Nara, Nara

Nara (奈良市, Nara-shi, Japanese: [naꜜɾa]) is the capital city of Nara Prefecture located in the Kansai region of Japan. The city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture, bordering Kyoto Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines, and ruins in Nara remain: specifically Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji, and the Heijō Palace, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Nara period, Nara was the capital of Japan, and the Emperor lived there before moving the capital to Kyoto.


Nara City
From top left: Wakakusayama Mountain Burning, Great Buddha of Tōdai-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōdai-ji, Kasuga Shrine and a deer in Nara Park


Location of Nara in Nara Prefecture
Location in Japan
Coordinates: 34°41′N 135°48′E
PrefectureNara Prefecture
  MayorGen Nakagawa
  Total276.84 km2 (106.89 sq mi)
 (April 1, 2017)
  Density1,300/km2 (3,400/sq mi)
  TreeQuercus gilva
  FlowerNara yaezakura
  BirdJapanese bush warbler
Time zoneUTC+9 (JST)
City hall address1-1-1 Nijō-ōji, Nara-shi, Nara-ken
"Nara" in kanji
Japanese name
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Official nameHistoric Monuments of Ancient Nara
CriteriaCultural: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Inscription1998 (22nd Session)
Area617 ha (1,520 acres)
Buffer zone1,962.5 ha (4,849 acres)


By the Heian period, a variety of different characters had been used to represent the name Nara: 乃楽, 乃羅, 平, 平城, 名良, 奈良, 奈羅, 常, 那良, 那楽, 那羅, 楢, 諾良, 諾楽, 寧, 寧楽 and 儺羅.

A number of theories for the origin of the name Nara have been proposed, and some of the better-known ones are listed here. The second theory in the list, by notable folklorist Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962), is most widely accepted at present.

  • The Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan, the second oldest book of classical Japanese history) suggests that "Nara" was derived from narasu (to flatten, to level). According to this account, in September in the tenth year of Emperor Sujin, "leading selected soldiers (the rebels) went forward, climbed Nara-yama (hills lying to the north of Heijō-kyō) and put them in order. Now the imperial forces gathered and flattened trees and plants. Therefore the mountain is called Nara-yama." Though the narrative itself is regarded as a folk etymology and few researchers regard it as historical, this is the oldest surviving suggestion, and is linguistically similar to the following theory by Yanagita.
  • "Flat land" theory (currently most widely accepted): In his 1936 study of placenames,[1] the author Kunio Yanagita states that "the topographical feature of an area of relatively gentle gradient on the side of a mountain, which is called taira in eastern Japan and hae in the south of Kyushu, is called naru in the Chūgoku region and Shikoku (central Japan). This word gives rise to the verb narasu, adverb narashi, and adjective narushi." This is supported by entries in a dialect dictionary[2] for nouns referring to flat areas: naru (found in Aida District, Okayama Prefecture and Ketaka District, Tottori Prefecture) and naro (found in Kōchi Prefecture); and also by an adjective narui which is not standard Japanese, but is found all across central Japan, with meanings of "gentle", "gently sloping", or "easy". Yanagita further comments that the way in which the fact that so many of these placenames are written using the character 平 ("flat"), or other characters in which it is an element, demonstrates the validity of this theory. Citing a 1795 document, Inaba-shi (因幡志) from the province of Inaba, the eastern part of modern Tottori, as indicating the reading naruji for the word 平地 (standard reading heichi, meaning "level/flat ground/land/country, a plain"), Yanagita suggests that naruji would have been used as a common noun there until the modern period. Of course, the fact that historically "Nara" was also written 平 or 平城 as above is further support for this theory.
  • The idea that Nara is derived from 楢 nara (Japanese for "oak, deciduous Quercus spp.") is the next most common opinion. This idea was suggested by a linguist, Yoshida Togo.[3] This noun for the plant can be seen as early as in Man'yōshū (7-8th century) and Harima-no-kuni Fudoki (715). The latter book states the place name Narahara in Harima (around present-day Kasai) derives from this nara tree, which might support Yoshida's theory. Note that the name of the nearby city of Kashihara (literally "live oak plain") contains a semantically similar morpheme (Japanese 橿 kashi "live oak, evergreen Quercus spp.").
  • Nara could be a loan word from Korean nara (나라 : country, nation, kingdom). This idea was put forward by a linguist Matsuoka Shizuo.[4] Not much about the Old Korean language is known today, and the first written attestation of a word ancestral to Modern Korean nara is as late as the 15th century, such as in Yongbieocheonga (1447),[5] Wolinseokbo (月印釋譜. 1459), or Beophwagyeongeonhae (法華經諺解. 1463),[6] and there is no evidence that proves the word already existed as far back as the 7th century. These 15th-century books used narah (나랗), an old form of nara in Korean, and its older form might be reconstructed *narak. American linguist Christopher I. Beckwith infers the Korean narak derives from the late Middle Old Chinese 壌 (*nrak, earth), from early *narak, and has no connection with Goguryoic and Japanese na.[7] (See also the next theory.) Kusuhara et al. also points out this hypothesis cannot account for the fact there are lots of places named Nara, Naru and Naro besides this Nara.[8]
  • There is the idea that Nara is akin to Tungusic na.[9] In some Tungusic languages such as Orok (and likely Goguryeo language), na means earth, land or the like. Some have speculated about a connection between these Tungusic words and Old Japanese nawi, an archaic and somewhat obscure word that appears in the verb phrases nawi furu and nawi yoru ('an earthquake occurs, to have an earthquake').[10]

