Nara

Nara, capital of Japan for the short period between 710 and 784, is generally regarded as the cradle of Japanese culture: Japan's first written records date from the Nara Period, and it was during this time that Buddhism first flourished alongside the native religion of Shinto.

For the visitor, the town's greatest legacy is the collection of shrines and temples which remain from Nara's time as a great capital. Most famous of these is the impressive Todaiji temple, home to Japan's largest Buddha statue. Though the current temple building is only two thirds the size of the original, Todaiji remains the largest free-standing wooden structure in the world. Todaiji continues to celebrate the coming of spring with the Omizutori Festival that first began in 752 - featuring an impressive torch ceremony and the drawing of sacred water.

From the temple, there are meandering paths through the park to the temples and shrines in the foothills of the neighbouring mountains. The Nara area also hosts two famous fire festivals in the autumn and winter.