FuFu Travel Guide
Nara & Osaka -21 March 2007-
Nara (奈良) is an ancient and the first permanent capital city in Nara Prefecture, Kansai region of Japan. Nara is home to many important scenic and historical World Heritage sites and its main preserved sights are much more attractively than Kyoto within Nara park like Todaiji and Kofukuji as well as the neighbourhoods like Naramachi. Nevertheless, Nara is always omitted from many time pressed tourists` itineraries as overshadowed by its more famous neighbour Kyoto. As a profesional guide, i definitely pen down Nara on the list. Nara is located west and south of Osaka and Kyoto respectively, 40mins from both Kyoto and Osaka by train.
Kintetsu Nara Station.
Once arrived the station, you can simply walk to almost all the other major sites. The conventional round course from Kintetsu Nara Station to Nara Park, Todaiji, Kofukuji, Kasuga Taisha and back to Kintetsu Nara Station is about 5km long, usually a quite pleasant walk for tourists.
Most of Nara`s sights, including temples and shrines are concentrated in Nara Park (奈良公園, Nara koen), a wide and pleasant space of greenery. This park is also home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. According to the legend, the god of the Kasuga Taisha came riding a white deer in the old days, so the deer enjoy protected status as envoys of the god and have been designated a national treasure. However, based on their current behaviour, either the deer have lost the job, or the god has taken an extremely passionate interest in business from tourists, these mercenary deers will approach harassing tourists for biscuit. It is though worth to spend ¥150 (US$1.5) on a packet of senpei (biscuit) for the deer.
Todaiji (東大寺, Great Eastern Temple) is one of Japan`s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. Constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan, Daibutsuden (大仏殿), the buidling that housing Japan`s largest Buddha statue ( 大仏, Daibutsu) is said one of the world`s largest wooden buildings. The temple was put on the World Heritage list of UNESCO in 1998.
At the temple, you can burn osenko (お線香, incense) in large incense burners. Throw a coin into the offering box, take a bundle of incense, light them and let them burn for a few seconds then extinguish the flame by waving your hand rather than by blowing it out. Put the incense into the incense burner and fan some smoke towards yourself as the smoke is believed to have healing power.
Daibutsu at Todaiji.
Ring the gong before you pray.
Also another interest in the Daibutsuden is the rear support pillar, which have holes through the bottom. Popular belief has it that if one is successful in squeezing through the healing pillar, he or she is guaranteed a place in heaven. Thanks god, both my younger and elder sisters have successfully gained the tickets to the heaven.
To the right of the entrance to the Daibutsuden is a statue of the Yakushi Nyorai. Though a bit scary-looking on first glance, it`s actually a Buddha of medicine and healing. Touching a part of the Yakushi Nyorai and then the corresponding part of your own body is said to heal any ailments you have there.
The Buddha of medicine and healing, at Todaiji.
This octagonal lantern is an ancient treasure.
Outside the Daibutsuden at the bottom of the steps, don`t miss the bronze Octagonal Lantern, one of the oldest treasures in Todaiji - it dates from the original 8th century temple. The lantern`s support post is inscribed with a Buddhist text on the merits of lighting lanterns.
The landscape pond in front of Todaiji.
Todaiji World Heritage Monument.
Kofukuji World Heritage Monument.
We then moved to another World Heritage site - Kofukuji (興福寺). Kofukuji is used to be the family temple of Fujiwara, the most powerful family clan during the Nara Period (710-794). Kofukuji`s Treasure House exhibits part of the temple`s great art collection.
The main hall and pagoda of Kofukuji.
Temples store and display sacred Buddhist objects and some of them used to or still function as monasteries. The Pagoda, a structure that has evolved from Indian stupa, usually comes with three or five stories. And this five storied pagoda is one of Japan`s tallest and the symbol of Nara.
Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) is a normal shrine but famous for its many lanterns which donated by worshippers. The bronze lanterns within the shrine and hundreds of stone lanterns lining the shrine`s approach are lit on the occasion of the Lantern Festivals in February and August.