The "Flat land" theory is adopted by Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (the largest dictionary of Japanese language), various dictionaries for place names,[8][11][12] history books on Nara[13] and the like today, and it is regarded as the most likely.



There are a number of kofun in Nara, including Gosashi Kofun, Hishiage Kofun (ヒシアゲ古墳), Horaisan Kofun (宝来山古墳), Konabe Kofun (コナベ古墳), Saki Ishizukayama Kofun (佐紀石塚山古墳), Saki Misasagiyama Kofun (佐紀陵山古墳), and Uwanabe Kofun (ウワナベ古墳).

By decree of an edict on March 11, 708 AD, Empress Genmei ordered the court to relocate to the new capital, Nara.[14] Once known as Heijō or Heijō-kyō, the city was established as Japan's first permanent capital in 710 CE; it was the seat of government until 784 CE, albeit with five year interruption, lasting from 741-5 CE.[14][15] Heijō, as the ‘penultimate court’, however, was abandoned by the order of Emperor Kammu in 784 CE in favor of the temporary site of Nagaoka, and then Heian-kyō (Kyoto) which retained the status of capital for 1,100 years, until the Meiji Emperor made the final move to Edo in 1869 CE.[16][15][17] This first relocation was due to the court's transformation from an imperial nobility to a force of metropolitan elites and new technique of dynastic shedding which had refashioned the relationship between court, nobility, and country.[16] Moreover, the ancient capital lent its name to Nara period.[15]

As a reactionary expression to the political centralization of China, the city of Nara (Heijō) was modeled after the Tang capital at Chang’an.[17] Nara was laid out on a grid—which was based upon the Handen system—whereby the city was divided by four great roads.[15] Likewise, according to Chinese cosmology, the ruler's place was fixed like the pole star. By dominating the capital, the ruler brought heaven to earth.[18] Thus, the south facing palace centered at the north, bisected the ancient city, instituting ‘Right Capital’ and ‘Left Capital’ zones.[16][18] As Nara came to be the epicenter of Buddhist church and drawing pilgrimage site, the city plan incorporated various pre-Heijō and Heijō period temples, of which the Yakushiji and the Todaiji still stand.[16][17]


A number of scholars have characterized the Nara period as a time of penal and administrative legal order.[19] The Taihō Code called for the establishment of administrative sects underneath the central government, and modeled many of the codes from the Chinese Tang dynasty.[20] The code eventually disbanded, but its contents were largely preserved in the Yōrō Code of 718.[20]

