Nara in Japan is a good place to visit if you like temples and shrines. It was the capital of Japan a long time ago in 710-784 AD, and as such has a lot of old sites to see. If you time it right you could visit when there is a ‘matsuri’, meaning a festival.

The Nara festival at this time was the Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri, Japans oldest cultural arts festival attracting thousands of people over a four day period.

The Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri is a shinto ritual at the Wakamiya-jinja Shrine. It  happens on the 15-18 December, with the best day to visit being the 17th. On this day there is the ‘Procession of the Eras’, where around 500 people dressed in traditional clothing representing the eras from the 9th century up to the 19th century, walk around part of the town.

The Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri


festival in nara in japan

traditional nara festival in japan

It is great to see all the different styles throughout these periods being shown. From elegantly dressed women, to grand looking samurai. Some of them come by on horseback including child horse archers.


You will hear chants coming up the street from certain groups while traditional music is played, adding to the setting of history on display.

nara festival in japan

The streets are absolutely packed from side to side with people watching, and it makes for a great matsuri atmosphere.

Children laughing while the older ones look on, calling out to their friends who are in the procession.

nara festival in japan tradition

Everyone is smiling and having a great time.

nara festival in japan

And of course where there is a festival, there is street food. Everything from fried octopus to red bean pastry delights are on offer, and the smell tantalises the senses.

One cant help but have something to eat there.

japanese food in nara festival in japan

The procession lasts a few hours before moving on into the shrine complex area, where old displays of various arts are on show to see.

If you are fortunate enough to be in the Nara area in December then you should definitely find the time to visit.

The Temples and Gardens of Nara.


Nara is still excellent to visit at anytime of the year due to its historic temples and peaceful gardens.

temple in nara in japan

The temple of Todai-ji houses the worlds largest bronze statue of the Buddha in its Great buddha Hall. The temple is an impressive sight to see as it is one of the worlds largest wooden buildings.

todai -ji temple in nara in japan

Todai -ji

All around the area of Todai-ji are more smaller temples and shrines, with tranquil garden settings and peaceful tree lined walkways.  You can easily spend a few hours wandering around.

There are 1200 deer that roam freely throughout the gardens and on the streets. They are considered to be sacred animals, but can get a little cheeky trying to get food from visitors.

deers in nara in japan

In the small city of Nara itself there are some other temples and pagodas scattered about, and some more Japanese gardens you could visit.

You can also find some delicious food places to keep you energised for the days walk around the temples, or to replenish afterwards.

Nara can easily be visited on a day trip from the nearby cities of Osaka or Kyoto. Or spend a day or two there to soak up the atmosphere.

Either way Nara makes a great visit for any trip to Japan.

There are so many good places to explore around Nara as well. I used Osaka as a base for several weeks and did many day trips from there which you can read about in this guide to day trips from Osaka.




Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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