From bustling shopping arcades to historic family businesses, here are Nara’s ten best shopping locations where you can find unique handicrafts, fabrics, foods, and other novelties to suit every preference.
1. Vierra Nara
Vierra Nara is a shopping complex inside the JR Nara Station building. On the ground floor there is a supermarket where you can pick up fresh supplies for a picnic in Nara Park. On the second floor there is a bakery cafe and a nice range of souvenir shops selling local craft and culinary specialties such as sushi, sweets, and sake.
This is a great location to pick up last-minute souvenirs before you get on your train. The ground floor also has a good mix of restaurants and cafes which range from fast food diners and noodle bars to an izakaya style casual restaurant and a French bistro.
Souvenir Shops: 10.00 – 21.00
Supermarket: 7.00 – 24.00
Restaurant times vary.
2. Sanjo Dori Shopping Street
Sanjo Dori runs west to east from JR Nara Station to Nara Park and has been Nara’s main high street for 1300 years. Along this road you will find a great variety of stores ranging from major retail outlets to long-established independent shops selling tea, kimonos, jewelry, local crafts and antiques.
There are also many restaurants, hotels, banks and a post office on this street. Because this is a major route in the city, you will probably use it at some point in your visit, but it is also a pleasant avenue to stroll along and enjoy browsing for special mementos of Nara.
3. Ikeda Gankodo Fan Shop
Ikeda Gankodo is a small traditional craft shop on Sanjo Dori selling uchiwa fixed fans and sensu folding fans. This family business is 150 years old and famous in Nara for its unique method of decorating its handcrafted fans. The colorful folding fans are painted with typical Nara motifs, and the uchiwa fixed fans are decorated with delicate fretwork patterns that are cut directly into the paper. These fans are truly local products that you cannot buy anywhere else.
Open: 9.00 – 19.00
Closed on Mondays from September to March and open every day from April to August
4. Higashimuki Shotengai Shopping Arcade
Higashimuki Shotengai is a roofed shopping arcade that runs north to south between Kintetsu Nara Station and Sanjo Dori. In this lively arcade you can find all kinds of arts and craft shops, stores selling clothes and accessories both modern and traditional, and souvenir shops selling tea, rice crackers, stuffed deer toys, and traditional confectionery.
Many of the shops are old established family businesses and there are also many restaurants and cafes. Because of the arcade roof this street is especially convenient as a rainy day retreat. The official Higashimuki website has a complete map and guide to all of the shops on this street.
Open daily with opening hours varying between businesses.
5. Mochiidono Shotengai Shopping Arcade
Just south of Higashimuki Shotengai’s southern exit is the entrance to another covered shopping arcade: Mochiidono Shotengai. Similar in content to Higashimuki Shotengai, this shopping arcade runs south into the old town area of Naramachi. Here you can find an enormous variety of stores selling ceramics, lacquerware, leather-crafts, calligraphy goods, carved wooden dolls, fabrics and textiles.
Mochiidono also has food stores, tea shops, restaurants, and cafes serving both local and international fare.
Open daily with opening hours varying between businesses. For details see the official website.
6. Yu Nakagawa Main Store
Yu Nakagawa is a 300 year old fabric maker which has reinvented itself as a contemporary company selling stylish modern products using tried and tested traditional craft techniques. Yu Nakagawa Main Store in Naramachi has a range of elegant goods which includes bags, purses, wallets, hats, scarves, parasols, folding fans, book covers, handkerchiefs, pencil cases, and socks!
You can find the store in a renovated wooden townhouse just a short walk east of Mochiidono Shotengai’s southern exit.
Open: 10.00 – 18.30
7. Yoshida Kaya
Yoshida Kaya is a famous store in Naramachi which originally made linen mosquito nets but has now diversified into producing a variety of fine linen products. Here you can buy noren entrance curtains, table cloths, dish clothes, place mats, coasters, handbags, and stoles – and all in array of attractive colors.
Open: 9.00 – 18.00
Closed: Mondays (Open if Monday is a holiday and closed the following Tuesday)
8. Harushika Sake Imanishi Seibei Store
This sake brewery and store is also located in Naramachi. It is a popular tourist venue as it offers sake tastings with English speaking staff who can explain the different types of sake and how they are made. When you find a sake you like, you can buy a bottle to take home with you. The sake tasting experience costs just 500 yen to sample 5 different sakes.
Just a few steps down the road from this store is the Imanishike Shoin; a 15th century house and garden which is the former residence of the Imanishi family who still run the brewery. This house is registered as an Important Cultural Property and is open to the public for an entrance fee of 350 yen. There is also a café inside where you can enjoy a variety of soft drinks and sweets.
Harushika Sake Store: 8.15 – 17.15 (Closed for Obon holidays in mid-August, and New Year’s holidays)
Imanishike Shoin House & Garden: 10.00 – 16.00 (Closed on Mondays, Obon and New Year’s holidays)
9. Yumekaze Plaza
Yumekaza Plaza is a spacious modern shopping complex close to Nara Park which has a variety of souvenir shops selling traditional crafts and culinary goods. Here you can find Japanese wagashi confectionery, hand-woven linens, locally brewed sake, and Nara-style pickles. There is a large car parking area, barrier-free restrooms, and a terrace garden area with cafes and restaurants.
Also on site is a Nara Visitors Center which has free Wi-Fi, tourist information pamphlets, and English speaking staff who can help with sightseeing enquiries and help arrange sightseeing tours.
Open: 9.00 – 18.00
10. Mori Narazuke
This long-established pickles store stands just in front of the Nandaimon entrance gate of Todaiji Temple. First opened in 1869, the company uses pickling techniques that date back over 1,300 years. Narazuke style pickles are unusual in that the vegetables are pickled in sake lees (a by-product from the sake brewing process). The salty-sweet taste of these assorted vegetables is a great accompaniment to a lunchtime onigiri rice ball, or a Japanese style breakfast, or can be enjoyed on their own as a snack with a cup of sake.
At the store you can try free samples from a variety of pickled vegetables, such as eggplant, carrots, yams, cucumbers, lotus root, and daikon radishes before deciding which ones you want to buy.
Open: 9.00 – 18.00
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.