Nara Guide: Nara Palace Site
Nara Palace Site 平城宮
The capital was designed on the model of the Chinese city of Changan, present-day Xian.
The new city's area measured 5km north to south and 6km east to west and contained such buildings as the Imperial Audience Hall, the State Halls Compound, the Imperial Domicile and many government office buildings.
This vast area of many open space is evocative of early Japanese history and is less visited than Nara's main attractions of Todaiji, Gangoji, Horyuji, Yakushiji and Kofukuji temples and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
History of Nara Palace Site
The Japanese capital moved from Fujiwara-kyo (the capital city of Japan from 694 to 710) in present-day Kashihara in Nara Prefecture to what is now the Nara Palace Site. Before the capital moved to Nagaoka and then on to Kyoto, the emerging Japanese state was based here. However during the Nara Period (710-784), the capital was also temporarily moved to both Kuni and Shigaraki between 740-745 before moving back to Nara.
After the capital moved north first to Nagaoka and then Kyoto the original buildings were simply abandoned and by the Kamakura Period had ceased to exist.
More recently there has been an effort to reconstruct the main buildings of the Nara Palace Site, most notably the spectacular Suzaku Gate, the Former Imperial Audience Hall and the East Palace Garden.
A number of museums are also located on Nara Palace Site which explain both the history and archeology of the place and the incredible reconstruction that has taken place. These include the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, the Nara Palace Site Museum, the Heijo-kyo History Museum and the Information Center for the Reconstruction Project of the Former Imperial Audience Hall.
Nara Palace Site Buildings
Nara Palace Site was originally surrounded by earthen walls and had 12 gates. The largest gate and main entrance to the palace was the Suzaku Gate or Suzaku Mon. This huge two-story gate was 22 meters in height by 25 meters wide. The Suzaku Mon was reconstructed in 1998.
The Former Imperial Audience Hall (Daigokuden) at the northern end of the palace was the largest and most important building in the complex. Here the Emperor had his throne and addressed his subjects on New Year's Day just as the present Japanese emperor still does on January 2nd.
The beautifully reconstructed building measures 27 meters in height and 44 meters in width. The interior contains the Imperial Throne (takamikura) and wondrous art work by contemporary Japanese painter using traditional techniques to mirror the original designs, which include the four animals of the compass directions and the twelve animals of the Chinese lunar calendar. The reconstruction of the Former Imperial Audience Hall opened in 2010, the 1300th anniversary of the beginning of the Nara Period.
The Latter Imperial Audience Hall was built on the orders of the Emperor Shomu after the capital moved back to Nara from Shigaraki in 745. All that remains now of the Latter Imperial Audience Hall are the excavated foundations of the hall and the nearby ruins of the Eastern State Halls. The Imperial Domicile has been rebuilt according to the original with cypress bark roofs.
The East Palace Garden (Toin Teien) was restored in 1998 and consists of a number of pavilions in both Chinese and Japanese style around a curvilinear-shaped pond as well as reconstructed parts of the offices of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho). The Jeweled Hall of the East Palace built on the orders of the Empress Shotoku once stood here and was used for imperial banquets.
The informative Nara Palace Site Museum on the west of the complex exhibits the results of the ongoing excavations at the site and includes roof tiles, coins, maps, photographs, ceramics and wooden tablets.
The Excavation Site Exhibition Hall displays an open excavated area as well as exhibits in glass cases. Items on display include wooden pillars, cedar wells and brick platforms.
The free Former Imperial Audience Hall Reconstruction Project Information Center displays original building materials, scale models of the Heijo Palace and presents a video of how the palace would have been built using computer graphics.
The Heijo-kyo History Museum opened in 2010 and is adjacent to the Suzaku Gate. It houses a replica of one of the vessels used on the perilous voyages between Japan and China during the Nara Period and more high quality video of how the Heijo Palace looked in its glory days.
Nara Palace Site
Nara Prefecture 630-8577
Tel: 0742 30 6753
Nara Palace Site is a 20 minute walk east from Yamato-Saidaiji Station one stop from Kintetsu Nara Station.
By Nara Kotsu bus from JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station take one of buses #12 or #14 to Sakicho bus stop for the Daigokuden Hall. Alternatively take a #160 bus from either station to Nijo-oji Minami Yon-chome for Suzakumon or a #70, #72 or #97 bus, again from either Kintetsu Nara Station or JR Nara Station to Sanjo-oji Yon-chome and walk about 400 meters north to Suzakumon.
Access - how to get to Nara
Airport limousine services to Kansai International Airport and Itami Airport or JR train and change at Tennoji Station in Osaka.
Access to Osaka on JR West (about 45 minutes on the express) or Kintetsu Line from Namba and Tsuruhashi. Access to Kyoto on either Kintetsu Railways (35 minutes on the Super Express Tokyu) or JR West (40 minutes on the Miyakojima Express).
Tourist Information Center
Nara City Tourist Information Office
Tel: 0742 24 4858
Kintetsu Nara Station