In Naramachi the atmosphere and spirit of ancient Nara is being kept alive. Here you will find several charming shops and restaurants as well as many museums giving you a good history lesson. Naramachi also houses Gango-ji, the oldest temple in Japan.
Naramachi is the old merchants’ quarter in central Nara. The area is filled with small houses next to narrow roads. Visiting here on a quiet day feels like being transported back to the early 19th Century. Many of the traditional residential buildings are carefully preserved, but their interiors have been turned into shops, cafes and restaurants. Several local craftsmen have set up their studios in this part of town, with some of them also running small shops where you can buy products such as fans and brushes.
Naramachi has a long history, with some of the current structures dating back to the Edo period.
If you want to learn more about this historical district, we recommend that you stop by Naramachi Shiryokan, a free museum where many historical items, including several original signboards from Edo era shops, are on display. It’s a shame that most of the written information is in Japanese only, so if you have a chance to bring someone who understands the language, you will get more out of your visit. Naramachi Shiryokan is open from 10am to 4pm every day and entry is free.
Another place worth checking out in Naramachi is the Lattic House or Koshi-no-Ie. Once the home of a wealthy merchant, it has now been turned into a museum. The interior has been carefully preserved, and many of its features, like the massive kamado stove in the kitchen, are originals. It is free to visit and is open between 10am to 5pm every day except Mondays.
There are also a few cosy shops serving sake and other soft drinks for cheap located in Naramachi, many of these provides an excellent opportunity to mingle with some of the locals as well.
If traditional houses are your thing, you should also make sure to stop by the Imanishike Shoin Residence. This building dates back to the 15th Century and is designated as an important
cultural property. Back then, it was the home of an elite official, but today it’s open to the public.
It includes a tea-room and small garden, giving you an interesting glimpse into what life was like for the upper class of that period. The Imanishikie Shoin Residence is open from 10am to 4pm every day.
Another interesting museum in Naramachi is the Karakuri Toy Museum, where mechanical toys from the Edo era are on display. The toys are simple yet surprisingly amusing, with most of them made out of bamboo, washi (Japanese paper) or wood. This museum is being managed by a local NPO, and the entrance is free. It is open from 9am to 5pm, and is closed on Wednesdays.
Naramachi is also where you will find another one of Nara's many UNESCO world heritage sites – Gango-ji, the oldest temple in all of Japan. It’s not as obvious as many of the other temples in Nara such as Todai-ji or Kofuku-ji, but this temple is also far less crowded. The temple was originally founded in 588, but back then it was located in the neighboring town of Asuka and was called Asuka-dera. In 718, it was moved to Nara, more specifically to present day Naramachi. Three of the structures are classified as national treasures. These are the Hondo or main hall, the Zen room and the five story pagoda. Naramachi is located south-west of Nara park, and can be reached by foot within 15 minutes from both JR Nara station as well as Kintetsu Nara station.