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Nara's Best Museums - the city (Part 1)

Nara City

As Japan's first permanent capital from 710 to 784, Nara is recognized as the place where the seeds of the nation's culture and traditions were sown. Home to some of Japan's oldest and most significant temples, shrines, and historical sites, it will come as no surprise to learn that Nara also has a wealth of fascinating museums.


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Nara has experienced a surge in popularity as more and more people discover its rich history and unique charm. With a wealth of museums dedicated to preserving and showcasing Nara's cultural heritage, visitors can immerse themselves in Japan's first capital's art, history, and traditions. From ancient artifacts to modern art, Nara's museums offer something for everyone, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history. This article will explore some of Nara's best museums and great places to eat within walking distance of each museum.


Parts 1 & 2 will focus on locations within the confines of Nara City.

Part 3 will cover the rest of the prefecture.



Yamato Culture and Art Museum


The establishment and construction of the Yamato Culture and Art Museum (Yamato Bunkakan) was one of the first efforts to re-establishing Japan’s national culture after the ravages of World War II. The President of the Kintetsu Railway Company, Oita Torao, collaborated with art historian Yashiro Yukio to collect around 2,000 artworks from Japan, China and Korea. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics, lacquerware, metalwork, textiles, glasswork and more. Many of the pieces are designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.



The Yamato Culture and Art Museum is situated atop a small hill overlooking a small wooded area curated to show the floral delights of each and every season. The meandering path up to the museum through the trees, seasonal flowers, the bamboo garden in the center of the exhibition hall, and the view over the pond are all meant to be part of the art-viewing experience. The giant weeping sakura tree to the left of the forecourt is also a massive draw in spring.



There are usually 8 exhibitions a year, and the yearly schedule (in English) can be accessed here



Address: 1-chōme-11-6 Gakuenminami, Nara, 631-0034

Tel: 0742-45-0544

Hours: 10:00 - 17:00

Closed: Monday

Fee: Adults ¥630, High school and college students ¥420, Elementary and junior high school students Free

Special exhibitions

Adults ¥950, High school and college students, ¥730, Elementary and junior high school students Free

Place to Eat Nearby

642 Pizza


This semi-outdoor pizzeria is in fact at the end of a road in a very well-to-do area of Nara city. As you descend the access road though, you are immediately transported into a rustic, countryside environment perfect for family gatherings, celebrations and BBQs.



The pizzas are all hand made on order, hand-tossed then baked to perfection in a wood fired oven. The log cabins too were all hand built by the owner and her circle of friends. It's a wonderfully relaxing environment and it's easy to forget that suburbia is just around the corner.




Address: 2 Chome-17-1 Gakuenminami, Nara, 631-0033

Tel: 0742-55-2934

Hours: 11:00 - 15:00

Closed: Tuesday・Wednesday



 


Nara National Museum


The Nara National Museum is one of just 4 national museums in Japan. It’s noted for its incredible collection of Buddhist artwork. Many of the pieces in the museum’s permanent collection are registered as National Treasures or as Important Cultural Assets. The museum also holds special exhibitions throughout the year.


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Established in 1889, the museum retains its original building and is joined by a new wing that is connected to the original building by an underground passage. This new wing also houses temporary exhibitions including the the annual Shosoin-ten Exhibition, which takes place from the end of October to the beginning of November. This is an especially popular exhibition as it showcases the collected treasures of Todai-ji Temple and Japan’s 8th century Emperors. The contents of the exhibition change each year and quite a buzz is created upon release of the event's flyer which highlights that particular year's main attraction.



The grassy knoll in front of the new wing is also famous for being a major deer gathering site during summer. As the sun begins to set, the whole area fills up with deer who gather to sit down and relax together until they make their final journey into the park to settle for the evening. The phenomenon is known as shikadamari and no one is really sure why it happens.





Address: 50 Noborioji-cho, Nara, 630-8213

Tel: 050-5542-8600

Hours: 9:30 - 17:00 Sat: 9:30 - 20:00

Closed: Monday

Fee: Adults ¥700. Under 18s and over 70s: Free



Place to Eat Nearby

Tsukihiboshi Pickle Buffet


This stylish restaurant specializes in colorful pickles and organic locally grown rice.


Over 20 types of pickles are available and for just ¥1770 you can eat as much as you like. The shop used to be an art gallery centered around Buddhist images, but after recently converting its space to a restaurant, it has become the talk of the town.

https://www.tsukihiboshi.com/



The outdoor seating area is the restaurant's true charm point. It includes a gazebo-like art display of Buddhist images and a shut-like shop where you can purchase postcards and pictures, also of famous Buddhist images.



Due to the restaurant being a buffet, customers are constantly moving back and forth to the service area. The restaurant and garden are quite spacious so this does not cause ay issues, rather it adds a sense of community to the dining experience.


