Kyoto: Side Trips

Nara

Nara John & Lisa Merrill / Getty Images
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Kyoto gets all the attention, but Nara, 35 kilometers to the south, was there first. Considered by many to be the birthplace of Japanese civilization, it was the country's capital before Kyoto in the 8th century. Nara also beat Kyoto to UNESCO designation, when in 1993, World Heritage status was granted to Horyu-ji, a grand temple complex that boasts not only the nation's oldest five-storey pagoda, but more importantly the world's oldest extant wooden building: the Kon-do (Golden Hall), which dates to around 670 AD.

But these distinctions aren't the only reason to make the short trip to Nara from Kyoto. Todai-ji Temple, another World Heritage site, houses a 15-meter-high bronze statue of Bhudda (the Daibutsu) in what claims to be one largest wooden buildings in the world. Capping Nara off is Kofuki-ji Temple and its 600-year-old five-storey pagoda, the original of which was moved here from Kyoto in the 8th century. And now's not a bad time to visit. Throughout 2010 Nara is putting on a succession of special events and exhibitions as part of its 1,300th anniversary celebrations.

The JR Nara Line's Miyakoji rapid service connects Kyoto Station to Nara in 45 minutes and costs ¥690.

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