Find your own forest in Nara

By Jamie Rockers

When foreigners living in Kansai think of Nara, most people think of deer and Todaiji temple. When there are more than 1,000 deer running around the largest wooden structure in the world, it’s hard to think of much else. Of course, these are the two most famous things to see in Nara but there is actually a lot more.

In fact, there are tons of other things to do in Nara, including eating the best Indian food in Kansai, hiking, rowing boats, and feeding big-mouthed carp. Personally, I prefer Nara over Kyoto. Why? Because while you are temple hopping or sightseeing, you can stop and rest in the woods or a park in between sights. Kyoto is a city and therefore requires use of public transportation to see many of the sights. In Nara, all you need are your own two feet.

Nara also allows you to really explore and get in touch with your inner-kid again. You can follow a well-trodden path or go off the beaten road. I have been to Nara countless times and always find a new overgrown path in the woods that I haven’t explored yet. Often, I don’t see any other people. You can lie in the green grass (be careful of deer droppings) or venture into the woods.

If you prefer hiking, a good path to follow is up Wakakusa Hill and when you reach the top, you will be greeted with a stunning view. It’s hardly ever crowded up there and it’s a perfect place to have a picnic and watch the clouds, whatever you want to do (within reason, of course). If you want to see historical things, there is always Kofukuji, the five-story pagoda a hop, skip, and jump away from Todaiji or Kasuga Grand Shrine, which is located to the left of Todaiji up the hill next to primeval forest (also marked as a World Heritage site).

Another good place to stop and have a look is the Nara National Museum in the vicinity of Nara Park. Through June 20, they are having a special exhibition, “Imperial Envoys to Tang China: Early Japanese Encounters with Continental Culture.”

If you are in the mood, there is also an option for boating at Sagi Ike Pond on the outskirts of Nara Park. You can rent a boat for an hour for around 1000 yen. Afterwards, head to the most delicious Indian restaurant in Kansai, located on the main tourist street of Nara. There’s only one so you can’t miss it. Nicely sized sets start at 1,480 yen for dinner and 980 yen for lunch.

So if the next time someone tries to convince you go to Kyoto for the umpteenth time (don’t get me wrong, Kyoto is a lovely place), remember, there’s always Nara.

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i love those deers... they tried to rob me of my roasted sweet potato the last time i was there...

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OOOH! That sounds like heaven! I need to add this to my Must Go See In Japan list! XD

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I too love Nara -- I'd move back if I could!

What's the name of this Indian restaurant?

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Some may have left their heart in San Francisco, but for me, it's Nara where my heart was stolen. One of Nara's many, many hidden gems is Isuien garden located literally over the fence on the west side of magnificent Todaiji temple. When I worked in the prefectural headquarters across from Nara Koen park, I'd often walk to Isuien to have my lunch in its quietly beautiful spaces. BTW, Nara (or Heijyo-kyo) is celebrating its 1300th anniversary as the capital of Japan - there's lots going on this summer through the fall in Nara.

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The Indian restaurant mentioned is probably Ragamala, which is not actually on the "main tourist street" but off Mochiidono-dori, the lower shotengai from Kintetsi Nara Sta. Cut left down a small alley going toward Sarusawa Pond and it's on your right. Wonderful place, relaxing, great food, and you can buy from an assortment of handmade goods that benefit children in India. There should be a signboard on the shotengai, though, pointing the way. Info and map, etc. at

Ragamala is mentioned here, too, at the top...,000things/225.html

There's also Ashura, farther south from downtown, which is pretty good too.

Both Ashura and Ragamala are vegetarian.

One I haven't tried yet is Jay Indian restaurant, near Kintetsu Shin-Omiya Station. It's also vegetarian, I think.

Nara is indeed special. I'd recommend it to friends any day over Kyoto if they're looking for peace and quiet as well as history and culture (and good Indian food :-) )

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Thanks, escape artist, for the additional information on the Indian restaurant scene in Nara - I'll be sure to try one if not all of the places you've recommended the next time I make an extended visit to Nara. BTW, any recommendations for eating out in Tenri-shi, just to the south of Nara-shi?

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@sctaber56... Sorry, I don't know anything about Tenri. I have friends who do, though, so will ask and report back when I get a chance.

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Thanks, much appreciated. :) I hope to be visiting Tenri in the near future.

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I was in Nara 39 years ago when I was ten... seeing this makes me naguzashii <3

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