The 5 Best Temples in Nara, Japan

The 5 Best Temples in Nara, Japan

Todaiji Temple, in Nara Japan.

Japan’s first capital from 710 to 784, Nara is known for being home to some of Japan’s most otherworldly temples and shrines. Among the city’s precious spiritual sites, the best-known are the Nanto Shichi Daiji (The Seven Great Temples of Nara), a collection of seven major temples that existed in Heijo-Kyo (Nanto, Nara) and its surrounding areas and were protected by the Imperial Court.

Visiting Nara’s serene temples is a unique way to delve deep into the culture, traditions, and history of Japan which you won’t find anywhere else.

Check out some of the most important Nara temples, and shrines that are must-sees on your next visit.

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The 5 Best Temples in Nara

Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple, in Nara, Japan.

Constructed in 752 on the order of Emperor Shomu, the Todaiji Temple (Todai ji temple) is a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples of Nara. This alluring temple is located in the northern part of Nara Park and comprises a variety of breathtaking structures.

Must-sees in the temple include the Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), the largest wooden structure in the world, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese as Daibutsu (大仏).

Also known as the Great Eastern Temple, Todaiji also harbors the magnificent Nigatsudo Hall, which has a big balcony overlooking Nara Park.

Address: 406-1 Zoshicho

Kofukuji Temple

Kofukuji Temple, in Nara, Japan.

Kofukuji Temple (Kofuku ji Temple) is a Buddhist temple founded in 669 as the family temple of the powerful Fujiwara clan. At the height of Fujiwara’s power, the temple consisted of over 150 buildings.

The temple is one of Nara’s eight historic monuments inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and boasts several buildings that are designated national treasures. Highlights include a five-storied pagoda — Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda —, the Central Golden Hall, destroyed by fire roughly 300 years ago, and the Eastern Golden Hall, home to a giant statue of the Yakushi Buddha.

While exploring the temple grounds, be sure to stop by the National Treasure Museum, which displays exhibits a great art collection.

Address: 48 Noboriojicho

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Kasuga Grand Shrine is Nara’s oldest and most famous shrine. Established in 768 CE to enshrine the local deity, the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for harboring 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns, as well as brilliant vermilion columns with white walls surrounded by lush green trees.

One of the temple’s most notable structures is the Treasure House, which houses a collection of precious historical artifacts like ornate taiko drums used in gagaku from the Kamakura period, arrows with crystal whistles from the Heian period, and bronze mirrors of the Heian and Nanboku-cho periods.

The best time to visit Kasuga? During the springtime (late April and early May), when the shrine’s delicate wisteria trees are in full bloom.

One beautiful aspect of this shrine is the many wisteria trees known as “Sunazuri-no-Fuji” that bloom in late April and early May.

Address: 160 Kasuganocho

Saidaiji Temple

Saidaiji Temple, Nara, Japan.

Saidaiji Temple was commissioned in 765 by Emperor Shōtoku as a counterpart to the Todai-ji. Also known as the Great Western Temple, Saidaiji used to cover an area of almost 50 hectares, and harbored harbor around 110 buildings, including two dreamy pagodas.

A series of natural disasters during the Heian period (794–1185) destroyed most of the temple’s original structures. The buildings currently standing within the temple complex are the main hall, Aizen-do Hall, and Shio-do Hall, which were built during the mid-Edo Period (1603-1868).

Today, this famous temple is particularly known for its annual tea ceremony, which was begun centuries ago, and where matcha tea is served in gigantic tea bowls.

Address: 1 Chome-1-5 Saidaiji Shibacho

Yakushi-ji Temple

Yakushi-ji Temple, Nara, Japan.

Yakushi-ji is one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Japan. Established 1,300 years ago by Emperor Tenmu to pray for the recovery of his consort (who would later become Empress Jito) from an illness.

The East Pagoda, completed in 730 during the Nara period, is the only original 8th-century structure at Yakushi-ji. Standing at 112 ft, it’s regarded as one of the finest pagodas in Japan and represents the architecture of the Hakuhō to Tenpyō periods. Each of the pagoda’s floors is beautifully decorated with a mikoshi, a type of skirt.

Yakushi-ji’s main object of veneration is Yakushi Nyorai, also known as “The Medicine Buddha”, which was one of the first Buddhist Deities to arrive in Japan from China in 680, and gives the temple its name.

Address: 457 Nishinokyocho


What is famous in Nara?

Nara is famous for its gorgeous religious sites. The city is home to 8 temples, shrines, and ruins, specifically Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji, and the Heijō Palace, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What are the most famous temples in Nara?

The 5 top temples in Nara are:

  • Todaiji Temple;
  • Kofukuji Temple;
  • Kasuga Taisha Shrine;
  • Saidaiji Temple;
  • Yakushi-ji Temple.

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