NARA Travelers Guide

Visit Nagato Yamaguchi Japan

Feature04Nara's World Heritage Sites

About Nara's World Heritage Sites

These refer to Nara City's historical remains, landmarks, and natural monuments, which were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in December of 1998. These items are listed as eight "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.

Cultural assets listed as national treasures in Japan, and formally designated historical grounds.

  • 東大寺

    Todai-ji Temple

  • 興福寺

    Kofuku-ji Temple

  • 春日大社

    Kasuga Taisha Shrine

  • 元興寺

    Gango-ji Temple

  • 薬師寺

    Yakushi-ji Temple

  • 唐招提寺

    Toshodai-ji Temple

Special Historical Grounds & Special Natural Monuments

  • 平城宮跡

    Heijo Palace

  • 春日山原始林

    Mount Kasuga Ancient Forest

Nara City as a whole is a World Heritage Site

Unlike many UNESCO sites, the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" were not registered as eight individual cultural assets, but were instead listed all together as one. The World Heritage Sites of Ancient Nara together tell the story of the city's rich cultural value.

Recognition of Nara's work to preserve its heritage as part of World Heritage Site selection

Though it might seem natural to establish restoration plans after World Heritage designation, the people of Nara greatly value their history, and worked hard to protect the sites of their cultural heritage even before their selection by UNESCO. Nara's initiative and dedication to the preservation of its history is a great pride of the city.

Why the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" were selected

Nara's World Heritage Sites were selected because they met four out of six criteria for cultural assets by UNESCO.

Showcasing the developments in arts and technology brought about by international exchange

Culture during the Tempyo Era (729-749) blossomed in Japan due to exchanges with China and Korea. Everything from the architecture of the buildings to the layout of the city itself, as well as Chinese kanji characters, the new schools of thought brought via Buddhism, and the clothes that people wore were developed under the influence of these foreign cultures. It is even possible to see elements of Roman and Persian cultures, brought from far across the distant silk road.

Important evidence of culture & civilization

Today's Nara City was once the capital of ancient Japan. In other words, Nara was once the center of culture and civilization, leading the rest of the country. In Heijo Palace, visitors can see evidence of Nara's ancient city plan, and the grandieur of the old capital.

The heritage of human history

The Nara Period (710-794) was an important era for Japanese culture, and establishing the foundation of the national government. During this period, the Emperor Shomu united the nation through Buddhism, and decreed the establishment of buddhist temples in each province across the country. Chief among these was Todai-ji Temple. The story of Nara's World Heritage Sites is the story of the birth of Japan.

Close ties between tradition and belief

Religious beliefs and cultural traditions are extremely valuable parts of their respective cultures across the world. Nara's cultural heritage is closely tied to the Japanese belief systems of both Shinto (local Japanese gods) and Buddhism. While Nara's shrines and temples are a part of this of course, it is also the centuries of tradition tied to this location that make Nara the World Heritage Site it is.

Nara City initiatives to preserve World Heritage Sites

Nara City has established not only the UNESCO-required buffer zone around its heritage sites, but of its own volition created a secondary "harmony zone" to protect its precious historic areas. This "harmony zone" fills in the gaps between the buffer zones, creating a wide swath of protected environment.

  • Buffer Zone
  • Harmony Zone (Area Adjusted to Include Historic Areas)
  • Heritage Sites

Heijo Palace

Toshodai-ji Temple

Yakushi-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple

Kofuku-ji Temple

Gango-ji Temple

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Mount Kasuga
Ancient Forest

What sets the World Heritage Sites of Nara apart

Beautiful restorations and a harmony with nature preeminent in East Asia

Not only in Japan, but across East Asia, Nara is the only ancient city to include both the historical ruins of a palace, and the untouched historical form of its systematically constructed wooden buildings. These wooden buildings and the surrounding natural environment exist in harmony as one, making up the cultural scenery characteristic of Nara City.

More than Heian-kyo (Present day Kyoto City, a former capital after Nara), Heijo-kyo (Present day Nara City) retains more of its historical appearance.

Present-day Kyoto, once known as the old capital of Heian-kyo, has undergone great developments over the years, transforming it into a modern city, in which little remains of its former appearance. Much has been lost with the impact of war and the transition into a highly modern city. Though both Kyoto and Nara are known as ancient cities of Japan, their ambiance is entirely different.