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DISCOVER: Nara, an ANA Mini Guide

Formerly known as Heijō, Nara in southern Honshu is Japan’s oldest capital city and second only to Kyoto if you’re after a taste of historic Japan. A short train ride from nearby Kyoto or Osaka, read on for five reasons to include a day trip to Nara in your Japan itinerary.

DO: Temple Hopping and Deer Spotting

On arrival in Nara, make your way to Nara Park for the best of the city’s temples and shrines, as well as the chance to meet Nara’s most famous residents – the sika deer. Nara Park houses a wealth of cultural attractions, but if time is short, make Todai-ji temple your first stop. Constructed in 752AD, the ‘Big Buddha Hall’ remains the world’s largest wooden building and houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha – it’s also one of Japan’s most historically significant temples. Todai-ji temple also makes a great place to feed the local deer – look out for vendors selling crackers (shika sembei) by the impressive Nandaimon Gate.

EAT: Japan’s Best Mochi

In need of a snack en route to Todai-ji temple? Between Nara train station and Nara Park, make a pit-stop at Nakatanidou for sweet sticky rice made by Mitsuo Nakatani – Japan’s greatest mochi master. Crowned the fastest mochi maker in Japan, there’s no better place to try this traditional Japanese snack.

DISCOVER: The Streets of Naramachi

Hidden away to the south-east of the city, Naramachi is Nara’s historic merchant district. Lined with ancient wooden machiya houses, a couple of hours spent exploring the winding streets of Naramachi is the perfect way to while away an afternoon. Be sure to visit Imanishike Shoin Residence and the Naramachi Lattice House for open-house examples of traditional Japanese architecture.

SEE: Isui-en Garden

A short walk from Todai-ji Temple, Isui-en Garden is Nara’s most breathtaking Japanese garden. With a number of tea houses nestled amidst the perfectly manicured ponds, lawns, rock gardens and flower beds, Isui-en is the perfect place for a meditative stroll and cup of hot matcha.

DRINK: In Nara’s Best Izakaya

The ideal place to end a long day of temple hopping, make your way to Kura for a well-earned drink and the chance to sample Izakaya dining. Japan’s answer to ‘pub grub’, Izakaya style became one of last year’s hottest food trends that saw the world swapping sushi and sashimi for yakitori skewers, onigiri rice balls and endless varieties of gyoza. Be sure to wash down with a cold glass of locally brewed beer.

Images: Joey Huang via Unsplash / Benz Lee via Unsplash / Yux Xiang via Unsplash / Japan Guide / Japan Guide / Will Fly for Food

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