Kyoto's neighboring prefecture, Nara is a must-visit on any Japan itinerary. With eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Nara was also home to the emperor’s dwelling before it relocated to Kyoto. Today, Nara is still studded with well-preserved temples and shrines, shops and houses, which embody traditional Japanese architecture and aesthetic values.
The most iconic attraction in Nara is probably the beloved Japanese spotted deer, regarded as a sacred animal here. You can find these furry attention-seekers wandering through the city, freely mingling with humans in Nara Park, gently tugging at their clothes in the hopes of receiving a yummy shika senbei (deer rice cracker).
Aside from flashing your camera at the majestic Great Buddha statue and browsing deer-themed gadgets, scoping out local Nara sweet shops for mouthwatering Nara specialties is highly recommended.
In keeping with its long history, Nara is full of traditional tea houses and sweet shops serving bite-sized, skillfully crafted wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), including varieties of dango (small round-shaped rice cakes on a skewer), mochi rice cakes, dorayaki (red bean paste sandwiched between two pancakes) and more. See our Beginner's Guide to Mochi to learn more about traditional Japanese sweets.
If you've already tried classic Japanese sweets like mochi, and you're looking for more unique and adventurous eats, check out this alternative selection of Japanese desserts, from traditional Nara sweets to funky modern treats.
5 Unique Nara Sweets to Keep Out of Deer's Reach
Here are 5 unique and tasty treats to try in Nara.
- Pamba Pipi’s Cotton Candies
- Toraya no Nyanko’s “Paw-Mochi”
- Kasuga-an’s Satsuma-Yaki
- Kaki (Persimmon) Flavored Sweets at Ishii Sweets on Sanjodori
1. Pamba Pipi’s Cotton Candies
Pamba Pipi is a cotton candy shop located in the quiet town of Nara, with Instagram-worthy sweets. Get your cotton candy in a cup, in a plastic bag (a tour-friendly measure), or on a portable stick.
These extra-large funky clouds of sugar come in a variety of flavors: green tea, cafe latte, milk tea, raspberry, pineapple, umeshu (plum wine), kinako (soybean flour), pumpkin, tomato, and more! The flavors vary seasonally so there is always something unique to enjoy. Make your choice, but don't let deer get at your cotton candy!
One of Nara’s traditional sweets, kuzu-kiri is made of kuzu (arrowroot) starch. It's a refined specialty composed of jiggling translucent strips served with kinako (soybean powder) and kuromitsu (black sugar syrup). Eating kuzu-kiri with your chopsticks is a must-try experience (as well as a bit of a battle).
3. Toraya no Nyanko’s “Paw-Mochi”
Toraya no Nyanko is the result of a Japanese old couple putting their spin on traditional mochi. The owners are cat lovers who pay tribute to their favorite animal by making colorful paw-shaped and cat-shaped mochi. And the decor is, of course, also cat-themed.
If you relish the stretchy texture of mochi and adore your feline friends, a visit to Toraya no Nyanko will surely make you smile.
4. Kasuga-an’s Satsuma-Yaki
The tatami-floored tea house Kasuga-an is the perfect place to restore your energy while sipping green tea and nibbling on traditional wagashi. Kasuga-an’s signature sweet is satsuma-yaki. This mild-flavored treat takes the shape of sastuma-imo, Japanese sweet potato, hence the name. The bean paste center is wrapped in a batter made of flour and eggs. Then, the sweet is gently grilled on bamboo skewers until golden brown.
With a firm texture and subtle taste, satsuma-yaki is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
5. Kaki (Persimmon) Flavored Sweets at Ishii Sweets on Sanjodori
Now for a delicious, autumnal specialty! Nara prefecture is renowned for kaki, or persimmon, cultivation. In fact, soil and temperature conditions make it the ideal spot for producing these top-notch fruits.
Ishii Sweets, a specialized sweet shop in Nara, features this regional fruit in a variety of heavenly-sweet delicacies, from dried kaki with a chestnut filling, to moist and soft cakes, to vibrantly-colored kaki-shaped mochi. You can also get persimmon jellies, jams, and more! If you happen to stroll through Nara during the fall season, don’t miss out on this gem.