In the Edo period, Naramachi was the commercial centre of Nara, full of shops and small workshop-cum-factories producing ink, calligraphy brushes, linen and mosquito nets. The buildings were narrow to minimise land tax. Now it’s a charming, well-preserved district full of shops and cafes, and many of the traditional businesses remain. Naramachi is an excellent place to pick up unique souvenirs and Nara crafts.
Originally a castle town, local samurai families made this a centre for goldfish cultivation. Even now, there are large goldfish farms just south of Kintetsu Koriyama Station. In the the retro shopping streets next to the station, there are many small cafes, traditional kimono and sweets shops and of course, goldfish mementos.
Deer are everywhere in Nara, whether bowing and begging for food in Nara Park, or adorning everything from plates to parfaits in the souvenir shops. Believed to be messengers of the gods, deer are protected and cherished. The newest deer mascot is the super cute Shikamaro-kun. Look out for must-have deer-themed souvenirs on your travels through Nara.
Tigers & Other Animals
If deer aren't your thing, plenty of other animal souvenirs derived from local legends or the Chinese horoscope, are on offer. In Yoshino, goods are inspired by a local frog legend. In Ikoma, Shigisan Chogosonshi-ji Temple is associated with tigers, and in Yamato Koriyama, goldfish cultivation means orange fish everywhere. Naramachi has cats, and is often nicknamed “Nyaramachi” (Japanese cats say “nyan”).
Tea Ceremony Essentials
Tea ceremony didn’t start in Nara, but there’s a long history of tea utensils here. Yamato Tea is grown near Murou, just on the border of Kyoto. To the west, Takayama makes about 90% of Japan’s tea whisks, and Yoshino, famous for cherry trees, crafts beautiful cherrywood tea canisters, called chazutsu: these make for chic gifts.
When Buddhism came to Nara from China in the 6th century, so did calligraphy. With the temples and the court at Heijokyo came a demand for brushes, ink and washi paper. Nara became the centre of excellence for these products and still is. You can buy a piece of Nara’s history, and learn a new skill.
Purchase these blank, cloth-bound books at any temple or shrine shop. As you visit each temple or shrine, you can ask for a “shuin”, a stamp in your book, for around ¥300. You will get an elaborate stamp and the temple name in beautiful calligraphy. It’s a great memento.