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Discover Kansai

Nara Town

In the suburban area, just south of Nara City’s Kintetsu-Nara Station, stands the relatively small Gango-ji Temple. However, at its beginnings in 718, Gango-ji Temple sprawled far and wide, and many machiya (traditional townhouses) and buildings sprung up around it. Nowadays, Gango-ji Temple is much smaller, but its long history has lead it to be given the title as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is now mostly modern, but many of the old buildings have been preserved and now act as museums or shops.

Taking a stroll through old Nara town (Naramachi) is not only an enjoyable experience for the architecture and scenery, but also a fun shopping experience. As old Nara town is not as crowded as the main temple districts, it is also a lovely place to enjoy lunch, or simply a peaceful walk.

Old Nara Town Museum

A good idea is to drop by the old Nara town museum. Here you can pick up a map of the area, as well as see various exhibits. The exhibits are all in Japanese, but even without explanation the history speaks volumes. The museums’ entrance alone is worth seeing, especially the monkeys called ‘Migawari-Zaru.They are very cute and a common adornment of old Nara town buildings. There is also a shrine which is said to be good for people with leg pain. That’s probably you if you have been walking all around Nara, Kyoto and Osaka these past few days!

Naramachi Karakuri Toy Museum

Another highlight is the Naramachi Karakuri Toy Museum. All the toys found inside are genuine exhibits of toys children played with back in the Edo Period of Japan (1603 - 1868). It’s so interesting to see how toys functioned before the advent of electricity or plastic. The staff are very warm and happily explain or demonstrate the toys, and you can even play with them yourself hands on.

Gango-ji Temple

The Gango-ji Temple is much smaller than it once was, but still proudly stands with its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. As the traditional centre of old Nara town, it’s a good place to visit for more traditional architecture.

Besides the temple and the museums of old Nara town, it is most enjoyable to walk and just see where your legs take you. One gem I stumbled across was a store entirely cat themed. The chinaware was amazingly well crafted and had a more natural beauty.

The same can be said about the candle store ‘Waon’. Waon is housed in a traditional building that adds charm to the street. Inside I found very beautiful candles and candle holders. I think I just have a weakness for handmade goods.
Speaking of handmade, you can even make your own candles in a workshop! The workshop takes about 30 minutes, and of course you can keep your candle. This is probably a highlight for the kids, and lets them (and you!) sit down for half an hour.

Old Nara town is also the home of the artisan Takaaki Takeda. This gentleman has been crafting and shaping pottery for over 40 years, and his skill is obvious at first glance. Mr. Takeda’s specialty is pottery that holds a candle or light source, illumining the area with beautiful patterns. Even though such a souvenir is heavy and probably not the easiest thing to transport back home, his work is very popular amongst foreign tourists.

Continue to stroll around old Nara town and you will no doubt come across many little interesting stores and exhibits. I even stumbled upon authentic examples of Japanese swords and armor, as well as ninja stars!

Old Nara town is also a great place to have lunch or dinner, as it is a little less crowded than near the temples. Also, here you can sample Nara’s locally famous dish of persimmon leaf sushi, which is sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. The fish is usually salmon or mackerel, and you do not eat the leaf.

At ‘Hirasou’ in old Nara town you can enjoy this local dish, along with other delicious Japanese foods.
I hope you will enjoy walking around old Nara town, which itself is just a short walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station in Nara city. Here you will find many museums and interesting shops, but most interestingly many preserved buildings from the Edo Period of Japan. It’s like walking into the past!


Hi! I am a traveler, musician and student living in Japan. I love traveling to places I don't know much about, and then learning as much as possible whilst I'm there. I spend my spare time at home writing fiction, non-fiction and programs, so I hope you find my articles here both informative and fun to read. I first came to the Kansai region as an exchange student, and through the kind hearts of the local people, the unique cuisine and the relaxed lifestyle, the region will always hold a special place in my heart.