We spent the morning hanging out with deer at two World Heritage status sites — Tōdai-ji and Kasuga-taisha. Then the afternoon was filled with delicious food and leisurely strolls in cute souvenir shops and charming neighborhoods.
On the way out of the Nara Park, we passes by another UNESCO World Heritage site, Kohfukuji (興福寺). Kohfukuji’s five-story pagoda (Gojū-no-tō) is a landmark of Nara. The classic view of the pagoda is from across the Sarusawa Pond (猿澤池). (Yet we were too hungry and tired to go.)
Kohfukuji is a Buddhist temple founded in 669 AD. This is another tutelary temple compound of the Fujiwara family. Kohfukuji was not just an important center of Buddhism in Japan, it was also a political power house. Even after the capital of Japan moved from Nara to Kyoto, Kohfukuji maintained its strong political influence because the Fujiwara family remained in power.
During Kohfukuji’s hay days, monks here operated an army. The temples were burned down in civil wars many times. The current five-story pagoda was rebuilt in 1426. It is the second tallest wooden pagoda in Japan.
The street in between the five-story pagoda and Sarusawa Pond is Sanjo Dori (三條通). The famous mochi place Nakatanidou (中谷堂) is less than five minutes of a walk from the pagoda. Nakatanidou sells Yomogi mochi (よもぎ餅).
The making of Nakatanidou mochi is a well-known Nara tourist spot. Two mochi masters pound a light green dough with giant wooden mallets at a ridiculously high speed and synchronized rhythm. It was way too crowded to see them in action when we were there, not to mention taking any pictures. YouTube “奈良中谷堂” and you’ll see their incredible techniques, especially when it’s towards the end and one person is folding and adding water and the other person pounding the dough with a mallet.
These snacks have sweet azuki beans filling. Their mochi is made of glutinous rice and Japanese mugwort. Then it’s covered in roasted soy bean powder. These were soooo good. The filling was not too sweet. Their mochi was so chewy with an aroma of soy bean and mugwort. Grab a fresh mochi to go for just 130 yen.
After buying and giving away so many deer senbei, right next door to Nakatanidou you can get some human senbei to try.
For lunch, I was aiming for tsukemen (沾麵) from つけめん・らーめん元喜神, a chicken broth ramen place. Yet there was a long line at even 2:00 pm. Traveling with my parents means waiting in a long line for food is simply not permissible. With regrets, we moved on to find other places to eat. Another restaurant with a good review happened to be nearby. We still had to wait for seats, but the line was not bad at all.
We ate at an udon place, Kamaiki (うどん釜粋). Their Sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) is award-winning. They do have an English menu. Kamaiki serves their udon as hot udon soup and cold or hot tsukemen.
I ordered an udon tsukemen. You pick up udon noodle with chopsticks one or two at a time, dip the noodle in the bowl of broth on the left, and then eat it. The broth I got was pork, vegetable, and Japanese soy sauce based. This dish was 880 yen. Their udon was al dente. Tempura shrimp was also tasty with light and airy breading. My husband liked his tempura fried chicken in udon noodle soup.
Nara Souvenir Shopping – Craftsmanship from the 18the Century 中川政七家事布
Along and in the alleys of Sanjo Dori there is a lot of souvenir shopping. The store that really intrigued me was Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (中川政七商店).
Nakagawa Masashichi was a textile company founded in 1716 in Nara. The company was known for its linen and mosquito nets. In the early 20th century, the textile and garment industries in Japan started to decline. Also, who’s buying mosquito nets nowadays? The company decided to revitalize Japanese craft and manufacturing and transform itself from a linen company into trendy souvenir shops.
You can find a wide range of souvenirs here, but they are known for their linen or cotton tea towels. They are made with the traditional techniques that Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten made their linen and mosquito nets for centuries, very absorbent and quick drying. You can use it as a cheese cloth, dish cloth, or rag. These tea towels come in various patterns, including some iconic Nara and quintessential Japanese designs. (Intro about their products at the official website.)
中川政七賣的東西很雜，最有名的是家政布，其實就是抹布，容易吸水又快乾，十分萬用，可以拿來擦碗盤、蓋發酵麵團和食物、包便當、過濾東西 (這麼可愛誰捨得拿來當抹布)，要幹嘛都可以 (詳見官網的簡介它的多功能)，而且圖案都超級可愛，有奈良的小鹿大佛、富士山、卡通人物和其他日本風的圖案。
Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten operates two stores in Nara. Nipponichi (日本市) is on Sanjo Dori, about a block away from the mochi shop Nakatanidou. Note that in English version Google Map you want “日本市奈良三条店 Souvenir Store” not “中川政七三條店 Home Goods Store.”
The other store is not too far from there — Yu Nakagawa (遊中川). Yu Nakagawa is in a renovated traditional Japanese-style house in Naramachi where Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten started their business. The two stores sell slightly different products. I would recommend visiting both.
Charming Alley Ways and Traditional Housing in Naramachi 奈良町老街散步
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through charming alley ways of old town Nara — Naramachi (奈良町). Naramachi used to be an annexation of the temples; then it turned into a business district and now a touristy area with lots of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants. Naramachi still preserves lots of traditional townhouses, called machiya, that were owned by merchants from the 15th to 19th centuries. The streets and houses largely maintained the looks from the 19th century.
These townhouses are long and narrow. The fronts are shops and the backs are living quarters. Most of the houses have delicate lattice sliding doors.
You’d see that some of these businesses hang strings of red cloth thingy at their store fronts. The red balls are monkeys. These monkey charms are called migawari-zaru from a folk religion, Kōshin-shinkō (庚申信仰). The red cloth monkey charms are supposed to keep one safe from illness and accidents.
Before we hop on a train to head back to Osaka, there’s one last thing I wanted to do in Nara — getting a Buddha custard!
Daibutsu Purin has a store near Nara Park and a shop inside the Kintetsu Nara station near ticket vending machines on B1. Daibutsu Purin is vanilla custard with caramel at the bottom. The idea is similar to a flan, but the texture is more like a custard. The custard comes in cute little glass jars with Nara icons on their caps. The custard and caramel are incredibly delicious! That was a perfect ending of our Nara day trip. I saved a glass jar and now it is a paper clip holder on my desk at work!
(5 min walk from Kintetsu Nara station)
10:00 am – 7:00 pm
11:00 am – 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm; random days off
Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten 中川政七商店
630-8223 奈良県奈良市角振新屋町1-1 ファインフラッツ奈良町三条 1Ｆ
10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Yu Nakagawa 遊中川
10:00 am – 6:30 pm