Nara is a small city close to Kyoto and Osaka, but it is steeped in history and has plenty of things to see and do. In addition to numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, the city is home to a large number of Designated National Treasures. These are cultural properties protected by law for their high historical or artistic value, and they include castles, shrines, temples, sculptures, and an array of other wonders. What makes Nara so special is that it is home to countless national treasures and, along with Kyoto, is home to perhaps a greater variety than in any other city in Japan.
Todai-ji(東大寺) is one of Nara’s great temples and most famous attractions, and its main hall is one of the largest wooden structures in the world, inside of which sits a 15-meter-tall bronze-gilded Buddha, the biggest of its kind. The hall is part of a larger complex of buildings and structures, some of which are also designated national treasures. These include the Shosoin(正倉院), the temple treasure house built on stilts with a raised floor, and the Nandaimon(南大門), the impressive gate that guards the southern approach to the great hall.
Nigatsu-do (part of Todai-ji)
The Nigatsu-do(二月堂) is also part of Todai-ji and is located to the east of the main complex at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa. The main hall of Nigatsu-do is another designated national treasure and is most notable for its wonderful terrace with fantastic views of Todai-ji and the city beyond, particularly at sunset. It is also the site of the ‘Omizutori’ ceremony in early March, when priests carry flaming torches up to the balcony and hold them over the crowd below; the falling embers are supposed to signal good fortune.
Kasuga Taisha (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kasuga Taisha(春日大社) is another of Nara’s most celebrated monuments, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage spot and arguably the city’s most important shrine. It sits in the primeval forest at the eastern end of Nara Park and plays host to the atmospheric lantern festival two times a year (in February and August). The shrine’s offering hall and outer buildings can be entered for free, but the inner sanctum requires a small fee (500 yen) and has many buildings that display the distinctive Kasuga style of sloping roofs. The main hall is a listed national treasure.
Kofuku-ji(興福寺) is a temple complex and World Heritage site at the western side of Nara Park. Its most well-known landmark (and one of many national treasures at the site) is the splendid Five-story pagoda(五重塔), which towers to 50 meters and is the second tallest in Japan. There is also a Three-story pagoda(三重塔) nearby, as well as the Eastern Golden Hall(東金堂) and Northern Octagonal Hall(北円堂), also national treasures.
Other notable national treasures in Nara include the oldest existing structures in the Kasuga style, at Enjo-ji(円成寺) in the northeast outskirts of the city, and the countless relics, statues, and artifacts in many of the temples and museums throughout the city.