Todaiji Nigatsu-do’s Shunie Ceremony
The Shunie Ceremony held in the Nigatsu-do Hall that is located within the grounds of Todaiji Temple, a listed world heritage site, is a Buddhist service by monks of the temple to offer prayers to the 11-faced Goddess of Mercy, the principal object of worship in the Nigatsu-do Hall, for the happiness of people, a bountiful harvest, world peace and human repentance. As it was originally held on Feb 1 in the old (lunisolar) calendar, it came to be known as the Shunie Ceremony in association with the meaning “a Buddhist service conducted in February”. Since it was started in AD752, it has been held without any break in-between, and this year will be the 1263th time that the event is held.
For a period of 2 weeks between Mar 1 and Mar 14, an event known as “Otaimatsu” is held every night at around 19：00. People known as doji accompany the Otaimatsu measuring about 6 m in length followed by a rengyoshu procession behind. The crowd then enters the Nigatsu-do Hall where the large otaimatsu torch is lighted up, capturing the hearts of those with its towering flames in the night sky.
Late at night on Mar 12, a ritual known as “omizutori” where water known as “okosui” is drawn from a well to be offered to the main object of worship, is held. On the morning of the 15th, the buckwheat hat used in the event is worn by an infant, a custom that is said to bestow good health on the child.
Known affectionately as the “Otaimatsu” and “Omizutori”, the Shunie Ceremony is an important event in Nara that has been widely known since ancient times to herald the arrival of spring upon its completion.
- Date & Time: Mar 1 (Sat) – Mar 14 (Fri), 2014
- Venue: Todaiji Nigatsu-do Hall
- Entrance Fee: Free
- Access: Take the city loop bus (outer loop) form the JR / Kintetsu Nara Station and walk for about 15 minutes after alighting at “Daibutsu-den, Kasuga Taisha-mae”
Nara Plum Festival
The flower of the plum tree is well-loved by many people as a flower that heralds the arrival of spring since a long time ago.
It tranquilizes one’s heart and sets adrift a faint and sweet scent full of dignified grace amid the frigid air as the air starts to turn warm under the sun. Please come and view the plums and usher in the new spring early.
(1) Kataoka Plum Forest
About 250 plum trees from 10 varieties bloom one by one mainly in the “Marumado Pavilion” in Nara Park, setting adrift a faint scent in the air. Please enjoy the view of the plum trees together with the Shikayose (deer call) event that one can see only in Nara at the world heritage sites of Kasuga Grand Shrine and Todaiji Temple.
*“Shikayose (Deer Call): At Tobihino in Nara Park 2/1 (Sat) - 3/16 (Sun)
10 AM onwards (about 15 minutes) except on 2/3, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24, 3/3, 3/10
- Blooming Period: End Feb – Mid Mar
- Access: Take the city loop bus from JR/Kintetsu Nara Station and alight at” Kasuga Grand Shrine Omote Sando” or walk for about 20 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station.
(2) Plum Festival of Tsukigase Plum Forest
About red and white 10,000 plum trees bloom along the 4km shore of Lake Tsukigase and the surrounding hilly region. During the festival, the street is lined with stalls selling local specialty products, Tsukigase tea and processed plum products and a variety of events such as a photography contest, spring marathon, green tea festival etc. are also held.
- Opening Period: Feb 16 (Sun) – Mar 31 (Mon), 2014
- Access: Take the bus from JR/Kintetsu Nara Station and alight at “Tsukigase Plum Forest” (service only run during the plum viewing period）
Nara Fude Festival
Every year on the spring equinox, the Nara Fude Festival is held at the Sugawara Tenmangu Shrine, the birthplace of Sugawara Michizane, a scholar of the Heian Period (AD794-1192) who is said to be one of Japan’s three famous ancient calligraphers.
During the Fude Festival, after performing a thanksgiving ceremony to commemorate Moten, the founder of the writing brush, worshippers will burn the old brushes used normally and hold a memorial service within the Fudetsuka grounds before receiving new brushes. Besides this, super-large writings by famous authors and a corner to try out brush making will also be available for visitors.
Date & Time: Mar 21 (Fri), 2014 10:00-15:00
Venue: Sugawara Tenmangu Shrine
Access: About 800 m to the south of Saidaiji Station on the Kintetsu Line or just next to the “Kenna Sugawara” bus stop
Shika-Yoshe (Deer Call) in Nara Park
The Shika-Yoshe or Deer Call is a seasonal event of the ancient capital of Nara that first started in AD1892 whereby the sound of a natural horn is used to call out to the deer in Nara Park.
The deer in Nara Park are wild animals designated as a protected species. It was said that at the time the Kasuga Grand Shrine, a World Heritage Site, was first built, the god of Kashima Shrine came in a white deer when it was transferred to the new shrine. Since then, they have been revered as messengers of the gods and thus carefully protected. The Shika-Yoshe will be conducted in an area known as the Tobihino in Nara Park. As the sound of the horn reverberates throughout “Tobihino” within Nara Park, the view of about a hundred deer appearing from deep within the forest is a splendid sight indeed. Do come and enjoy a sight that can only be experienced in Nara in a Nara Park that is enveloped in the still and refreshing morning air of winter.
