A cradle of traditional Japanese history and culture, Nara breathes the spirit of Yamato - the Japanese nation. Formerly known as ‘Heijyokyo’, Nara was the first capital of Japan, from 710 -794 AD. This rich history is evident in the Heijyokyo Palace, which was built in the architectural style of Chang’an, in the Tang dynasty. While this period of prosperity has passed, Nara, the ‘Capital of Temples’ is still renowned for various cultural heritage sites including Todaiji, Toshodai Temple and Horiuji Monastery.
While the historic temples are impressive, many people come for the naughty Nara deer. Herds of wild deer can be found in Nara Park, Kasuga-taisha and, even, on the road. Don’t be deceived by their innocent and gentle eyes - they are after the deer senbei (snacks) in your hand!
The natural scenery in Nara is also worth seeing. Kasugayama Primeval Forest and Wakakusa Hill offer calming surroundings in which one can regain peace of mind. Located in the Kansai region, Nara is near to both Osaka and Kyoto and is a suitable option for a day-trip.
Senbei in hands, wild deer following behind!
In terms of scenic spots, nothing beats walking through Nara park amongst the deer. In Spring, the park is filled with sakura or cherry blossom. In the Autumn, the park is at its most picturesque, with a backdrop of red leaves. Nara Park, in the east of Nara, is home to over one thousand wild sika deer. You can buy a bag of senbei (snacks) for 150 yen. This will attract the deer and you will soon find yourself center of a crowd. However, a word of warning - wild deer are not as docile as they may seem. It is wise to choose small and single deer to feed. A photo with the deer is a must-do for visitors!
Legacy of the Tang architecture, the first capital of Japan
As the ancient ‘Capital of Temples’, Nara is home to architecture reminiscent of China’s Chang’an, and the Tang Dynasty. These examples have been preserved, and listed as World Heritage sites. Kasuga Taisha is one of the three main shrines in Japan, and stands in front of a large forest. It blends Nara’s ancient natural beauty with scarlet torii and traditional stone lanterns. In addition to Todaiji, Toshodai Temple and Horiuji Monastery link the past and the present - displaying the unique culture of Nara. Nara frequently attracts those with an interest in architecture, and history, due to its Tang-style architecture. This architecture rivals that seen in Kyoto, while offering a more relaxed, less-crowded experience.
Watching burning Wakakusa Hill to pray for the New Year
Every year, on the fourth Saturday in January, the early arrival of Spring is celebrated atop the Wakakusa hill, with the hill burning ceremony. This ceremony is held to remember and honour the ancestors, and to pray for peace and happiness in the upcoming year. At dusk, the fireworks begin. Over 600 fireworks will light up the night sky, brightening up the cold January night! If you are visiting Nara in January, make sure to witness this traditional hill burning ceremony!