Nara is best known for its historic temples and ancient history. Most visitors focus only on the preserved, bygone Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. However, the city is well set in modern times. Shika no Fune is a good example of modern Nara’s progress. The light-filled, multi-use space reflects Nara’s dedication to its local agriculture and people.
Shika no Fune has three dining components to its space: Mayu, Kamado, and Saezuri. Mayu is a wooden house refurbished as a tourist office. The traditional home was built in the early 1900s, combining elements of Japanese and Western architecture. The house now contains a Nara tourist information office, offering Wi-Fi, maps, and bicycle rentals with an English-speaking staff. Mayu also has a library and gallery. The library is a comfortable room filled with books on Nara. The gallery is in a storehouse and features a rotating set of exhibitions dedicated to the city. Mayu is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.
Kamado is the resident dining hall of Shika no Fune. The small restaurant serves breakfast and lunch in a wooden, light-filled cafe. Breakfast is served from 8 to 11 am. There are two set options, one large and one small, both featuring Nara produce in a Japanese-inspired macrobiotic meal. Lunch is served from 11 am to around 3 pm, or when the food runs out. The lunch options vary from meat entrees, such as pork and beef, to vegetarian eggplant and lotus root. Each meal is served with Kamado’s signature fire-oven-cooked rice. The restaurant also serves as a small sundries store, selling the natural products used in its food. Kamado is open from 8 am to 6 pm daily.
Saezuri is a small, open-air cafe serving light meals, drinks, and desserts. Much like the food in Kamado, everything is natural and homemade, with detailed emphasis on local goods. The local produce makes an appearance in a Nara twist for the desserts. What looks like a typical sweet actually has a slight hint of mugwort or locally grown herbs. The drinks have the same quality as the food. The coffee is hand dripped, and the golden lemongrass tea was grown in nearby Yoshino. Saezuri is open from 11 am to 6 pm and closed on Wednesdays.
Kurumi no Ki is a sundries boutique and cafe also related to Shika no Fune. The light-filled and wooden aesthetic is the same as Shika no Fune’s, with greenery surrounding the exterior of the cottage-like establishment. The cafe serves light, seasonal lunches focusing on natural and local fare. The menu changes every week, featuring seasonal produce and distinctive twists on Japanese cuisine. The cafe is focused on botanical, natural ingredients such as chrysanthemum rice and persimmon jelly. In the afternoon, the cafe focuses on cake and toast sets.
There is also a small boutique called The Cage attached to the cafe. The shop is like an expanded version of the grocery in Kamado, selling not just local foods but also handmade crafts, clothing, and books. The items are vintage, locally made, or produced by an independent company. Window shoppers can peruse the selection of hand-picked, vintage teacups or flip through the cookbooks. Kurumi no Ki is the perfect place to find a unique souvenir or birthday present. The Cage is open from 11 am to 5:30 pm on weekdays, until 7 pm on weekends, and closed on Wednesdays.