Occupants of the throne during the period gradually shifted their focus from military preparation, to religious rites and institutions, in an attempt to strengthen their divine authority over the population.[19]

Religion and Temples

With the establishment of the new capital, Asuka-dera, the temple of the Soga clan, was relocated within Nara.[21] The Emperor Shōmu ordered the construction of Tōdai-ji Temple and the world's largest bronze Buddha statue.[17] The temples of Nara, known collectively as the Nanto Shichi Daiji, remained spiritually significant even beyond the move of the political capital to Heian-kyō in 794, thus giving Nara a synonym of Nanto (南都 "The southern Capital").

On December 2, 724 AD, in order to increase the visual “magnificence” of the city, an edict was ordered by the government for the noblemen and the wealthy to renovate the roofs, pillars, and walls of their homes, although at that time this was unfeasible.[14]

Sightseeing in Nara city became popular in the Edo period, during which several visitor's maps of Nara were widely published.[22] During the Meiji Period, the Kofukuji Temple lost some land and its monks were converted into Shinto priests, due to Buddhism being associated with the old shogunate.[23]

Modern Nara

Even though Nara was a former capital of Japan from 710 to 794, it did not become an official city until the 1st of February, 1898. Nara city has developed from a town of commerce in the Edo and Meiji periods to a modern tourist city, due to its large number of historical temples, landmarks and national monuments. Moreover, Nara city was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in December, 1998.[24] The architecture of some places in Nara city like shops, ryokans and art galleries have been adapted from traditional merchant houses.[23] Nara also holds traditional festivals every year such as Neri-Kuyo Eshiki (a spring festival which has been held in Todaiji temple for over 1000 years) and Kemari Festival  (a festival in which people wear dresses from seven centuries and play traditional games).[25] Nara city preserves Japan's ancient history and allows the world to learn about the religion, culture, and civilization of Japan, from ancient times to modernity. However, during the Heisei period (1989-2019), mass migration from Japan's countryside to cities have effectively decreased the youth population in Nara.[23]

In 1909, Tatsuno Kingo designed the famous Nara Hotel, whose architecture combined modern elements with traditional Japanese style.[23]


The city of Nara lies in the north end of Nara Prefecture, directly bordering itself to Kyoto Prefecture in its north side. The city is 22.22 kilometres (13.81 mi) from North to South, from East to West. As a result of the latest merger, effective April 1, 2005, that combined the villages of Tsuge and Tsukigase with the city of Nara, the city now borders Mie Prefecture directly to its east. The total area is 276.84 square kilometres (106.89 square miles).[26]

The downtown of Nara is on the east side of the ancient Heijō Palace site, occupying the northern part of what was called the Gekyō (外京), literally the outer capital area. Many of the public offices (e.g. the Municipal office, the Nara Prefectural government, the Nara Police headquarters, etc.) are located on Nijō-ōji (二条大路), while Nara branch offices of major nationwide banks are on Sanjō-ōji (三条大路), with both avenues running east-west.

The highest point in the city is at the peak of Kaigahira-yama at an altitude of 822.0 m (2,696.85 ft) (Tsugehayama-cho district), and the lowest is in Ikeda-cho district, with an altitude of 56.4 m (185.04 ft).[27]


The climate of Nara Prefecture is generally temperate, although there are notable differences between the north-western basin area and the rest of the prefecture which is more mountainous.

The basin area climate has an inland characteristic, as represented in the higher daily temperature variance, and the difference between summer and winter temperatures. Winter temperatures average approximately 3 to 5 °C (37 to 41 °F), and from 25 to 28 °C (77 to 82 °F) in the summer with highest readings reaching close to 35 °C (95 °F). There has not been a single year since 1990 with more than 10 days of snowfall recorded by Nara Local Meteorological Observatory.

The climate in the rest of the prefecture is that of higher elevations especially in the south, with −5 °C (23 °F) being the extreme minimum in winter. Heavy rainfall is often observed in summer. The annual accumulated rainfall totals as much as 3,000 to 5,000 mm (118.11 to 196.85 in), which is among the heaviest in Japan and indeed in the world outside the equatorial zone.

