Naramachi (奈良町, literally "Nara Town") is the former merchant district of Nara, where several traditional residential buildings and warehouses are preserved and open to the public. Boutiques, shops, cafes, restaurants and a few museums now line the district's narrow lanes.
Many of Naramachi's buildings in the Edo Period and earlier were machiya, long, narrow "townhouses" that served both as shops and as the living quarters of the local merchants. The store fronts of machiya were often kept narrow in order to save on taxes, which used to be calculated on a property's street access rather than its total area. Today, a handful of machiya have been preserved and made open to the public as museums.
Before its development into a merchant district around the 15th century, the area that is Naramachi today used to be occupied almost entirely by the once-spacious grounds of Gangoji Temple. Gangoji was one of Japan's most important temples during the Nara Period and has been registered as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Though once a sprawling complex, today, only a couple of temple buildings remain.
Below is a list of Naramachi's main attractions:
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entrance until 16:30) Closed: No closing days Admission: 500 yen
Gangoji Temple was one of Nara's seven great temples along with Todaiji, Yakushiji, Saidaiji, Kofukuji, Horyuji and Daianji. It originated as Asukadera in Asuka and was moved to Nara in 718. Asukadera is considered Japan's oldest temple. Today, Gangoji is only a small fraction of what it used to be.
Koshi-no-Ie Residence (Naramachi Lattic House)
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: Mondays (Tue if Mon is a national holiday) and the day following national holidays (except weekends), December 26 to January 5 Admission: Free
Koshi-no-Ie Residence is a former merchant home open to the public. It is one of the few places for a look at one of Nara's traditional machiya townhouses with a shop space in the front of the building and the living quarters in the rear.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: Wednesdays (open if Wednesday is a national holiday) Admission: Free
The Nigiwai-no-ie is a traditional townhouse with over 100 years of history in central Naramachi. The interior has been decorated to reflect the 24 seasons of the year according to the traditional almanac, and visitors can experience the changing seasons as well as appreciate traditional architecture.
Naramachi Karakuri Omochakan
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: Wednesdays, New Year holidays Admission: Free
Naramachi Karakuri Omochakan is a toy museum located in central Naramachi. The museum appeals to visitors of all ages, not just children, as visitors are free to see and play with the traditional toys. There are staff on hand to explain the mechanics and background of the toys.
Nara Craft Museum (Nara Kogeikan)
Hours: 10:00 to 18:00 (entry until 17:30) Closed: Mondays (Tue if Mon is a national holiday), the day following national holidays (except weekends), December 26 to January 5, and between exhibitions Admission: Free
This museum provides an introduction to the arts and crafts Nara is famous for, including high-quality writing brushes, inks and kogakumen masks among others.
Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 Closed: No closing days Admission: Free
This small, offbeat museum in central Naramachi displays many artifacts related to the district's history (explanations in Japanese only) with a focus on the brightly-colored red and white hanging monkeys (migawari-zaru) commonly seen in Naramachi doorways.
Imanishike Shoin Residence
Hours: 10:00 to 16:00 (entry until 15:30) Closed: Mondays, summer holidays, winter holidays Admission: 400 yen
Imanishike Shoin Residence, located in the eastern part of Naramachi, is a former residence of an important temple official who worked at Kofukuji Temple. Imanishike has a pleasant garden, a large interior, and a space for enjoying green tea and Japanese sweets.
Harushika Sake Brewery
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: Summer holidays, New Year holidays Tasting fee: 500 yen
The Harushika Sake Brewery was established over 130 years ago by the Imanishi family whose above-mentioned residence is located just next door. For 500 yen visitors can sample five varieties of sake produced by Harushika and take home a souvenir sake glass. Brewery tours are offered on weekends in February (reservations mandatory).
Naramachi is located about a 10-15 minute walk to the south of Kintetsu Nara Station. From JR Nara Station, it is about a 20 minute walk to the southeast. Nara's loop buses number 1 and 2 serve Kintetsu Nara Station and JR Nara Station and run along the southern border of Naramachi.