Nara

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Nara Travel Guide

City Introduction

Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture, which lies east of Osaka and south of Kyoto. Nara is also a city with an interesting history, as it was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794, when Kyoto became the new capital. However, there was already activity in the area before 710, and you can see a series of ancient tombs called Kofun (古墳) dating from 200-600. In this way, Nara has many sights that goes back into Japan’s history.

It was Empress Genmei who decreed in the year 708 that Nara should be the capital. At that time, the city was called Heijō-kyō (平城京), and it was developed as a capital with inspiration from Chang’an in China, which was the capital during the Tang Dynasty. The move to Heijō-kyō was completed in 710, and many temples and other structures that can be seen in Nara today were built then.

North of Nara you can see three of the large megalithic tombs of the kofun type. These are Hishiage Kofun (ヒシゲ古墳), Konabe Kofun (コナベ古墳) and Uwanabe Kofun (ウワナベ古墳). The large chambers were burial places for emperors and empresses, and the three mentioned kofun have characteristic keyhole-shaped mounds, where the graves are located in the rounded part to the north. The emperors were buried with personal possessions.

In the northern part of Nara was the Imperial Palace Heijō-kyū (平城宮), which was the administrative center of Japan for most of the Nara period. The central location to the north was the same as in the urban plan of the contemporary Chinese capital. The palace was surrounded by walls, and it housed both government buildings, ceremonial buildings and of course the imperial residence, which was like an inner palace surrounded by separate walls. After Nara’s time as capital, parts of the palace were moved, and other parts burned or stood abandoned until the area became agricultural. The excavation of the old palace started in the 1970s.

Today, markings of the historic buildings can be seen on the large Heijō-kyū palace grounds. The impressive southern entrance gate was the Suzaku Gate, Suzakumon (朱雀門), which was reconstructed in 1998. Going north from here, you come to another reconstructed gate, and from here you can proceed to the Daigokuden (大極殿) building, which was the largest official building in the palace grounds. Daigokuden was reconstructed 2001-2010, and the Takamikura (高御座) imperial throne stands in it.

You can see many impressive Buddhist temples in Nara as well, and many of them, like Heijō-kyū, are on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. These are the temples Tōdai-ji (東大寺), Kōfuku-ji (興福寺), Gangō-ji (元興寺), Yakushi-ji (薬師寺) and Tōshōdai-ji (唐招提寺), while Saidai-ji (西大寺) is also worth seeing. The Shinto shrine Kasuga-taisha (春日大社) is also on UNESCO’s list.

Tōdai-ji is the Great Eastern Temple, built from 745. The huge main hall of the temple, Daibutsuden (大仏殿), is an impressive structure that houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Daibutsu. The current Daibutsuden is a reconstruction from 1709. Opposite Tōdai-ji is Saidai-ji, which was built from 765 as the Great Western Temple. This temple’s main hall, Hondō (本堂), is a reconstruction from 1808.

Close to Tōdai-ji you can visit Kōfuku-ji, which is a temple that was established in 669 and moved to its current location in 710. There are many beautiful buildings in the temple such as the Central Golden Hall/Chū-kondō (中金堂) and the Eastern Golden Hall/Tō-kondō (東金堂), where you can see the temple’s golden Buddha. There are also octagonal halls and a beautiful five-storied pagoda, Gojū-no-tō (五重塔), on the temple grounds.

Gangō-ji is a smaller and very cozy temple to visit. It was founded in 593 and moved to Nara in 718, but many of its buildings burned throughout the 15th-19th centuries. The temple, like several of the others mentioned, was one of the so-called Seven Great Temples, which were particularly influential. Yakushi-ji, on the other hand, is a large and impressive temple, where you can see the main hall Kondō (金堂), also called The Golden Hall. There are two pagodas in the temple, one of which called Tō-tō (東塔) is preserved from the 7th century and is considered one of Japan’s finest pagodas.

Tōshōdai-ji is a temple that was founded in 759, and where you can see the building Kondō (金堂), which is the main hall named The Golden Hall. The style of the hall is almost the archetype of the classical Japanese. The contemporary Shinto shrine Kasuga-taisha, unlike the Buddhist temples, is built in the Kasuga-zukuri style, named after the shrine’s main hall called the Honden (本殿). The shrine is also known for its torii, which is one of Japan’s oldest, and for the many lanterns on the grounds and in the buildings.

In Nara you can visit several interesting museums too such as the Nara National Museum/Nara Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan (奈良国立博物館), which architecturally represents the Western style of the Meiji period. The National Museum is an art museum with a collection of Buddhist art as one of the highlights. You can also go to the old Fujiwara-kyō (藤原京) south of Nara, which was the capital between 694 and 710. Here, for example, you can see remains of the old imperial palace area, and close by is the mausoleum of Emperor Jimmu, Shinmuten’nō Unebiyama Tōhoku-ryō (神武天皇畝傍山東北陵).

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Geolocation

In short

Nara, Japan

Nara, Japan

Overview of Nara

Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture, which lies east of Osaka and south of Kyoto. It is also a city with an interesting history, as it was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794, when Kyoto became the new capital. However, there was already activity in the area before 710, and you can see a series of ancient tombs called Kofun (古墳) dating from 200-600. In this way, the city has many sights that goes back into Japan’s history.

About the Nara travel guide

Contents: Tours in the city + tours in the surrounding area
Published: Released soon
Author: Stig Albeck
Publisher: Vamados.com
Language: English

About the travel guide

The Nara travel guide gives you an overview of the sights and activities of the Japanese city. Read about top sights and other sights, and get a tour guide with tour suggestions and detailed descriptions of all the city’s most important churches, monuments, mansions, museums, etc.

Nara is waiting for you, and at vamados.com you can also find cheap flights and great deals on hotels for your trip. You just select your travel dates and then you get flight and accommodation suggestions in and around the city.

Read more about Nara and Japan

Japan Travel Guide: https://vamados.com/japan
City tourism: https://visitna-ra.jp
Main Page: https://www.vamados.com/

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