Spring and fall temperatures are temperate and comfortable. The mountainous region of Yoshino has been long popular for viewing cherry blossoms in the spring. In autumn, the southern mountains are also a popular destination for viewing fall foliage.

Climate data for Nara, Nara (1981~2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18.9
Average high °C (°F) 8.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 3.9
Average low °C (°F) −0.2
Record low °C (°F) −7.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 49.6
Average snowfall cm (inches) 2
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.5 mm) 7.9 7.9 12.3 10.6 11.3 12.9 11.8 8.6 11.5 9.8 8.3 7.7 120.6
Average snowy days 1.4 1.9 0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 4.8
Average relative humidity (%) 69 69 68 65 69 75 77 74 77 77 76 72 72
Mean monthly sunshine hours 116.7 115.5 147.4 180.3 184.8 143.5 162.7 205.4 150.3 154.5 134.5 127.3 1,822.9
Source #1: Japan Meteorological Agency[28]
Source #2: Japan Meteorological Agency (records)[29]


As of April 1, 2017, the city has an estimated population of 359,666 and a population density of 1,300 persons per km2. There were 160,242 households residing in Nara.[30] The highest concentration of both households and population, respectively about 46,000 and 125,000, is found along the newer bedtown districts, along the Kintetsu line connecting to Osaka.

There were about 3,000 registered foreigners in the city, of which Koreans and Chinese are the two largest groups with about 1,200 and 800 people respectively.

Landmarks and culture

Deer in Nara

According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, the god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō.[31] Since then, the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country.[31]

Tame sika deer (also known as spotted deer or Japanese deer) roam through the town, especially in Nara Park.[26][27][32][33][34] In 2015, there were more than 1,200 sika deer in Nara.[32][33][34] Snack vendors sell sika senbei (deer crackers) to visitors so they can feed the deer.[32][33][34] Some deer have learned to bow in order to receive senbei from people.[32][33][34]


As of 2005, there are 16 high schools and 6 universities located in the city of Nara.


Nara Women's University is one of only two national women's universities in Japan. Nara Institute of Science & Technology

Primary and secondary education

Public schools

Public elementary and junior high schools are operated by the city of Nara.

Public high schools are operated by the Nara Prefecture.

Private schools

Private high schools in Nara include the Tōdaiji Gakuen, a private school founded by the temple in 1926.


The main central station of Nara is Kintetsu Nara Station with JR Nara station some 500m west and much closer to Shin-Omiya station.



International relations

Twin towns/sister cities

Nara, according to its own official record, has three sister cities in Japan and six sister cities overseas.[35][36]

