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Published: September 19th 2011
Quite often, first time visitors to Japan are directed towards Kyoto as it does have the more famous sights. I can only blame myself, but I also fell victim to this and visited Kyoto three times and I enjoyed the sights a lot and continued to put Nara off as a second rate Kyoto and never went there as more important sights were left to explore elsewhere. When I finally made it to Nara, it was like a revelation: Instead of rushing from one side of a typical urban Japanese town to the other to catch the sights like in Kyoto, everything was located in or around Nara Park and the sights in Nara are first class, no matter what people might tell you.
We were lucky, as it was a gloomy November day, the type of pensive atmosphere that I like when visiting temples and shrines. Have a look at the attached photos, I think they really caught the atmosphere and paint a lovely image of Nara and its sights.
I was especially taken by the Kasuga-taisha, the enormous Shinto shrine with its gorgeous red and orange colours that is located at the border of the Kasugayama
Primeval Forest, the one sight in Nara most people miss.
My recommendation would be to spend one full day in Nara to visit the park and sights.
Kyoto or Nara?
So, which do I prefer, Nara or Kyoto? For me it is Nara, hands down! Would I recommend Nara above Kyoto even for first time visitors, you bet! I am convinced that a first time visitor comes home from Nara with a more pleasant impression of Japan and its ancient legacy than when having hopped from one location to another location like in Kyoto.
Of course, Kyoto is directly accessible by Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, from Tokyo or Osaka. Nara is located a pleasant, one hour's train trip from either Osaka or Kyoto and this is no doubt one reason why tourists prefer Kyoto over Nara: why travel for another hour from Kyoto if Kyoto is a prime location? Those are good reasons and I can only speak for myself, but I wished that I visited Nara earlier. Together with Mount Koya, see here
, Nara makes up my most pleasant memory of my trips to Japan. Kyoto has almost been forgotten even though I spent many
more days there. What else can I say?
Access to Nara
By train, around 1 hour from Osaka or Kyoto.
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