For shrine enthusiasts: in...
For shrine enthusiasts: in Nara prefecture, 1 hour by train from Nara city to the south (Y480) there's the Kashihara-jingu, in the city of the same name. It's one of the biggest shrines of Kansai area, generally ignored by tourists.
I was lucky to catch this moment on film, when the priests march for their daily morning duties, at 8 o'clock.
The Todai-ji temple, with its Diabutsu-den Hall and enormous bronze Buddha, is Nara's main attraction. As you approach the temple, you will have to walk through an enormous gate, the Nandai-mon containing 2 fierce-looking Nio guardians. The Daibutsu-den is the largest wooden building in the world. The Diabutsu (Great Buddha) contained within is one of the largest bronze figures in the world and was originally cast in 746. The present statue stands just over 16m high and contains 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg of gold.
Kofukuji Temple was first built by the Fujiwara to ward off illness in 669. The temple moved before being built in Nara in 710. The five-storied pagoda has become an iconic symbol of the temple, as well as the city of Nara. It is the second highest pagoda in Japan (Toji Temple in Kyoto has the highest). The temple complex was considered to be one of the Four Great Temples of the Nara Period and one of the Seven Great Temples of the Heian Period.
It is free to walk around the temple precints however, the treasure house located next to the pagoda costs 600 yen. While walking around the grounds and seeing the buildings is still worthwhile for those on a budget, it is worth the money to see the temple's treasures. It houses a nice collection of Buddhist sculptures/statues.
Cradle of Japanese Culture, Arts and Crafts
"Huge is an understatement - Todaiji Temple"
A World Heritage Site, Todaiji Temple enshrines the Great Image of Buddha (Daibutsu) and is the largest wooden structure in the world. And I'm not kidding!! There is no proper superlative to describe the colossal size of this imposing structure and it's vast area. Stones from 3 different countries were brought in to pave the entrance to the temple - heavy with Buddhist influence, from India, China and Korea. Twice a year, a little wooden door is opened from where you can get a glimpse of the Great Buddha's golden face. The current temple is 2/3rd the original size after fire destroyed it twice. Worth getting are some temple omamori and the temple wind chime.
"Kofukuji's 5-storied Pagoda"
Another World Heritage Site, the 5-storied pagoda is a famous symbol of Nara. A great prayer hall is currently being built, which is taking longer than necessary and will rival Sanjusangendo in Kyoto. (perhaps?). Nara deers roam about freely, and the temple structures each have a story to tell. Recommended to get a Goodwill Student Guide at the Tourist Info office to show you around Nara. It's more exciting when you know the reasons the structures were built. Kofukuji Temple has the friendliest temple priests around. If you're into collecting temple stamps and blessings, Kofukuji have a range of very nice yet cheap stamp books, and they'll stamp one for you for free. Nice, ne!
"Kasuga Grand Shrine"
yes, another World Heritage Site structures in Nara. They actually have a total of 7 WHSites! The uniqueness of this Shrine are the stone lanterns that lined the pathway to the shrine. Apparently, there are more than a 1000 stone lanters. No one could be sure. It was said that if you guessed correctly, you will be very lucky. And if you didn't, you will be unlucky. So no one wanted to risk getting it wrong. (they're too many anyways) It's a beautiful structure with vermillion pillars, Kasuga style roof and hanging lanterns. Surrounded by green groves, it's pretty eerie when it rains. Deers roam freely in the enclosure and the kasuga Shrine Garden supposedly has more than 900 varieties of plants. That's quite a botanical garden. Serenity at its best! (except for the long winding walk and the steep steps to to get there!)
Nara, ancient city of first emperors
"Like Kyoto, you walk in a museum"
Nara, just South from Kyoto is the oldest imperial town of the Japanse royalty. Here their centuries old tradition started, after which it somewhat later moved to Kyoto. The town is still a little museum, where Kyoto is the bigger one. It's easy to reach for a days visit from the address you stay in in Kyoto. Here you need definately more then a day. Nara has besides numerous temples also the golden paviljon. In many places you can find total peace of mind, but in the gardens there you forget about the world around you rushing by. Nara is situated anyway in a very natural environment with foresty green and deer walking around, begging (or just taking) for food.