Nishino Kyo area in Nara is off the major tourist trail, yet has a number of fascinating historical sites. When planning to visit the Nishino Kyo area, I was thinking of visiting the Great Buddha in Nara Park on the same day. However, the owner of Guesthouse Naramachi recommended taking one day or a half day to visit the Nishino Kyo area. She was right.
The size of Yakushiji and Toshodaiji Temples was huge. I imagined it might take less than an hour to look through each temple, but I changed my schedule to take a half day to visit both of them following her advice. That worked very well.
How to get there
In Nara, the amount of public transportation is less than Kyoto, so it takes time to visit several areas. It takes more than 30 mins from Nara Station to Nishino Kyo Station by Kintetsu Line. I rented a car at Nara Station and it made it easy for us to visit around Nara. However, we got stuck in a traffic jam in the early evening when returning to the center of Nara city from the Nishino Kyo area. I tried to be flexible to stay at one temple for as long as we wanted. That was the right decision, because each temple was as huge as a college campus.
You can visit Yakushiji and Toshodaiji Temples from Nishino Kyo Station. Yakushiji Temple was relocated in 718 and has been renovated several times since 1967 using the same color as the original red. The site was so spacious, like a huge college campus, and it took more than 1 hour to see all of the old buildings, Buddha statues and towers.
I imagined it would take 30 mins to enjoy the site, but it took 5-10 mins to move from one building to another on the same site. This experience was good for us to understand many monks have studied and trained here.
I like to see around Kyoto’s elaborate temples and Kamakura’s calm temples. Nara’s old temples and shrines have different tastes from Kyoto and Kamakura. Japanese Buddhism had begun to spread from Nara. Nara has a different background and history of politics and religions from other cities, so the architecture and arts have unique designs.
A 15 min-walk leads to Toshodaiji Temple from Yakushiji Temple. Toshodaiji Temple was founded in 759 by Ganji Wajo, a monk from China. 4 buildings were built in the Nara period (the 8th century). It took one hour to see around, but honestly, my kids were fed up with very old buildings by this time. I gave up precisely explaining the difference between Yakushiji and Toushodaiji to them, so they might not remember whether they visited one or two temples.
Japanese architecture had to survive in a harsh environment with humidity, change of temperature and dryness plus natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. Old buildings were repaired and reconstructed to transmit traditions. I deeply understand the inconvenience of living in an old traditional wooden house due to my parents house being very old, but I still have interest in the structure and the process of repairing the old buildings.
Azekura Style, the use of interlocking triangular logs, is one of my favorite ancient architectural styles. You can see it up close at Toshodaiji Temple.
Get on Kintetsu Nara Line to Nishinokyo Station via Yamato Saidaiji Temple Station (36mins) from Nara Station. Visit Yakushiji and Toshodaiji temples and head to the Ruins of Heijo Palace for a 40 minute walk via Suzakumon Gate. Head back to Nara Station from Yamato Saidaiji Temple Station.