1. Sacred Destinations
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  3. Nara

Nara, Japan

A deer relaxes at Photo Creative Commons License Toby Oxborrow.

The central Japanese city of Nara, known for its historic temples and roaming deer, is located 42km (26 miles) south of Kyoto. In ancient Japan, the capital was moved to a new site each time a new emperor came to the throne. In 710 AD, the first "permanent" Japanese capital was set up at Nara. But after only 74 years, the capital was moved to Nagaoka and then to Kyoto, where it remained for more than 1,000 years.

Although brief, the period during which Nara was the Japanese capital is highly significant - these 74 years witnessed the birth of Japan's arts, crafts, and literature, as Nara imported everything from religion to art and architecture from China. Buddhism flourished during this time, and Nara grew as the political and cultural center of the land with numerous temples, shrines, pagodas, and palaces. Today, both Japanese and foreign tourists flock to Nara for a glimpse of Old Japan. Many of Nara's historic buildings and temples remain intact, and long ago many of these historical structures were enclosed in the peaceful confines of the large and spacious Nara Park. Wandering throughout the park and temple grounds are free-roaming deer, who are protected as a treasure and regarded as messengers of the gods.

  • Nara Map Our detailed, interactive city map of Nara, showing the location of sacred sites and religious attractions.
  • Nara Photos Our galleries of hand-selected photos of religious sites in Nara.
  • Nara Books Selected travel guides and other books on Nara.
  • Nara Sightseeing Tours Save money and time by booking sightseeing tours and excursions in Nara before you leave home.

Sacred Sites and Religious Attractions in Nara

  • Horyuji
    Founded in 607 AD, Horyuji is where Buddhism blossomed and spread throughout Japan. The temple boasts the oldest wooden building in the world.
  • Kasuga Shrine
    This important Shinto shrine was founded in 768 and is filled with over 3,000 bronze and stone lanterns.
  • Kofukuji
    This temple has two pagodas, one of which is the second-highest in Japan. Many Buddhist statues and artworks are on display in the Treasure House.
  • Todaiji
    Founded when Nara was the capital, Todaiji was the head temple of all provincial temples in Japan. It is home to the largest Buddha statue in Japan, which weighs 250 tons.
  • Yakushiji Temple
    The head temple of the Hosso sect, Yakushiji has a rare 7th-century pagoda and ancient statues of the Healing Buddha and Kannon.