel tour desk. Alternatively please consult the list below.
Asuka Country Club
Asuka Country Club offers 18 holes in a beautiful greenery surrounding located five kilometers from Ichibu Train Station. Major credit cards accepted. Advance booking is suggested.
- Tel: +81 (0)74 245 0881
Cypress Country Club
Cypress Country Club is an 18-hole course and about 39km from Mihara-kita Train Station. Advance booking is suggested.
- Tel: +81 (0)74 722 8181
Deer Park Golf Club
Deer Park Golf Club feature an 18-hole course located 15km from Hourai Train Station.
- Tel: +81 (0)74 281 0101
J&P Golf Club
J&P Golf Club designed by Peter Thomson offers three, nine-hole courses. The club is about four kilometers from Hari Train Station.
- Tel: +81 (0)74 384 0131
Fruit & Vegetable Picking
Nara Prefecture is not only rich in historical sites but also in farmland. Products from the area range from rice to seasonal fruit and vegetables such as stawberries, oranges, persimmons, Japanese pears, tomatoes, green soybeans, sweet potatoes, chinese mushrooms and more. Many ochard owners and farmers open up their businesses to the public by arranging day tours allowing visitors to come and pick as well as to taste their fresh products. Around Asuka Village, another ancient site south of Nara, you’ll find greenhouses devoted to the ‘Asuka Ruby’ strawberry which is popular nationwide for its sweet and delicious taste.
To visit one of the farms, it’s best to check with your hotel tour desk for guidelines regarding locations, seasonal information and prices. Alternatively, try Shorenjiko Budou Kumiai Farm which is a fun place to hand-pick stawberries and grapes while Fruit Land Kiyotamaen offers a variety of fruits such as pears, apples and grapes.
Shorenjiko Budou Kumiai Farm
- Opening Hours: 09:00 – 17:00 for strawberry picking in Jan – May and for grape picking from July – October
- Location: About a 10-minute bus ride from Kintetsu Nabari Station
- Tel: +81 (0)59 563 7000
Fruit Land Kiyotamaen
- Opening Hours: 10:00 – 16:00, closed on Mondays
- Location: Located in Nara
- Tel: +81 (0)74 752 2788