Nara is home to some of the world's oldest buildings and a colossal Buddhist statue.
We recommend Nara as a side trip from Kyoto. Journeying to Nara requires about one hour by train. Nara was the former capital of Japan before the capital moved to Kyoto in the 8th century. A number of sites of great historical significance are scattered around Nara, many of which are World Heritage Sites.
Nara can be divided into roughly four areas.
The first area is Central Nara, home to Todai-ji Temple, which contains the largest statue of Buddha in Japan. Appropriately, the Daibutsu-den, which houses the Buddha, is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The second area, Ikaruga, is home to Horyu-ji Temple, a World Heritage Site built in early 7th century by Prince Shotoku (574-622). This ancient temple complex contains some of the oldest existing wooden buildings in the world and many Important Cultural Properties designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
The third area, Asuka, is the site where Japan's earliest historical capital city remains. A number of famous stone statues and fresco burial mounds can be found here. The final area, Yoshino, is a mountainous region that contains several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and is possibly Japan's most famous cherry blossom viewing region.
Nara is popularly known for the many deer roaming freely in its central area and the beauty of the Chinese tallow (sapium sebiferum) trees in autumn. The deer are a symbol of a god deified at the nearby Kasuga-Taisha Shrine.
On the west side of Nara City are the remains of Heijo-kyo (formerly the emperors' palace) and still further to the south are Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji Temples, both famous for their architecture and Buddhist statues sculpted in the 8th century.
You can travel from Nara City to both Horyu-ji Temple and the Asuka area by train in 30 minutes while Yoshino is another 30 minutes from Asuka.