The birthplace of Japanese civilization
Nara prefecture is where you’ll find the immemorial tombs of Japan’s early rulers, its first Buddhist temple and the headquarters of the sacred Shugendo mountain religion.
Much of the Japan we know today was formed in Nara prefecture and many of the ancient customs that laid the foundations for modern Japanese culture are still practiced here. It’s a place that can get packed with tourists but also offers plenty of opportunity for total isolation; just let your spirit guide you.
Nara prefecture’s famous sites are concentrated around its capital city, also called Nara. Home to some of Japan’s most important historical landmarks, including the jaw-dropping Todai-ji temple and its 15-meter tall bronze Buddha, Nara city is a popular day trip from nearby Kyoto and Osaka. Just to the south of the city, Horyu-ji Temple claims to be the oldest wooden building in the world and contains images of a Japan some 1,300 years ago.
Heading further south, Asuka was one of the first capitals of Japan and the base for its original imperial rulers. When Buddhism arrived from the Korean peninsula, it became an important source of religious teachings – 6th-century Asukadera Temple is the first full-scale temple built in Japan and enshrines one of the oldest remaining images of Buddha.
Make a pilgrimage to the Nara section of the UNESCO Sacred Sites in the Kii Mountain Range to experience a spiritual awakening among the Shugendo mountain-dwellers. The mountains of Yoshino and Omine are linked by ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Nara and Kyoto that are still used by priests in training today.
The picturesque village of Yoshino is used to dealing with large crowds of tourists who come during cherry blossom season to witness the spectacular sight of 30,000 flowering trees along the mountain slopes. Omine, on the other hand, has been the subject of some controversy due to its ban on women climbing the mountain. There is a section of Omine that is reserved for women, however, and the ban is not actively enforced, though the community ask that tourists respect their traditions.