This month’s postcard comes from the Kansai region of Japan:
Kansai is where you will find the famous cities of Kyoto and Osaka, as well as today’s featured city: Nara.
Nara is no secret. It precedes Kyoto as the ancient capital of Japan (Nara was capital until the year 784), and is a treasure trove of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Yet in some ways it remains off the beaten track – particularly from evening, after all the day-trippers have gone back to Kyoto or Osaka.
If you take a day trip to Nara from one of the larger cities nearby (it’s only about 45 minutes from either Kyoto or Osaka), it’s easy to miss the fact that Nara is essentially inaka (the Japanese word for rural, or countryside), and significantly smaller and quieter than the cities where most tourists base themselves when visiting Kansai.
Until recently, I too had only visited Nara as a day trip from Kyoto and Osaka, and the experience of spending two nights here was a revelation. True, there is not much going on at night, but this is part of the charm and appeal. It’s a small city that feels like a small town, particularly in the older parts of the center relatively near important spots such as Todaiji Temple and its Daibutsu (Great Buddha), Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and Nara Park (full of mischievous deer being fed deer cookies by arguably more mischievous humans).
There is the classic Nara Hotel, a grand old establishment in the heart of the city with over one hundred years of history that has played host to the likes of Einstein and often accommodates the Emperor. A very lovely and small luxury hotel is Noborioji, a member of SLH (Small Luxury Hotels of the World). Nara also has excellent ryokan options in Tsukihi-tei (a traditional inn surrounded by gorgeous and protected forest) and Musashino (a friendly and pleasant inn with a fantastic location).
Perhaps the most compelling accommodation option in Nara is the almost Kinfolk-esque Kidera no Ie. Run by a fascinating local family of architects, Kidera no Ie consists of a small handful of beautifully-renovated machiya townhouses.
The concept of restoring machiya into comfortable accommodations is not new (and is very common in Kyoto, especially), but Kidera no Ie has a fantastic aesthetic, and the machiya’s location in the quiet and authentic Naramachi section of Nara (within walking distance of countless places of interest) makes it especially appealing.
These days, when Japan is more popular (and crowded) than it ever has been, the chance to stay a bit away from the crowds in Kyoto and Osaka while visiting Kansai is an option worth considering!
Until Next Time!
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