Nara was capital of Japan even before Kyoto was. It was, in fact, the first permanent capital and built specifically for that purpose. Alas, the ancient city fell victim to its own success, and less than a hundred years after its founding when a priest seduced the empress and everyone decided the place had simply got too big for its boots, power was shifted to Kyoto where it stayed.
Due to its special and ancient beginnings, the city is a trove of historical sites. Principle of these is Todaiji temple, home of the biggest ancient statue of Buddha in Japan, and until quite recently, Japan’s largest wooden building. Todaiji is set in expansive parklands that are home to more historical sites, and the whole sprawl abuts hills that boast a conserved primeval forest.
And there are deer. Deer everywhere. They wander the parks and the roads as free as they like: it is said that a god once visited Nara on a deer and they have been indulged ever since.
Unsurprisingly, the historical and cultural value of the area has been rewarded wth UNESCO World Heritage site status.
Not far from Todaiji you will find Nara-machi, the old quarter of town. Many of the buildings in Nara-machi date back to the early 19th century and preserve the atmosphere of this once-thriving merchant corner. Today, many of these attractive old buildings remain as family homes. Others have been converted into fascinating craft shops, cafes, art studios, guest houses, and museums.
Most of Nara’s attractions are within walking distance of each other (though not necessarily a short walk) but your feet are the best way to see this city. And when you are done walking, you can enjoy an impressive selection of food and drink and get your energy back.
The mighty Todaiji Temple
Nara Park with frisky deer