Nara was an ancient capital of Japan between 710-784 AD. Nara has a collection of temples in a giant landscaped park. The city celebrated its 1300th anniversary in 2010.
Less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, located in the central part of Nara City, this vast green area, popularly known as Nara Park, encompasses four world heritage sites of UNESCO.
Around 1200 wild deer roam around freely. According to legend, when Kasuga Taisha Shrine was founded as a family shrine for Fujuwaras, a dominant aristocrat clan of the 8th century, the god is said to have come to Nara riding a white deer. Since then deer have been respected and protected as divine messengers by local people. You can buy Shika Senbei (deer crackers) at several places in the park, a favourite food of the deer. It is said the deer are so polite that they bow to you when they ask you for Skika Senbei.
Video of Nara Japan 2012 © Joe Mendonca
If you only have one day to spend in Nara, focus on Nara Park.
Tōdai-ji, home to the famous Daibutsu, the largest Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The Daibutsu-den, which houses it, is said to be the largest wooden building in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The giant front gate, Nandai-mon, is guarded by two fierce, awe-inspiring protectors. It's also swarmed by deer, who know this is the best place to come looking for a hand-out. Most of Nara's sights, including temples, shrines and famously mercenary deer, are concentrated in Nara Park, a wide, pleasant space of greenery. According to legend, the god of the Kasuga Taisha came riding a white deer in the old days, so the deer enjoy protected status as envoys of the god.
Built in the Nara period (710-794 AD) at behest of Emporer Shomu. The temple was officially positioned as one of many state established provincial temples. Since the chief object of worship of the temple is Vairocana Buddha, “Buddha that shines throughout the world like the sun”, a magnificent temple was built to reflect this importance. Todaiji Temple serves as s place of prayer for peace and affluence on earth, as well as a centre of Buddhist doctrinal research. Over the centuries Tōdaiji has produced many famous scholar priests.
Vairocana Buddha FactsHeight of body 14.98m / 48.91 feet
Length of head. 5.41m / 17.75 feet
Length of eye 1.02m / 3.34 feet
Length of ear 2.54m / 8.33 feet
The statue of Vairocana Buddha is made from cast bronze, which was then plated with gold. The statue was consecrated in 752, but was damaged and repaired several times in the following centuries. The current hands were made in Monoyama period (1568-1615), the head was made in the Edo period (1615-1867). The Great Buddha Hall was burned in the fires of war in 1180 and 1567, the current building is actually the third generation structure, which was built in the Edo period. The width of the current building is approximately 33% smaller than that of the original structure, but it still ranks as the largest wooden structure in the world.
Kōfuku-ji - This temple has a three-story and a five-story pagoda; historically, the latter has contended with Kyoto's Toji for the title of Tallest Pagoda in Japan, although Kofuku-ji seems to have surrendered for now.
Sarusawa Pond , this small pond at the east end of Sanj?-d?ri with Nara Park behind or Naramachi to its south is a very popular viewing spot for Kōfukuji.
Nara National Museum This museum has one of the world's best collections of Buddhist art and changing exhibitions. The National Treasure Hall has an impressive collection of statues.
Ukimidō, a hexagonal building built on Sagiike Pond in Nara Park so that it appears to float on water.
Kasuga Taisha, worth a visit for the beautiful approach, through the Kasuga-yama Primeval Forest, more than the temple itself. What Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Taisha is for torii, Kasuga Taisha is for stone lanterns. Notice the giant rack of sake barrels near the front gate and the fountain-statue of a giant buck.
Kasuga-yama Hill Primeval Forest. Sacred forest behind the Kasuga Taishi Shrine, since 841 when hunting and logging in the forest was banned, has been preserved in a primeval condition, and a sanctuary for various protected species.
Don't miss a visit to Ukimido Gabezo in a stunning setting in the middle of the a lake, and a great view of mountains in the distance.