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World Heritage / Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Criteria: (ii) (iii) (iv) (vi) | Date of Inscription: 1998 | Location: Nara Prefecture | Justification for Inscription

UNESCO

Description

The green trees of Kasugayama and the quiet smiles of the numerous statues of Buddha have been unchanged for the past 1300 years meaning a visit to Nara is like taking a step back into old Japan.

The Great Buddha of Nara
The Great Buddha of Nara
The East Tower of Yakushiji Temple
The East Tower of Yakushiji Temple
Deers in the Nara Park
Deers in the Nara Park
1300 years ago, in 710AD, a Japanese capital was established in Nara. As "Heijokyo," the present city of Nara enjoyed continued prosperity from 710AD to 784AD, the era became known as the "Nara period." During the Nara period the young Japanese nation formed the framework of its sociopolitical administration and in the arts this was a time the "Tenpyo" culture blossomed under the influence of the neighboring Chinese nation and their culture.
It is said that Buddhism was introduced into Japan from China in the 6th century and by the 8th century it had gained much support and popularity in Nara. The question of exactly how Buddhism spread and influenced the people and culture of Japan is an interesting one with answers found in various Buddhist structures and statues that embody the people's concern and firm belief in Buddhism at the time as well as revealing points of historical importance. As a result, these structures and statues are today highly valued as great works of art conveying the relative maturity of the then Tenpyo culture.
Following the Nara period, the city of Nara developed as a city of temples and shrines and despite repeated reconstruction and restoration, surviving the war between the Genji and Heishi clans in the 12th century and many other wars since, it is still standing proud.
In 1998, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Gangoji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, Nara Palace Site and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest were inscribed on the World Heritage List. To the world, these prosperities are individually valuable and of historical importance. Moreover, the history and cultural value of the whole city of Nara which houses these eight properties is highly regarded globally and of prime importance nationally.
Nara locals & chopsticks
It is well known that Japanese people use chopsticks to eat but when did they start? A Chinese historical record from the 3rd century, "Gishi-wajin-den," commented on the Japanese people eating with their hands and it is also believed that the Japanese used a tool somewhat similar to tweezers initially, but this was not for eating but rather for ceremonies. However, when chopsticks were recovered from the site of the Nara Palace site the debate ended as the chopsticks were in the same form as today's modern version chopsticks; a discovery that established a link between the people of Nara and the use of chopsticks as every day utensils.
The East Tower of Yakushiji Temple - a tower for the ages
Japan is famous as a land that earthquakes often strike. That said Yakushiji Temple's East Tower has never, in 1300 years, fallen foul of this earth shaking menace. The secret of this wooden three-storied pagoda is said to be in the structure of its timbers with these timbers therefore attracting modern day architects and disaster prevention experts to learn its secrets.
Nara deer as sacred messengers
Deer in the Nara Park, the location of Kasuga Taisha Shrine are designated as natural monuments. They are, however, ordinary deer similar to those found all over Japan so why are they so protected? According to the legend of Kasuga Taisha Shrine, one of its four guardian deities landed atop Mt. Mikasayama riding such a deer and they have been regarded as sacred messengers ever since.
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