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Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. The city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture, directly bordering Kyoto Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines and ruins in Nara, specifically Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji and Heijō Palace Remains, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, lending its name to the Nara period. The original city, Heijō-kyō, was modelled after the capital of Tang Dynasty China, Chang'an (present-day Xi'an). According to the ancient Japanese book Nihon Shoki, the name "Nara" derived from the Japanese word narashita meaning "made flat".

The temples of Nara remained powerful even beyond the move of the political capital to Heian-kyō in 794, thus giving Nara a synonym of Nanto (lit. meaning "South Capital") as opposed to Heian-kyō, situated in the North.

In the modern age, as the seat of the prefectural government, Nara has developed into a local center of commerce and government. The city was officially incorporated on February 1, 1898.

Tame deer roam through the town, especially in Nara Park. These deer might not be considered "tame" should the visitor not have any "shika sembei - Deer Biscuits" when they see them.

According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō. Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country. Snack vendors sell small biscuits to visitors so they can enjoy feeding the deer. Some of the deer have learned to bow in response to tourists' bows. They nudge, jostle, and even bite for food.

October 2009

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