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Kyoto or Nara


8 Oct 2002
I have been told, the city of NARA, only 30 minutes
away from Kyoto, has the ancient look and feel that one
expects in Kyoto.

Buried treasure: the mysteries and majesty of Nara
Staff writer

Yet Kyoto can quickly disappoint. For anyone who pulls into the architectural nightmare that is Kyoto Station, the shock can be considerable. Visitors strain their necks anxiously for a glimpse of traditional Japanese culture amid the sea of dreary concrete buildings.

I'm afraid it is not really true that downtown Nara is any different from downtown Kyoto. Downtown Nara is just as bad, full of concrete and plastic eyesores. The Station is nicer than Kyoto station though, in an old building designed with a traditional style.

It also has the advantage that a lot of the major temples and shrines are located in Nara park, which is only about a 15 minute walk from the station. That walk will make you cringe though. About half of the buildings along the main street are beautiful old style shops, but they are interspersed with the ugliest plastic buildings on earth. There is a Sega gamecenter just across the street from Kojukuji temple (the one pictured in the japan times article with its old pagoda). The building has pink plastic walls and a giant replica of sonic the hedgehog on the roof.

However, once you get out of the city and into the park, you can really enjoy yourself because there are a lot of beautiful temples and gardens there.

To get a real feel for ancient Japan its useful to visit the countryside around Nara. There are some really great hiking trails that will take you through many historic spots while avoiding the concrete jungle. The Kofuns are really interesting, some of them look just like naturally occuring hills until you come close to them. The biggest is larger than the Egyptian pyramid at Giza!

I definitely recommend Nara over Kyoto even though the city centres are equally unappealing. A lot of what was said in that article is true, especially about the slower pace and the better nature.

You have restored my faith in wanting to visit Japan.

Nara is on my list.

p.s: Whats is "The Kofuns ".
Kofuns are large burial mounds made of earth and stone that the ancient Japanese built in order to bury their leaders. The practice died out about 1500 years ago so they are all very old. Most of them were built in the Nara region, though there are a few where I live in Himeji too.

I'm glad I've restored your faith in visiting Japan! When you come, I definitely recommend putting Nara near the top of your to-visit list!
I lived in Nara, near Nara-koen for four months, so I just had to put my two cents in. ^_^; The temples on Sanjo-dori are surrounded by modern buildings, but are incredibly elegant and definitely worth a look. Also, Nigatsu-do above Todai-ji affords an excellent view of the city and temples spread out below, and there is a lovely shady path leading down from the temple through the Park (which is something wonderful in its own right-- the trees are amazingly huge and beautiful.)

Kyoto, depending on where you look, has a lot to offer as well. The area near Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera is filled with older, more traditional architecture, and bumps into Gion. Sannen-zaka, just on the other side of Yasaka, is filled with interesting shops, many of which sell traditional pottery and other art (although it's terribly expensive, it's worth seeing.) The hills outside Kyoto are full of temples, and you can usually find a bus to take you to the right one, although it's a bit of a ride. Sanzen-in, past Mt. Hiei, is particularly beautiful and there's enough inside the complex (gardens, buildings, views) to keep you exploring for at least half a day. Gansen-ji, in the hills between Nara and Kyoto, is at the end of a short hiking trail that takes you past several Buddhist images carved in rock faces on the hillsides. It's especially enjoyable in the fall, and even then there aren't usually lots of tourists.

That's probably quite enough from me. I could go on for ages. ;) Hope it helped!

I've always thought of as Nara as a dumbed down version of Kyoto, it has the shrines, temples, and sights, but is lacking the moderness that is Kyoto, the shlob of concrete buildings and skyscrapers, which make up Kyoto, as well as many other cities, like Nagoya and Kobe, and duh, Tokyo.

But, I prefer that, so I'd have to pick Kyoto.
I can never understand why so many foreigners seem to be disappointed with anything less than a virtual time-warp, where time stands still and modernization has never reared its ugly head.

That is not how the world works. Especially in a place like Japan where there was no effort to preserve historical places until quite recently.
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It's interesting. This thread has actually made me think of one my favourite things about living in Japan. I actually liked the way that the shrines/temples and ancient are combined with the new in Japan. It might not be as pretty, however I found it more real than the western approach where old things are either in a museum or are a museum.
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