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Almost at the center of the Japanese archipelago, Nara is on the Yamato plain, with Osaka to the west and Kyoto to the north. Much of what you'll come to Nara to see is in picturesque Nara Koen (Nara Park), which is a short distance east of the two main stations. The commercial shopping district is south of Kintetsu Nara Station, while Sanjo-dori, west of Nara Koen and Nara-machi, has the two main tourist shopping areas. Horyu-ji, Yakushi-ji, and Toshodai-ji, the major temples of western Nara, are all on one bus route or can be reached by JR train.
Nara Koen. The broad and undulating Nara Koen was created out of wasteland in 1880 and sits east of the Kasuga Mountain and the cleared slopes of Wakakusa-yama, in a dense forest. The park is home to some 1,200 tame deer, the focus of much local lore and legend.
Nara-machi. This was the "new" area of Nara at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868). Today its lanes and alleys are still lined by old wooden houses with latticed windows and whitewashed walls. Many of these old houses have been converted into galleries, museums, and shops.
Western Nara. Horyu-ji Temple has the oldest wooden structures in the world and is considered the apotheosis of classical Japanese architecture. Toshodai-ji Temple is where Ganjin, the first Buddhist monk to come to Japan from China, taught Japanese monks and legitimized the spread of Buddhism throughout the country.
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