Address: Noborioji-cho, 59-9, 630-8213

Tel: 0742-21-6055

Hours: 11:00 - 16:00

Closed: Irregular



 


Kingyo Museum and Ikimono Museum Mi・Nara



Kingyo Museum

Japan's biggest goldfish museum is located inside Mi・Nara, a department store within walking distance of Heijo Palace Site. Nara Prefecture is known for being one of Japan's top three spots for breeding goldfish, but the Kingyo Museum is not ordinary aquarium; it is an interactive art gallery where 3,000 goldfish are the medium.



Designed by award-winning aquarium artists, the displays include, projection mapping, flowers, terrariums, trick art and even mirror balls! It's a sensory experience that'll leave you feeling soothed, surprised, and impressed all at once.



Address: 4th floor 1 Chome-3-1 Nijoojiminami, Nara, 630-8012

Tel: 080-4689-2142

Hours: 10:00 - 16:00

Fee: Adult ¥1,200 | Elementary School Students & 65yrs + ¥800




Ikimono Museum

In the opposite corner of the same floor is the newly opened Ikimono Museum. Its concept is very similar to the Kingyo museum, but this museum focuses mainly on reptiles, some of which you can touch and fully interact with.



The area is divided into several sections with the center piece containing an enormous aquarium art installation designed by the famed artist GA☆KYO. With approximately 100 species of animal and an immersive art space to explore, the Ikimono Museum is a great place to bring the whole family and discover the various individual characteristics of the animals there - all from different perspectives.







Address: 4th floor 1 Chome-3-1 Nijoojiminami, Nara, 630-8012

Tel: 080-4689-4240

Hours: 10:00 - 16:00

Fee: Adult ¥1,200 | Elementary School Students & 65 + ¥800




Place to Eat Nearby

Mi・Nara Food Court

On the first floor of Mi・Nara is a large open food court that is home to Hanamaru Udon, Chicken Curry's Indian Restaurant, Burger King, Meishoen Steak House, Takozo Takoyaki, Ringer Hut Champon, Angel Bear Crepe, Capital Bakery, and Purin-no-Mori.


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There is seating for over a hundred people creating a vibrant atmosphere full of families and small groups.


Hours: 10:00 - 20:00



 


Nara Prefectural Museum of Art


The Nara Prefectural Museum of Art is just a short walk to the north of Kohfuku-ji Temple in Nara Park. It’s home to a collection of around 4,100 pieces of Japanese and east-Asian art that include Edo-era and earlier ukiyo-e block prints and paintings, and modern paint, sculpture and other works. The museum also hosts a number of special exhibitions throughout the year.


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The Nara Prefectural Museum of Art is open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm except on Fridays and Saturdays when it is open until 7pm. Free admission is granted to the holders of overseas passports.







Address: 10-6 Noborioji-cho, Nara 630-8213

Tel: 0742-23-3968

Hours: 9:00 - 17:00

Closed: Monday

Fee: Price depends on the exhibition

Free entry if you have a foreign passport with a 90 day tourist stamp/visa.


Place to Eat Nearby



Tagawa Curry

If you love Japanese-style curry, then Curry Tagawa is the place to go. It is a small and simple place that has a very specialized menu: CURRY.



The menu reads like this: Huge Curry Big Curry Medium Curry Small Curry Extra Small Curry Toppings: raw egg or fried egg

Hot Coffee Ice Coffee


The Huge Curry costs just ¥900!



We ordered a small - and it was massive. On top of that, you can get another serving of curry sauce for free!

The shop has been in business since 1966 and is loved by the locals. The current shop was rebuilt in the same place as the original a few years ago, but they have retained some of the decor from the old place. It is located just a short walk from Nara Prefectural Museum of Art.



Address: 2-3 Minamihanda Nishimachi, Nara, 630-8282

Tel: 0742-24-3739

Hours: 11:00 - 14:00

Closed: Wednesday & Sunday




 


Todai-ji Museum


The Todai-ji Museum was built in 2011 to give Todai-ji Temple a space in which to exhibit its many treasures on a rotational basis. The museum also hosts a number of special lectures and events, and is home to a comfortable cafe serving tea, coffee and Japanese sweets.


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Throughout its more than twelve hundred-year history, Todai-ji has faced numerous disasters and fires as a result of wars. Despite this, the temple compound has been rebuilt each time with efforts made to preserve valuable statues, paintings, decorative art, sutras, other religious texts, and historical documents.


To safeguard these treasures, the Todai-ji Museum was established in October 2011. The museum features galleries and storage rooms equipped with seismic isolation systems to protect fragile items, such as clay sculptures, from fires and earthquakes. The Todai-ji Museum consists of five galleries, including a replica of the inner sanctum of the Hokkedō in the second gallery, where visitors can appreciate the enshrined images in an immersive atmosphere. Additionally, the museum occasionally holds special exhibitions.




Address: Todai-ji Temple Culture Center, Suimon-cho 100, Nara, 630-8208

Tel: 0742-20-5511

Hours:

Apr – Oct / 9:30 – 17:30 (Last admission 17:00)

Nov – Mar / 9:30 – 17:00 (Last admission 16:30)

Closed: May be closed temporarily

Fee: Adult ¥600 | 6-12 year olds ¥300




Place to Eat Nearby