A lady on the Visitor Center staff flashed a gracious smile as she placed a plate of sliced orange kaki, Japanese persimmon, and a container of toothpicks on the table in front of me. The amount of force it took and the sound sticking the kaki with a toothpick made reminded me of an apple. The crisp texture and sweet flavor (something like an apple and a pear with a unique twist) made for a refreshing afternoon snack.
The NARA Visitor Center & Inn
The NARA Visitor Center & Inn opened on the 23rd of July 2015. Operated by Nara Prefecture its goal is to be visitors’ one stop shop for all Nara related travel information and services. It exceeds that goal with flying colors. Multi-lingual staff are on hand every day to answer questions and there are three internet equipped laptops, several tablets, and two walls worth of literature (one for Nara and the other for elsewhere in Japan) in the Travelers’ Lounge to help travelers research and prepare their next move. The Travelers’ Lounge also has comfortable tables and chairs, and free Wi-Fi. In addition to all the travel information the Visitor Center also offers currency exchange and free luggage storage services. It’s also equipped with an ATM that accepts overseas cards. The thing that really sets the NARA Visitor Center & Inn above all the other visitor centers in the area is its cultural classes and experiences. A different experience is offered free of charge every day and new activities are brought into the schedule on a monthly and seasonal basis. October is harvest season and the Visitor Center put on an event to give visitors a chance to taste fruits grown in Nara.
Seasonal Fruits of Nara
“We had nashi” [Japanese pears] “until a couple of weeks ago,” one staff member informed me. “It’s kaki season now, and they’ll be all gone by next week.” Kaki, nashi and grapes are the most commonly grown fruits in Nara Prefecture. Get outside the developed area and one is bound to find a farm growing one of those fruits. The kaki are so prolific that farmers are never able to sell them all and rather than let them go to waste, they donate their excess to many different groups and places including the Visitors Center. The kaki I ate came from a farm in Gose City less than 15 miles away. The only way to get more local would be to pick the fruit oneself.
The NARA Visitor Center is located on the south bank of the Sarusawa-ike Pond. Kintetsu Nara Station is the closest train station to the Visitor Center. Walk through the Higashi-muki covered shopping street to the Sanjo-dori shopping street (not covered), turn left and walk straight until you see the Sarusawa-ike Pond and the Visitor Center on the far back (it should take about 10 minutes).
JR Nara Station is further away but a more direct route. Go out the East Exit and walk straight up the Sanjo-dori shopping street to the Sarusawa-ike Pond and the Visitor Center. The walk should take about 20 minutes.