In Japan

Outside Japan


  1. 柳田国男 (Yanagita, Kunio) (1936): 地名の研究 (The Study of Place Names), pub. 古今書院 (Kokon Shoin), pp. 217-219
  2. 東条 操 (Tōjō, Misao) (1951): 全国方言辞典 Dictionary of Japanese Dialects, 東京堂出版.
  3. 吉田東伍 YOSHIDA Tōgo (1907), 『大日本地名辞書 上巻』 (The Dictionary of Place Names in the Great Japan, Fuzambo, Vol.1), 冨山房, pp.190-191.
  4. 松岡静雄 編 MATSUOKA Shizuo ed. (1929), 『日本古語大辞典』 (The Unabridged Dictionary of Old Japanese), 刀江書院, p.955. Previous to Matsuoka, KANAZAWA Shôzaburô (1903) pointed out the possibility of influence from Korea. Both were, however, comparing Old Japanese to Modern Korean, not Old Korean.
  5. NAVAR Korean Dictionary
  6. 劉昌惇 (1964), 李朝語辭典 (The Dictionary of Words in the Joseon Dynasty), 延世大学校出版部.
  7. Beckwith (2007): Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004. 2nd ed., 2007. p.176
  8. 楠原佑介ほか KUSUHARA Yūsuke et al. (1981), 『古代地名語源辞典』 (The Dictionary of Ancient Place Name Etymology), 東京堂出版, p.232
  9. One of the earliest assumption for this is seen in 奈良市 編 Nara ed. (1937), 『奈良市史』 (The History of Nara, Nara)., 奈良市.
  10. 宮腰賢ほか編 MIYAKOSHI Masaru et al. ed. (2011), 『全訳古語辞典』 (The Dictionary of Old Japanese with Complete Translation) 第4版, 旺文社.
  11. 池田末則・横田健一編 IKEDA Suenori & YOKOTA Ken'ichi (Eds.) (1981), 『日本歴史地名大系30 奈良県の地名』(A Series on Historical Place Names in Japan, Vol. 30, Place Names in Nara Prefecture), 平凡社, p.490
  12. 角川日本地名大辞典編纂委員会編 (1990), 『角川日本地名大辞典 29 奈良県』(Kadokawa Unabridged Dictionary of Place Names in Japan, Vol. 29, Nara Prefecture), 角川書店, p.814
  13. e.g. 斎藤建夫 編 SAITŌ Tateo (ed.) (1997), 『郷土資料事典 : ふるさとの文化遺産. 29(奈良県) 』 (The Dictionary of Native Place Data. Vol. 29. Nara Prefecture.), 人文社, p.27
  14. Ogata, Noboru. "Nara (Heijô-kyô) — The Capital of Japan in the 8th Century". Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  15. Toby, Ronald (Autumn 1985). "Why Leave Nara?: Kammu and the Transfer of the Capital". Monumenta Nipponica. 40 (3): 331–347. doi:10.2307/2384764. JSTOR 2384764.
  16. Burnett Hall, Robert (December 1932). "The Yamato Basin, Japan". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 22 (4): 243–292. doi:10.1080/00045603209357109. JSTOR 2560778.
  17. Johnston, Norman (1969). "Nara: The Old Imperial Capital of Japan". The Town Planning Review. 40 (1): 331–347. JSTOR 40102657.
  18. Ebrey, Patricia (2014). Modern East Asia: From 1600: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Wadsworth.
  19. Whitney Hall, John (2014). The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  20. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Taihō code". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  21. Ogata, Noboru (2004-10-13). "Asuka in Nara – Gangô-ji Monastery and the Old Town of Nara". Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  22. Yamachika, Hiroyoshi. "Tourist Maps of Nara in the Edo Period". Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  23. Nara Prefectural Government Tourism Bureau Tourism Promotion Division. "Historical Timeline of Nara". Visit Nara. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  24. "Travel Tips - Official Nara Travel Guide". Official Nara Travel Guide. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  25. "Stroll Around Naramachi (Town of Nara) | Nara Travelers Guide". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  26. "City Profile of Nara". Nara City. 2007-04-02. Archived from the original on 2007-05-26. Retrieved 2007-04-02. For more details and latest figures, navigate to the equivalent Japanese page at the official homepage "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-04-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. 奈良市統計書「統計なら」平成17年版(2005年版)(Nara City Statistics, Year 2005 Edition) (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  28. 平年値(年・月ごとの値). Japan Meteorological Agency. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  29. 観測史上1~10位の値(年間を通じての値). Japan Meteorological Agency. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  30. "Official website of Nara city" (in Japanese). Japan: Nara City. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  31. 奈良のシカの歴史 [The history of deer in Nara] (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  32. "In Nara, Japan, the deer know their place: everywhere". Los Angeles Times. 2010-04-02.
  33. "Oh, deer! Take the cutest selfie at Japan's Nara Park". The Globe and Mail. 2015-10-08.
  34. "Are There Really Deer Everywhere In Nara Park?". Matcha. 2015-04-04.
  36. Vladimir, Russia recognizes Nara as one of its sister cities, while Nara does not.Sister cities of Vladimir Archived 2009-01-05 at the Wayback Machine
  37. "Canberra's international relationships - Canberra's international relationships". Retrieved 2009-10-20.
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