While not as world-famous as Kyoto, Nara is one of the most ancient cities in Japan. It is here that the first Emperor of Japan is said to have been crowned.
Nara also became the capital of Japan before the Imperial court moved to Kyoto, making this city one of the most ancient and prestigious in Japan.
It is also in Nara that Buddhism, after arriving in Japan from China and Korea, started flourishing and found new and unique ways of intermixing with the pre-existing Shinto religion, creating syncretic Buddhist schools unique to Japan.
Much of the historical heritage of Nara’s glorious past is still preserved nowadays.
Many pilgrimage roads that for centuries brought worshippers to one of the spiritual hearts of Japan also remain.
By many visitors, Nara is often seen as a charming one-day destination to visit quickly on the way between Kyoto and Osaka.
However, Nara offers way more than its city center and main highlights: at Bespoke Japan Travel we encourage our guests to go beyond the main tourist spots and see more of this city as well as its sacred and mysterious mountainous areas to the South.
Kasuga Grand Shrine with a local resident Shinto priest
An exclusive visit to Kasuga Grand Shrine, accompanied by the local Shinto priest.
Erected more than 1200 years ago and located at the foot of the Mt. Kasuga Forest, where hunting and logging have been forbidden for more than 1000 years, this place boasts a long and fascinating history.
Visit areas within the shrine’s grounds that are normally closed to visitors and enjoy strolling at your pace avoiding crowds through this spiritual site.
The essence of Ryotei: Michelin-starred Japanese hospitality
A refined lunch at a Michelin starred ryotei, a restaurant offering the highest level of Japanese hospitality, serving refined Japanese cuisine in an elegant traditional ambience.
Today’s venue only accepts one booking per day for lunch and dinner, making it a very exclusive location for a private lunch in style.
As it is typical for this type of Japanese cuisine, the taste is considered as important as the presentation. During the meal enjoy the relaxing view of an exquisite Japanese garden.
As the venue is privatized, full attention to dietary requirements is guaranteed.
Spend your night in Nara at a refined guest house located within the premises of Nara’s oldest soy sauce brewery, in business for 18 generations.
Sections of the old brewery have now been beautifully restored to host an elegant venue for overnights and dinner.
Enjoy a dinner course offering a variety of soy sauces exalting the taste of different local ingredients and giving you a comprehensive overview of the different artisanal soy sauce products that are available here.
During your stay also take part in a workshop and learn how soy sauce is produced the old way by the local artisans.
An early morning visit to Hase Temple to witness the morning prayer. The view of the local Buddhist monks chanting sutras is fascinating and their chants echo powerfully creating a very spiritual experience that goes beyond specific religious boundaries.
You are welcome to either watch the monks chanting or join them if you so wish.
Washi paper experience led by a prominent local artisan
Head to Nara’s mountainous area to visit an atelier using a 1,300-year-old technique to produce the finest washi paper.
This traditional production method includes letting the paper dry slowly under the sun without using any chemicals. Quality is very high, and this product is appreciated abroad as well.
Take part in a hand-making experience being guided by the local artisan, whose family has been in the business for six generations. At the end of the workshop, take home a one-of-a-kind washi paperwork as a unique souvenir.
It is said that water is the most important ingredient when making soba.
This is particularly true at this hand-made soba noodle restaurant using only the purest water coming from the mountainous region of Nara: their secret to their soba’s delicious taste.
Dip into Yoshino mountains tradition with this very traditional homemade lunch at this Yoshino-style Japanese house.
Pay a visit to Kimpusen-ji Temple, the head temple of Shugendo, a uniquely Japanese religion born in this area of Japan around the 7th Century AD.
Shugendo is a syncretic belief blending Japanese Shinto beliefs with elements of Buddhism.
Witness a captivating fire ritual, a way to achieve purification. Later, learn more about this fascinating philosophy whose disciples practice intense spiritual training including demanding pilgrimages along the mountain trails of this naturally rich area.
Nara is very well-known for its intricate cedar forests which form a magnificent landscape for its temples and shrines. This precious cedar wood has long been used by the locals to make refined furniture and artisanal products
Visit a local woodworking studio where you will be able to try your hand at making your own wooden tray using a kanna, a woodworking tool used by the local artisans.
Yoshino cedar has a pleasant colour and very unique texture, making it very resistant to heat – a very special local souvenir using Nara’s most precious wood.