Were it not for Japan’s emperors’ capricious habit of changing their headquarters to suit their own interests, it might be Nara that bristled with glossy glass-and-steel skyscrapers instead of Tokyo. As it is, the country’s first permanent capital has been left as a rather impressive backwater, apparently frozen in time like a scene in a plexiglass dome, with a plethora of venerable temples, shrines and statues that bear witness to its 74-year, eighth-century moment in the spotlight.
This one-of-a-kind window into Japan’s early history is an authentic delight, not at all diminished by the fact that many of its treasures have been restored, rebuilt or replaced over the 1,200 years since they were created. Adding to the timeless atmosphere is the surprisingly bucolic setting, with most of the key sights clustered round a sprawling grassy park where half-tame sika deer roam, the whole lot backed by wooded hills.
In a place with such an overwhelming richness of highlights, it takes local knowledge to separate the merely amazing from the truly fabulous. Our Japan gurus are on hand to share theirs with you.