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Nara is a place of synthesis, where Chinese art, religion, and architecture fused with Japanese language and Shinto traditions. The city was established in 710 and was then known as Heijo-Kyo (citadel of peace). Fujiwara-no-Fuhito, father-in-law of Emperor Mommu, was responsible for the city's creation. His grandson, the future Emperor Shomu, later graced the new capital with its wealth of temples, pagodas, and shrines.
Buddhism had come to Japan in the 6th century. Along with kanji (Chinese characters) and tea, it spread throughout the archipelago. Emperor Shomu hoped that making the new capital the center of Buddhism would unite the country and secure his position as head of an emergent nation state. The grandest of the Buddhist temples built in Nara during this era was Todai-ji, which Emperor Shomu intended as a nexus for all the temples of his realm. But after 84 years the citadel of peace fell victim to the very intrigue that the Emperor had tried to suppress. In 794, the capital moved to Kyoto and Nara lost prominence, as did the Kegon sect that still manages Todai-ji today.
Now Nara is a provincial city whose most obvious role is a historical one, and Todai-ji is a monument rather than a political stronghold. Nara is a site of renewal and reinvention that has overcome typhoons, fires, and wars to remain a city of superlatives. Its position in the national consciousness as the birthplace of modern Japanese culture is well secured as it celebrated its 1,300th anniversary in 2010.
Nara at a Glance
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