Nara – the Forgotten Capital of Japan

When planning their trip to Japan, most people include Tokyo and Kyoto on their itinerary under the assumption that they will be covering the ever-fascinating contrast between new and old in Japan. While Tokyo is, indeed, a skyscraper jungle punctuated by odd little shops springing out from here and there, a heaven for techies who aspire to nothing more than getting lost in the streets of Akihabara, where all sorts of hi-tech toys, manga and anime characters compete for attention, Kyoto is often seen as a remnant of the “old ways” with its magnificent and abundant temples, cozy restaurants and kimono shops.

Truth be told, both cities rely on a prevailing side to attract their visitors while discretely protecting their other faces. They both have a split-personality, like Japan itself: Tokyo is home to many beautiful places of the old times like the Asakusa district and the Imperial Palace and Kyoto’s main streets are bustling with fast cars and modern shopping malls.

One hour away from Kyoto lays the city of Nara, the first permanent capital ofJapan, established in 710. Initially called Heijo, Nara became known as the center of Buddhist activities with its numerous monasteries and Chinese-influenced buildings, lending its name to an entire historical period of Japan. If a visitor truly wishes to witness the greatness of old Japan, Nara is one of the best places to go to.

Coming out of the main train station, there’s a variety of tight little streets waiting to tempt the visitor with old-style sweets shops, where sweets are made out of rice flour, filled with sweet red bean paste and mimicking peaches or tea leaves.