Nara, The Ancient Capital of Japan

About 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kyoto (by a quick and comfortable train ride) lies Nara, which served as the imperial capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Until 710, Japan's capital was moved each time a new Emperor took the throne. As the court grew, however, these relocations became expensive and so Nara was chosen as the new, permanent capital.

Although Nara lasted less than 75 years as the "permanent" capital of Japan, this short period was sufficient time to create some monumental structures that make a visit well worthwhile. In particular, there is the Todai-ji temple complex with its gigantic bronze statue of Buddha, one of the world's largest. While the Great Buddha Hall at Todai-ji remains an overwhelming sight even today, it boggles the mind to remember that this version is only two-thirds the size of the original.

The photographs here include (in addition to the Todai-ji temple complex) Kasuga Shrine (and its many stone lanterns), the five-story pagoda at Kokufuji Temple and scenes from the park in Nara known for its tame deer.

For photos of later periods, after the capital was moved to Kyoto, see the Temples of Eastern Kyoto and Temples of Western Kyoto pages.