- Date and Time: Feb 1 (Sat) – Mar 16 (Sun) 2014, From 10:00 am (about 15 minutes)
(*Except for Feb 3, 10, 17, 24 and Mar 3, 10)
- Venue: Tobihino, within the grounds of the Kasuga Grand Shrine (south side of Kasuga Grand Shrine Sando)
- Access: Take the city loop bus from JR / Kintetsu Nara Station and walk for about 5 minutes after alighting at the Kasuga Grand Shrine Omote-sando bus stop, or walk for about 20 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station.
Sales of One-Day Free Bus Pass for Foreigners
Nara Kotsu Bus Lines has renewed the design of the one-day free pass for service buses within the city that ply the routes to UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites such as Kasuga Grand Shrine, Todaiji Temple, Nara Park and so on. Please make use of this one-day free bus pass for convenient sightseeing around the ancient city of Nara.
1. Ticket Name “Nara Tourist Local Bus Free Pass”
2. Price Adult: 500 yen, Children: 250 yen
3. Sales Locations Nara Kotsu Bus Lines Information Centers
JR Nara Station, Kintetsu Nara Station (Line House 1F)
4. Scope of Use Specified area in Nara city
5. Precautions ○This one-day free pass is valid for one day as stated on the ticket and can be used for multiple trips within the specified area.
○Refund is limited to unused tickets before the validity date.
○ Additional fares apply when using this ticket outside the specified scope of use. When going to Toshodaiji and Yakushiji Temples with this ticket, please display the free pass and pay an additional fare of 180 yen (as of August 1, 2013).
6. Ticket Face (image)
A pass holder will be issued at the sales counter when purchasing. Pass the string through the hole in the ticket and hang it from your neck. You can also use the ticket without the pass holder. Please let the sales staff know if you do not need it.
The Famous Ancient Temples and Shrines of Nara Reflect the Everlasting History of Japan.
Nara was the glorious capital, "like a fragrant flower in full bloom," as an ancient poet once described it. Nara was the cradle of the great Japanese arts and the essence of culture in the long-ago Tempyo Period. The old, world-famous temples and shrines of the province of Yamato (presently Nara Prefecture) have handed down to us their precious history.
Among others, the cathedrals of Todaiji, Kofukuji, Yakushiji, Toshodaiji and the Kasuga Grand Shrine are settings where one can encounter the rich, elegant ambience of the Tempyo Culture.
As you go through the corridors, and glance at the tiled roofs of these cathedrals, the Tempyo Culture will make you forget all about time and space, and will whisper to you about the old days of well over a thousand years as though they were yesterday.
The Buddha in Nara
Nara is also a treasure-house of the Japanese arts. Since the introduction of Buddhism, the Buddhist Images played particularly important roles in creating special "Plastic Arts" in the artistic fields of Buddhism.
The formative (plastic) beauty of our country has been created from the change from the youthful appearance of the Hakuho Period through the gorgeousness and maturity of the Tempyo Period, the delicacy and grace of the Fujiwara Period, and finally to the vigorousness and animation of the Kamakura Period.
The standing dry lacquer figure of Ashura enshrined in the Kofukuji Temple, a masterpiece of the Tempyo Period; the standing Eleven-Headed Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) enshrined at Hokkeji Temple, a representative product of the Jyogan Period, during which the craftsmanship of wooden carving was popular; and many other famous Buddhist Images are extant in the ancient city of Nara.
As one stars at the face of the Buddha, one gets the feeling that the statue will begin talking at any moment. It is probably true that the passion with which many people make wishes to the Buddha, are in the mind of the Buddha.
Significant Traditional Events in the Ancient City of NARA
As Nara is known as the home of Japanese history and culture, it is not surprising that its traditional events, which are carried out throughout the year, are indeed colorful.
From the Ceremonial Burning of Wakakusa-yama Hill (whose flames illuminate an evening sky in winter); to the Memorial Water-Drawing Ceremony of Nigatsudo (February Hall); through the summer performances of the Firelight Noh (the perfection of that art, performed with an open-air fire for a background); and the Kasuga Grand Shrine Lantern Lighting Ritual (in which about 3,000 stone and hanging bronze lanterns are all lit at once, forming a simple yet elegant atmosphere); to the Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony in the fall; it is no exaggeration to state that the four seasons are beautifully colored by the numerous traditional events that add a sweet innocence to the charm of Nara.
The Fragrance of the Four Seasons in Nara
Nara is the cradle of Japanese culture and the spiritual home of the Japanese people, keeping a beautiful harmony between history and nature.
In the spring, after the Water-Drawing Ceremony is over, the delicate cherry blossoms in the ancient city of temples and shrines begin to bloom all at once. Radiant greenness will cover the roof tiles of these cathedrals in the summer.
Later the ancient capital will be crowded with holiday-makers who seek the beauty of tinted autumnal showing the genuine nature of Nara.
The drama of Nara's four seasons undoubtedly paints its historical remains most colorfully and makes the elegance of an ancient city much more exquisitely attractive.
Arts and Crafts of Nara
Nara is the birthplace of the culture of Japan. Many traditional arts and crafts suited to the natural features and life style of Nara have been handed down to the present day.
The techniques of the ancient artists who created the masterpieces designated as Important Cultural Properties have been preserved in this district.
These refined techniques can be seen in the splendid works preserved in the Shoso-in (the depository for the treasures of Todaiji Temple) and various temples, shrines and museums. These works are not only magnificent, but also have a feeling of dignity and grace. The artists have given us works containing the essence of Nara, its culture, and its history.
Traversing times the spirit of the artisan still exists.