私たちは、何年もの間、日本のエンターテインメント ニュースを生き、呼吸してきた情熱的なエンターテインメント ニュース ジャンキーの小さなチームです。
nara japan, /nara-japan,
Video: Osaka, Kyoto, Nara 2018
私たちは、何年もの間、日本のエンターテインメント ニュースを生き、呼吸してきた情熱的なエンターテインメント ニュース ジャンキーの小さなチームです。
nara japan, 2018-10-28, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara 2018, , Artem Kuzmenko
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By the Heian period, a variety of different characters had been used to represent the name Nara: 乃楽, 乃羅, 平, 平城, 名良, 奈良, 奈羅, 常, 那良, 那楽, 那羅, 楢, 諾良, 諾楽, 寧, 寧楽 and 儺羅.
A number of theories for the origin of the name “Nara” have been proposed, and some of the better-known ones are listed here. The second theory in the list, from the notable folklorist Kunio Yanagita (1875–1962), is most widely accepted at present.
- The Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan, the second oldest book of classical Japanese history) suggests that “Nara” was derived from narasu (to flatten, to level). According to this account, in September in the tenth year of Emperor Sujin, “leading selected soldiers (the rebels) went forward, climbed Nara-yama (hills lying to the north of Heijō-kyō) and put them in order. Now the imperial forces gathered and flattened trees and plants. Therefore the mountain is called Nara-yama.” Though the narrative itself is regarded as a folk etymology and few researchers regard it as historical, this is the oldest surviving suggestion, and is linguistically similar to the following theory by Yanagita.
- “Flat land” theory (currently most widely accepted): In his 1936 study of placenames, the author Kunio Yanagita states that “the topographical feature of an area of relatively gentle gradient on the side of a mountain, which is called taira in eastern Japan and hae in the south of Kyushu, is called naru in the Chūgoku region and Shikoku (central Japan). This word gives rise to the verb narasu, adverb narashi, and adjective narushi.” This is supported by entries in a dialect dictionary for nouns referring to flat areas: naru (found in Aida District, Okayama Prefecture and Ketaka District, Tottori Prefecture) and naro (found in Kōchi Prefecture); and also by an adjective narui which is not standard Japanese, but is found all across central Japan, with meanings of “gentle”, “gently sloping”, or “easy”. Yanagita further comments that the way in which the fact that so many of these placenames are written using the character 平 (“flat”), or other characters in which it is an element, demonstrates the validity of this theory. Citing a 1795 document, Inaba-shi (因幡志) from the province of Inaba, the eastern part of modern Tottori, as indicating the reading naruji for the word 平地 (standard reading heichi, meaning “level/flat ground/land/country, a plain”), Yanagita suggests that naruji would have been used as a common noun there until the modern period. Of course, the fact that historically “Nara” was also written 平 or 平城 as above is further support for this theory.
- The idea that Nara is derived from 楢 nara (Japanese for “oak, deciduous Quercus spp.”) is the next most common opinion. This idea was suggested by a linguist, Yoshida Togo. This noun for the plant can be seen as early as in Man’yōshū (7–8th century) and Harima-no-kuni Fudoki (715). The latter book states the place name Narahara in Harima (around present-day Kasai) derives from this nara tree, which might support Yoshida’s theory. Note that the name of the nearby city of Kashihara (literally “live oak plain”) contains a semantically similar morpheme (Japanese 橿 kashi “live oak, evergreen Quercus spp.”).
- Nara could be a loanword from Old Korean, related to Middle Korean narah and Modern Korean nara (나라: “country”, “nation”, “kingdom”). This idea was put forward by a linguist Matsuoka Shizuo. American linguist Samuel E. Martin notes that the earliest attestation of this word in Korean sources—given in an eighth-century hyangga text, in the phonogramic form 國惡—should be read as NAL[A-]ak. This is similar to the form implied by the Old Japanese writings of Nara that transcribe the second syllable with 楽 (raku), and Martin notes that the city name has been “long suspected of being a borrowing from the Korean word”. Kusuhara et al. argues that this hypothesis cannot account for the fact there are many places named Nara, Naru and Naro besides this Nara.
- There is the idea that Nara is akin to Tungusic na. In some Tungusic languages such as Orok (and likely Goguryeo language), na means earth, land or the like. Some have speculated about a connection between these Tungusic words and Old Japanese nawi, an archaic and somewhat obscure word that appears in the verb phrases nawi furu and nawi yoru (‘an earthquake occurs, to have an earthquake’).
The “flat land” theory is adopted by Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (the largest dictionary of Japanese language), various dictionaries for place names, history books on Nara, and the like today, and it is regarded as the most likely.
The Temples of Nara
Nara Prefecture’s famous sites are concentrated around its capital city, also called Nara. It’s home to some of Japan’s most historical landmarks, including the jaw-dropping Todai-ji Temple and its 15-meter tall bronze Buddha. This ancient city is a popular day trip from nearby Kyoto and Osaka. Just to the south of the city, Horyu-ji Temple claims to be the oldest wooden building in the world and contains images of Japan from some 1,300 years ago.
