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Unesco world heritage site


Nara: Cradle of Japanese Culture

Manuel Fuentes Pérez

Steeped in Japanese history and tradition, Nara welcomes visitors seeking peace, knowledge and culture.



Nara, the first capital of Japan, is a city full of historical treasures. It is located less than an hour from Kyoto and Osaka and is one of the most revered places in Japan for its historical relevance in the arts, literature, religion, and culture. Eight of the city’s monuments have been declared World Heritage Sites.

Todaiji Temple ©Nara Prefecture©JNTO.jpg 

The traveler will find many of the city’s major attractions in Nara's Park, including hundreds of wild Sika deer, considered messengers of the gods in Japanese mythology. Also located within the park is the Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple), one of the most famous in all Japan. It was built in 752 as the main place of worship for the Buddhist community. It is the world's largest wooden building and houses a bronze statue of Buddha measuring 16.2 meters (53 feet)—considered the biggest in the country—flanked by two Bodhisattvas. One of the temple columns has a peculiar, small opening. Legend has it that whoever gets through will be blessed with the gift of clarity in his/her next life.

Another of the world’s oldest wooden buildings is located in Nara. The Horyuji—Temple of the Flourishing Law—was built by Prince Shotoku, an ardent protector of Buddhism and regarded as the most important preacher of that religion in Japan. Its main attraction is the Yumedono, a statue of Prince Shotoku, which is housed in the Hall of Dreams, a place where the Prince used to study the Buddhist scriptures.

1. Todaiji Temple ©JNTO
2. Nara Tea Stall ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO
3. Kasuga Taisha Shrine  ©JNTO
4. Nara Souvenir Shop ©Yasufumi Nishi©JNTO
5. Toshodaiji Temple ©JNTO
6. Toshodai-ji Temple ©JNTO.jpg

Kasuga Taisha is one of Japan’s most famous Shinto shrines—Shinto being the country’s native religion. One of the attractions of this red building is its access path, surrounded by beautiful greenery and flanked by hundreds of lanterns. The shrine boasts 1,800 stone lamps covering the walls and another thousand metal lamps suspended in the halls. This sanctuary also offers the possibility to practice the traditional Japanese art of mounted archery, known as Yabusame.

The symbol of this charming city is the five-story pagoda (a building with several levels often seen in Asian countries) belonging to the Kofuku-ji Temple, one of the tallest in Japan. Founded in 710, it was owned by the Fujiwara, a powerful clan from the Heian Period, which marked the last division of classical Japanese history. 

The Toshodaiji—also in the city of Nara—is renowned for its wooden statue of Ganjin (or Jianzhen), the Chinese priest who created this magnificent temple. The statue is displayed only once a year, on June 6, the anniversary of Ganjin’s death. Review here other cultural destinations in Asia like Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

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