In front of a mocchi-making shop at Naramachi.
Naramachi (奈良町) is the former merchant district of Nara where several traditional warehouses and residential buidlings have survived. Besides the main street, small boutiques, shops, cafes and restaurants can also be found along the district narrow lanes.
On one of the streets in Naramachi.
After lunch in Nara, we headed for a dialysis hospital in Osaka. Yes, my mother has lost her kidney function since 12 years ago and has been going for dialysis three times a week. Cost of the dislysis for foreigner is rediculous high in Japan. But i asked my professor to write me a recommendation letter so i could bring my mother to the local hospital. We then went to Namba, the southern downtown of Osaka while my mother having her four hours dialysis.
Midosuji line, subway in Osaka.
Osaka, in a nation of obesessive gourmands, also known as an excellent place to eat, exemplified by the Osakan maxim kuidaore (食い倒れ) which means eat yourself into ruin or eat until you drop in Osaka. The best place for exercising kuidaore is probably Dotonburi at Namba. It is also the famous shopping and entertainment district located around Namba station. It offers something for everyone and includes neighbouring attractions as the fashionable Amerikamura, the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. Belows are some of the more famous establishments can be found in Namba.
The mascot Kuidaore Taro.
The mascot is featuring a mechanical clown beating a drum, is one of the contenders for the title of the largest restaurant in the world. Taro is a popular tourist icon of Namba, even now swarmed by crowds of tourists patiently waiting their turn to snap a memento.
Kani Doraku Crab.
Kani Doraku (かに道楽), easily identifiable by the giant mechanical crab waving its pincers about, is one very expensive restaurant specializes in crab.
Aka Oni Tako (赤鬼たこ), is famous for takoyaki, bits of octopus inside fried dumplings with its own made special sauce. It is ranked as one of the best takoyaki (たこ焼き) in Osaka and the same goes for service too! Remember to look for the big red oni (ghost) holding plate of takoyaki.
Originally installed in 1935, the giant athlete is a symbol of Glico candy, featuring a running man on a blue track is one of the infamous mechanized signs in Dotonburi
Despite its name, Shin Kabukiza Theater is not usually staging kabuki performances. Instead, it mainly features concerts by popular Enka singers and other shows.
The National Bunraku theater is considered the nation`s most prestigious. Besides staging kabuki performances, buraku, rakugo and noh also performed.
One of Osaka`s most popular tourist destinations, Dotonburi (道頓堀) runs parallel to the canal. Itis a popular shopping and entertainment district and is also known as a food destination. At night, it is lit by hundreds of neaon light and mechanized signs, including the Glico Man and Kani Doraku crab signs.
A crowd in Dotonburi.
Amerikamura, locally known as Amemura is a shopping district that considered Osaka`s counterpart to Harajuku, particularly popular among young people, and is one good place to see the cutting edge of teenage fashion trends and culture in Japan. It is a lively atmosphere that is populated with cafes, clothing stores and thrift shops.
Midosuji street, Sinsaibashi.
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and its surrounding area is Osaka`s premiere shopping center. Approximately 600m long, this area is unique as it combines chain retail stores and trendy boutiques with expensive department stores and top designer fashion label.
Shinsaibashi at dusk.
Donkihote, the cheap retail shop .
The most significant neaon light and mechanized signs at Dotonburi.
Once we stepped in the shopping arcade in Shinsaibashi, both of my sisters crazily went mad when they saw Hello Kitty House, Disney Store, and other accessories shops.
Hello Kitty`s fans.
The pachinko parlor caught their eyes too.
We take subway back to Namba.
Four hours later, four of us went back to the hospital and picked up my mother for dinner at Namba as i need to bring them to my host father`s Italian restaurant. We had Hokkaido`s famous miso ramen at Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade after roughly showing my mother around Shinsaibashi and Dotonburi.
Hokkaido`s Chitokobanya Ramen.