Heading further south, Asuka was one of the first capitals of Japan and the base for its original imperial rulers. When Buddhism arrived from the Korean peninsula, it became an important source of religious teachings. Sixth-century Asukadera Temple is the first full-scale temple built in Japan and enshrines one of the oldest remaining images of Buddha.
Hiking in Nara
There’s more to this historical prefecture than temples, though. Make a pilgrimage to the Nara section of the UNESCO World Heritage Kumano Kodo trail to experience a spiritual awakening among the Shugendo mountain-dwellers.
5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Nara
The mountains of Yoshino and Omine are linked by ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Nara and Kyoto that are still used by priests in training today. The picturesque village of Yoshino is used to dealing with large crowds of tourists who come during cherry blossom season to witness the spectacular sight of 30,000 flowering trees along the mountain slopes.
Omine, on the other hand, has been the subject of some controversy due to its ban on women climbing the mountain. The ban is not always actively enforced, but the community asks that tourists respect their traditions. There is one section of the mountain that is reserved for women.
The Soni Highlands offers various hiking trails and beautiful panoramic views of both regions. Reminiscent of one of the scenes from Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaa of the Valley of The Wind, a day trip to Soni Highlands is breathtakingly picturesque. The vast meadow extends from Mt. Kuroso to Mt.Kameyama located near the former ninja home of Nabari, Mie.
One of the best times to visit would be during the later autumn months, as the highlands are a great place to catch the sunset over the seemingly endless rows upon rows of pampas grass. During the evenings on warmer months, visitors can spot fireflies light up the nearby river.
Plan your trip to Nara with the locations below!
Japan’s ancient capital delivers on culture
Photo: Benny Marty / Shutterstock.com
Japan’s first permanent capital from AD 710 to 794 (known then as Heijo), as well as the site of the ancient capitals of Asuka and Fujiwara, it goes without saying that Nara Prefecture (奈良県, Nara–ken) is filled with history and culture.
Nara is renowned for its many prestigious temples, led by Todai-ji (home of the Nara Great Buddha) and Horyu-ji, the oldest wooden building in the world. The lesser-known Asuka Temple is considered to be the oldest temple in Japan, constructed in AD 588. The traditional performing art of Daimokutate is performed every October 12th and is a sight to behold.
One of the most iconic sights of Nara is Nara Park; in addition to it containing Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji, and Kasuga Shrine, it is famous for its roaming deer – visitors can even feed them! The town of Yoshino is arguably the best spot in Japan for cherry blossom viewing.
A Brief History of Nara
As Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara is one of the country’s most important locations both historically and culturally.
From the architecture of its preserved neighborhoods to its wealth of traditional arts, and from its crafts and festivals to the splendor of its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this historical and cultural importance is evident throughout the city.
The abundance of temples and shrines in Nara is indicative of the city’s position as one of the key spiritual centers of Japan. In fact, one of the reasons the capital was moved away from Nara is because the government feared that the city’s Buddhist temples were becoming too powerful.
From the awe-inspiring 15-meter-high Buddha at Todaiji Temple to the iconic pagoda of Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Taisha shrine’s atmospheric lanterns, the influence of both Buddhism and Shintoism on Nara’s physical and cultural landscape is still very much apparent.
Nara’s appeal doesn’t just lie in its past, however. These days the city is a perfect blend of modernity and tradition, with Edo-era townhouses transformed into art galleries, coffee shops, and craft-beer bars.
And of course, there are plenty of deer. Images of these adorable residents can be found all over the city, immortalized in the form of Shikamaro-kun, Nara’s official cervine mascot. In Shinto mythology, deer are considered to be messengers of the gods, and as such, Nara’s deer have even been designated a national treasure. It doesn’t get much cuter than that!
Weather and When to Visit Nara
Like the rest of Japan, Nara is a year-round destination, with each season bringing its own particular highlights and festivals.
Spring is one of the most beautiful seasons in which to visit, particularly when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. This usually occurs at the end of March or the beginning of April (the exact timing can be a bit unpredictable) and sees Nara burst into a sea of delicate pink and white flowers that last for just a fleeting couple of weeks.
One downside to visiting during sakura season is that the city is much busier. If you’d rather opt for a quieter trip, mid to late May is a pleasant alternative, with warm temperatures and lush greenery to enjoy.
The rainy season then occurs around June, and whilst the rain is not torrential enough to be a deal-breaker (and does reduce the crowds!), you may want to avoid this period.
Summers in Nara tend to be hot and humid but festival-filled, giving way to the more refreshing autumn season in mid-September. This is another fantastic time to visit thanks to the great weather and stunningly vibrant colours of the changing leaves.
Naturally, this also means more tourists, but if you avoid the peak fall foliage season in November, you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery without it being too busy.
