Nara ranks among the most charismatic cities in Asia, thanks to its extraordinary collection of antique buildings, many of which are more than a thousand years old. Its UNESCO-listed centrepiece is the spectacular Todai-ji Temple, home to a 500-tonne, 16-metre-tall, bronze-cast Daibutsu Buddha. The world’s largest wooden building, the shrine now resides in a leafy park where sacred sika deer roam free, cadging titbits off visitors.
Forming the easternmost arm of the Silk Road, Nara absorbed many influences from India, mainland China, Central Asia and even distant Persia, and its wonderful museum near the Todai-ji Temple holds a hoard of precious antiquities underlining these ancient connections. Foremost among them are the contents of the 7th-century Shoso-in Treasury, a selection of which are exhibited for just a fortnight each year in late October–November when the precious artefacts are least likely to be damaged by humid air.