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    Lanterns in Nara

Leafy Nara, just 45 minutes from Kyoto by train, has all the ancient ambience of Kyoto without the hustle and bustle. Like Kyoto, Nara was once the capital of Japan, and its historic character has been left pretty much intact, while modernity seems to have virtually escaped it. In the fifth and sixth centuries, Japanese rulers began introducing Buddhism, and this, the cultural centre of the country, was the focus for their commissions.

Wandering around, you’ll find beautiful temples and art works, the most famous of which is Todai-ji Temple – the largest of the seven great temples of Nara – home to a giant bronze Buddha. Many of the temples are dotted through an attractive area of parkland which makes for a lovely stroll – and you can even purchase food to feed the resident deer.

You could, using a decent guidebook, take yourself off to Nara and explore for the day. Alternatively there are afternoon group tours operated most days, picking up hotels in Kyoto, which feature Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Nara Park. The best way to do it, and the most expensive, is to organise a private tour with your own guide accompanying you throughout.