Winter can be chilly but tends to be bright and dry, so if you wrap up warm, it’s still a lovely time to explore what the city has to offer.
One final piece of advice: It’s best to avoid the New Year’s holiday at the start of January, Golden Week (end of April and the beginning of May), and the August Obon holiday period if you can help it. These are peak travel times all across Japan, meaning that accommodations and flights are more expensive and everywhere is much more crowded than usual.
Nara’s Top Three: Tōdai-ji, Nigatsu-dō, and the deer
With so much to see in Nara, it’s good to know you’re seeing the big ones — here’s our top three to put some names to those guidebook/instagram faces.
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1. Tōdai-ji Temple: The one off the postcards
Tōdai-ji is home to a number of awesome structures. The most well-known is the Great Buddha Hall, which is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Destroyed twice by fire, it was most recently rebuilt in the Edo Period — albeit slightly narrower due to financial constraints at the time. Within, you can see miniature structures depicting the changing size and style of the hall.
The temple is the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism and a UNESCO World Heritage site (along with seven other sites in Nara). It is also one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara, as mentioned in the 11th century work of literature, The Tale of Genji.
Inside the Great Buddha Hall is a statue of the Vairocana Buddha — the Buddha of Light and Compassion. Standing 14.8 meters tall, it is said to be the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world (Nara sure does like its world records).
You can attempt to slither through the Buddha’s nostril if you dare, as there is an equivalent-sized hole in a pillar within the main hall. A successful slither grants a long life of happiness (it can be done — just wriggle and expect bruises). The statue has been recast numerous times due to damage from earthquakes, but is still looking incredibly impressive. Recently, a collection of gold and jewels were discovered in the knee of the Buddha using X-rays, and are thought to be relics of 8th century Emperor Shōmu.
Entry to the Great Hall is ¥500, or you can combine it with entrance to the Tōdai-ji Museum for ¥800
2. Nara Park: What we’ve all been waiting for
Needless to say, the deer are here. You can wander in the realm of these fabled beasts, hundreds and hundreds of them in fact, who alternate between looking very photogenic and trying to attack you for senbei (rice crackers, but in this case, deer food). Dotted around Nara Deer Park are a number of stalls selling paper-tied packs of senbei for ¥100 a pop to feed the deer. Once you have your pack, make a fast retreat because you’ll soon be surrounded, and they can get quite aggressive. It’s also best to make sure all bags are securely closed and there’s nothing sticking out of your pockets, because it will be gone before you know it.
In Shintō, the deer are sacred — believed to be messengers from the gods — and allowed to roam free. If you bow to the deer (with senbei in hand), they might just bow back! Don’t be fooled though, these are not tame deer, they are still wild and can nip, so keep your wits about you and your kids close.
Interlude: souvenirs, snacks, and the ancient Nandaimon Gate
When you walk along the pedestrianized street that runs alongside the park and towards Tōdai-ji, you’ll find a selection of busy souvenir shops and snack stalls lining the way. You can find everything from deer-themed Hello Kitty key rings to deer-shaped biscuits and wearable antlers, and probably some actual deer, too. The food stalls have yakitori and chestnuts, kakigōri and senbei, so you can have yourself a snack before you move on.
Nandaimon (above), the South Gate for Tōdai-ji, is the largest temple entrance gate in Japan. The original was destroyed in a typhoon during the Nara period (in the eighth century). Construction of the current structure began in 1199 with the first ridgepole and finished in 1203 with the guardian deity statues.
The statues are believed to have been carved in just 69 days and measure over 8.4 meters high. Neglected for many years, they were restored over a period of five years from 1988 and many ancient documents were found within them. Some of the most significant were inscribed with the names of the sculptors and dates showing when they were begun and completed, and that the designs originated in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
3. Nigatsu-dō: Panoramic views and a bell tower
Nigatsu-dō, established in 752, is one of sprawling Tōdai-ji’s many sub-complexes. It is best known for the stunning views from the hall’s veranda and the annual Omizutori Festival. This repentance service was introduced in 760 and has taken place without fail every year since. The ceremony involves priests holding large flaming torches above the balcony, allowing the burning embers to fall below onto the onlookers — bestowing good fortune rather than minor burns (hopefully). Sacred water is drawn at 2 a.m. on the final day from the well — the climax of the two-week festival.
Nigatsu-dō has a long balcony with views over Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji stretching towards Mt Ikoma on the border of Nara and Osaka prefectures. Nearby is Sangatsu-dō (also called Tōdai-ji Hokke-dō), which is known for its Nara-period statues.
You can take the scenic route from Nigatsu-dō and follow the winding paths with shops and small cafes back to Tōdai-ji. The cafes here are small and family-run, making them a nice stop-off for a late lunch.
On the way, you may stumble across the bell tower of Tōdai-ji, which is one of the three famous bell towers of Japan (if you’re keen on a precise bell ranking). It weighs 26.3 tons and is known for its long ring (and unofficially for its excellent echo effects).