A leisurely tour of the ancient capital of Nara and bustling center of commerce Osaka [PR]

Walk among the World Heritage sites of ancient capital Nara

Approximately 1,300 years ago, Nara was the capital of Japan. Today, a large number of priceless cultural artifacts and historical sites remain. In 1998, the ruins of Heijo-kyo palace (the year 710) and Mt. Kasuga Ancient Forest were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Within walking distance from Kitentsu Nara and JR Nara stations is Nara Park, where you’ll be greeted by over 1,100 deer and discover Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine). Nara Park is home to three of the six temples and shrines on UNESCO’s list.

Let’s walk among these incredible sites.

It only takes approximately 40 minutes by express train from either Kintetsu’s Kyoto station or Osaka Namba station to Nara. A short five-minute walk and you’ll arrive at the national treasure Kofuku-ji Temple, with its characteristic five-level pagoda and lush green surroundings. Marvel at the reflection of the pagoda on the nearby pond and then move on to Kasuga Taisha.

The beautiful, vermillion-colored main building of Kasuga Taisha (constructed in 768) was built for the protection and prosperity of local residents. Noblemen, samurai and commoners were among the faithful that came from across Japan to pay respects at the shrine, donating both paper and stone lanterns with wishes for good luck.

Every August 14th, 15th, and on February’s “setsubun” (the day before the first day of spring, around February 4th) some 3,000 lanterns throughout the precinct are lit up for the “Mantoro Lantern Festival”, transforming the grounds into a fairytale-like scene from antiquity. Marvel at firelight displays in the shape of flowers and deer.

On the foot path from Kasuga Taisha to Todai-ji Temple, you’ll be greeted by countless deer. Buy some of the special feed and take great pictures to post on your SNS accounts.

Only feed deer special Japanese rice crackers. Beware that deer can become irritated or angry.

Todai-ji Temple (constructed in 751), which houses the Great Buddha Hall, is the world’s largest wooden building. The overwhelming sight of the 15m (45ft) high Buddha statue was designed to express the universal, infinite nature of Buddha’s salvation.

(c)Akihiko Kimura
Being showered in sparks from ritual torches blesses us with good health, it is said

The nearby hillside structure known as Nigatsu-do (“Hall of the Second Month”) both offers the best view of Nara City and serves as a place of Buddhist rituals.

Every March 1st to 14th, the “Shuni-e” repentance service takes place at Nigatsu-do. Incredibly, it has apparently been carried out uninterrupted since the year 752. Every evening at 7 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on March 12th and 6:30 p.m. om March 14th) giant, 6m (19.6ft) torches are lit as prayers continue late into the night, creating an incredible sight. No reservations are necessary. For a great souvenir, you can buy a CD of the mesmerizing Buddhist chants you’ll hear during the service. At 1:30 a.m. on March 13th (after midnight on the 12th) sacred water is drawn from Nigatsu-do’s well in a separate ritual known as “Omizutori”.

For accommodations in Nara, look no further than the historic Nara Hotel on the grounds of Nara Park. Built in 1909 as the “guesthouse of the Kansai region”, the hotel features a unique combination of western and Japanese design elements. The hotel’s timelessly elegant atmosphere was much loved by honored guests such as Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein.

Nara Hotel’s 4.3m (14ft) ceilings. Plenty of space to relax.
Nara Hotel’s state-of-the-art bathrooms offer the ultimate convenience

Nara Hotel’s guests pass the time in leisurely, classy style and the bathroom facilities are no exception. The Toto Washlet ® toilets in each guest room feature heated seats and warmed water rear cleansing. Toilets with automated operating functions are found in approximately 80% of Japanese households as well as many public spaces including bullet trains and hotels* . Japanese toilet technology makes your journey that much more comfortable and convenient.

*Cabinet Office, Government of Japan: Consumer Confidence Survey 2017

Commerce Capital – Osaka’s Latest Sightseeing Spots

After exploring Nara, venture to Osaka. It only takes between 40 minutes and one hour to get to Osaka from Nara by JR or Kintetsu railways. Eat a late breakfast and then set out to see the sights of Osaka.

Since the 17th century, Osaka has thrived as a hub of trading and business. Today, Osaka is the biggest city in western Japan, with direct flights from all over the world to Kansai International Airport. Originally built at the end of the 16th century and later reconstructed, Osaka Castle and the surrounding grounds of Osaka Castle Park offer visitors a juxtaposition of modern and historical, against a backdrop of spring cherry blossoms and autumn colors.

October 2017 saw the opening of the Miraiza Osaka-Jo shopping and dining complex on the grounds of Osaka Castle Park. At the rooftop restaurant’s pre-opening evening event, the illuminated Osaka Castle seemed close enough to touch. Visitors will be able to enjoy the same sight when the restaurant officially opens in March 2018.

Take a clockwise stroll from Miraiza Osaka-jo around the castle’s inner moat. You can even take a boat ride on the moat’s waters. The reflection of Osaka Castle’s stone embankments and main tower is a sight to behold.

Directly adjacent to Osaka Castle Park is the Jo-Terrace Osaka, which opened in June of this year. Snap a photo next to authentic images of 16th century samurai.

Osaka aims to be a “city that never sleeps”, with Jo-Terrace Osaka’s restaurants staying open until midnight. Beginning in spring 2018, outdoor ninja and kabuki performances are also being planned.

Enjoy seasonal events in Osaka

A walk under the cherry blossoms

Cherry blossom viewing on the grounds of the national mint and the world-famous Tenjin Matsuri (July 25th annually) with its 1000-year-old “Funatogyo“ river boating ritual are just a few of the activities you can only experience in Osaka. Plan your trip around these events and more using the info on the following websites.

For accommodations, look up the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel, which occupies the 38th to 57th floors of Japan’s tallest skyscraper — the 60-story-high Abeno Harukas. Every guest room boasts a 360-degree view with floor-to-ceiling windows. Enjoy your own personal panorama of the entire city of Osaka!

A bath with a view

Even the bathrooms at the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel offer guests the utmost in Japanese bathing culture and comfort. Take in a stunning view of Osaka while you soak in a deep-set tub, or utilize a toilet with built-in antibacterial functionality.

Both Nara Hotel and Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel are equipped with TOTO brand bathroom fixtures. Launched on the market in 1980, TOTO’s famed “Washlet” brand ushered in a new era of toilet comfort, rapidly becoming an indispensable part of modern Japanese life. Bathroom cleanliness and convenience plays an important role in getting the most out of your hotel stays.

For your next trip to Japan, combine the ancient capital of Nara and the modern commercial metropolis of Osaka into one unforgettable trip!