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Introducing Nara

The first permanent capital of Japan, Nara (奈良) is one of the most rewarding destinations in the country. Indeed, with eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, Nara is second only to Kyoto as a repository of Japan's cultural legacy. The centrepiece is, of course, the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, which rivals Mt Fuji and Kyoto's Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) as Japan's single most impressive sight. The Great Buddha is housed in Tōdai-ji, a soaring temple that presides over Nara-kōen, a park filled with other fascinating sights that lends itself to relaxed strolling amid the greenery and tame deer.

Nara's best feature is its small size: it's quite possible to pack the most worthwhile sights into one full day. Many people visit Nara as a side trip from Kyoto, and comfortable express trains link the cities in about half an hour. Of course, it's preferable to spend two days here if you can. If your schedule allows for two days in Nara, you might spend one in Nara-kōen and the other seeing the sights to the west and southwest of Nara city (areas known as Nishinokyō and Ikaruga, respectively).