Nara did not disappoint me. It fulfilled all the ‘want to see things’. There was a sense of nostalgia – a journey through the history books of ‘Old Japan’. The historic temples, immaculate Zen gardens, preserved ancient streets, and above all the cultural identity had been retained. Being a compact city, walking seemed to be the best option of seeing and absorbing this atmospheric city.
Although Japan is one of the most developed countries, hanging on to the past seems relevant. The society moved seamlessly between the old and modern. In many places, ancient relics, traditions and historic structures had become museum pieces. However, here in Nara and the wider Japan, it is lived and continues to flourish. The Japanese people had successfully integrated traditions with modernism. To me, this had been a highlight of our journey.
Naramachi is one example. At every corner, a new discovery may be waiting. Artesian working on traditional textiles and materials, artwork or calligraphy, and our favourite, traditional food. I felt privileged to have been here, the first imperial capital of Japan.
Walking around Nara and Naramachi is pleasant and is easily covered just by walking. Three major shopping centres lie adjacent to each other. Higashimuki Shopping Street starting at the Kintetsu Nara Station and ends at Sanjo Dori. The Mochiidono Shopping Street begins from Sanjo Dori and ends at the old town district of Naramachi. Both these pedestrian only shopping centres are covered arcades. The main road of Sanjo Dori Avenue is the other major centre.
A variety of items that makes a good gift to take home include round fans, “uchiwa”, Nara dolls, “ittobori”, bags and handkerchiefs, arts and crafts, cloths – all made from traditional Nara fabrics. We entered into a kitchen ware shop and obtained some beautiful handcrafted lacquer ware bowls and spoons. A local woman suggested to us the better materials to buy. I also bought a small ceramic with Fujisan on it as a memento. It was busy but relaxed. One common feature all around Japan are the 100Yen Shops.
Beautiful kimonos and traditional cloths were displayed behind glass windows. Between these retail shops, there are numerous restaurants and eateries. It is a delightful place to people watch as well.
In one of the arcades, three friendly girls dressed up in local traditional dress wished visitors. They are part of the team promoting Nara organised by the local council. I watched an elderly lady dressed in a lovely kimono watching intently a sewing program on the television. The pace here is slow and people smiled often. From these three shopping centres, several narrow alleyways branched off with more places to explore. On one street was an Indian restaurant. There is always something waiting to be discovered, perhaps even spotting the only “maiko” in Nara’s “hanamachi” in Ganri’in cho!