Nara Prefecture, which once prospered as home to the ancient capital of Heijokyo (710-784), has been sidelined by neighboring Kyoto as a cultural heritage and tourist destination. Hosting a plethora of historical buildings, Buddhist statues and spacious Nara Park where more than 1,000 deer roam free, Nara has long been a place for a day trip either before or after a longer stay in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors to the area.
But a wide variety of activities commemorating the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Heijokyo, which started Jan. 1, hopes to change all that. From this month, many of the prefecture’s temples are holding special exhibits and opening structures, statues and cultural treasures that have up until now been closed to the public. On April 24, celebrations will get into full gear, with the opening of a history museum themed on the period.
A life-size replica of the Kentoshi-sen (a ship that carried diplomatic missions to Tang Dynasty China) will be on display at the Heijokyo site near Yamato-Saidaiji Station, and visitors to the Heijokyo Narikiri Taikenkan (which will also open near the site on April 24) will have a chance to simulate life in the ancient palace firsthand through activities such as writing messages on a wooden plank just as the bureaucrats did back then, and trying on costumes worn by aristocrats for photo shoots. Parades, free music concerts and guided walking tours of the area will also be held from April 24 through Nov. 7. (The tours will be available in Japanese only, but mobile phones with prerecorded explanations in English, Chinese, Korean and French can be rented for ¥500.) For more information, call the organizer at (0742) 23-2010 or visit www.1300.jp