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Nara first developed after being designated the capital of Japan in 710. Still today, the Great Buddha of Todaiji remains today an awe-inspiring symbol of the ancient capital of Japan.

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara refer to the ruins, 6 temples and 8 primeval forests in the Nara City area.

The central monument is the Heijokyo-ato (Imperial Palace), the site of a royal palace in the present-day city of Nara. This is where the emperor resided and various government offices were located when Heijokyo of Nara was designated the capital in 710. After the capital was transferred to Heiankyo (present-day Kyoto) in 794, Heijokyo was temporarily turned over for use as farmland; after, however, influential temples and shrines including Kofukuji and Todaiji were erected and the area was again developed as "a capital of temples and shrines". The palace site was discovered in 1889. The "Sujakumon Gate" (reconstructed in 1998) and the gardens were reconstructed based on the results of excavation while preserving the spacious heath, and activities are promoted to conserve the ancient image. A reference library was also established here, where you will learn about the excavations and research that are always in progress in the area.

Todai-ji Temple ©JTA

The "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" include 6 temples: Todaiji, Kasuga-Taisha, Kofukuji, Yakushiji, Toshodaiji and Gangouji. Todaiji is a noteworthy example, visited by Japanese students on school trips and tourists from all over the world. This temple was built by order of Emperor Shomu (ruling from 724 to 749) in order to protect the country. The 14.7-meter-high Great Buddha in the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) symbolizes Nara, and his pose of holding up the palm of his right hand to the front while placing his left hand on his knee with the palm upwards means that he gives strength to the people with his right hand while promising to grant their wishes with his left. The main body of the Buddha has been repaired many times over the years, but the lotus petal part used as the foundation and both legs are as they were when first made. The building, reconstructed in the Edo era, is the largest-scale ancient wooden building in the world.

In addition to these wonderful things, each temple has many cultural assets designated as national treasures such as the Toutou (East Pagoda) of Yakushiji, the statue of Ganjinwajo in Toshodaiji, the Honden (Main Sanctuary) of Kasuga Taisha and the Tokondo (East Main Hall) and Goju-no-tou (Five-storied Pagoda) of Kofukuji, so there is no shortage of places to visit in a day. The "Kasugayama Primeval Forest" conserved by the unique Japanese belief in God and their view of nature, has also been registered as a world heritage site.

Deer at Kasuga-taisha Shrine

Access: From Tokyo - 2hrs 15mins to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line (Nozomi), and 35mins from Kintetsu Kyoto to Kintetsu Nara by Kintetsu Kyoto Line (limited express).

From Osaka - 35mins from Kintetsu Namba to Kintetsu Nara Station by Kintetsu Nara Line (rapid express).

From Kyoto - By Japan Railways (JR) - Miyakoji rapid trains (kaisoku) operate every 30mins between Kyoto Station and JR Nara Station.The Japan Rail Pass is valid on these trains. By Kintetsu Railways - Twice hourly departing limited express trains (tokkyu) take about 35mins for the one way trip from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station. By hourly departing direct express trains (kyuko), the one way journey takes about 45 minutes. There are more frequent connections by express trains, if you do not mind transferring once at Yamato-Saidaiji Station. The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on Kintetsu trains.

Further information: JNTO Travel Trips – Nara Walks (PDF) 
Nara Prefecture Tourist Information
Nara Explorer