The Eight Century Nara

Yamato fairly groans under the bones of scores of Emperors and Empresses. Here reposes the soul of Jinmu Tenno, the first Emperor who, beginning his eastward conquest of Japan in Kyūshū, established his seat of government at Kashiwara in 660 B.C. at the foot of Mt. Unebi, only 15 miles from Nara. It is recorded that Nara in its heyday was a much bigger city than it is today, with over half a million population. It is indeed a curious reflection in these days of unceasing progress that a thriving modern city like Nara should have been a much more refined and cultivated city over a thousand years ago than it is today. But such was the case. The huge stubs of foundation stones still found amid the paddy-fields, far out in the suburbs of the present Nara, mark the sites of some great Buddhist or governmental structures of the giant Nara that then existed.

Excursions of a day or half a day from Nara are numerous and important. First is a visit to Hōryūji (7.3 miles from Nara), some of whose priceless treasures are open to the public. It contains the oldest wooden architecture in the world, traceable to the date of its foundation by Shōtoku Taishi in 607. Its five-storied pagoda, its Kōndō (Main Hall) with the 8th-century mural paintings, said to have been done by a Korean artist, and its wonderful Tamamushi-no-Zushi (the personal sanctuary of Empress Suiko), etc. are among the rarest of the treasures which the Japanese Empire can with excusable pride show to the foreign visitor.

One is advised also to pay a brief visit to Uji, the little town lying 16.9 miles from Nara, or 9 miles from Kyoto, famous for its tea plantations ("Uji" being a synonym for tea), and for the Byōōdōin Temple with the celebrated main hall Hōōdo ("Phoenix Hall") characterized by exquisite decorative art in the Fujiwara Period ( 11th century). Uji and its vicinity are celebrated for their natural beauty.

If you are an art student, or interested in history, Nara and its environs will have unending charms. Even, however, if you are just an ordinary sightseer, rushing through the country in search of beautiful scenery or superficial sensations, without bothering yourself about historical temples or art treasures, yet you cannot fail to be struck by that irresistible sense of a quaint, venerable, old-world charm, as if you had come upon some ethereal region of a far-off epoch.

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