JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when in crowds.

Image search results - "nara"
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On the Sunday before the second Monday of Jan., 33 hectares of a hill called Wakakusa-yama (seen in the distance here) next to Nara Park is burned at night.The burning hill looks more spectacular from afar, but we went up close.
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Wakakusa-yama hill in JanuaryWakakusa-yama hill actually has three hills. We see only the first one here.
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Dry grass ready to burn...
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Volunteer firemenThe hill set alight by 300 volunteer firemen and prefectural workers who climb up the hill.
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Bamboo torches and bamboo broomsThe bamboo torches is filled with kerosene and plugged with cotton cloth. They are used to set the hill afire. The bamboo brooms are used to spread the fire or extinguish it. The brooms burn up by the end of the festival.
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Bamboo torches and bamboo broomsThe bamboo torches is filled with kerosene and plugged with cotton cloth. They are used to set the hill afire. The bamboo brooms are used to spread the fire or extinguish it. The brooms burn up by the end of the festival.
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Bamboo torchesThe bamboo torches is filled with kerosene and plugged with cotton cloth. They are used to set the hill afire.
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The deer have no idea what danger they are in...
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Water bagsThe third item the volunteer firemen carry are water bags. The water bag is filled with water weighing 20 kg or so. A nozzle is also attached. It is used to extinguish the fire.
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Bon fire site
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Horyuji Station, under construction in Mar. 2007 法隆寺駅
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Japan's most famous temple, with the world's oldest wooden buildings (over 1,300 years old), is also the country's first World Heritage Site. Also called Ikaruga-dera, the temple is the headquarters of the Shotoku-shu Buddhist Sect. Path to
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Deer on the hill
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Horyuji Station platform
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Admission charged. The 1,000 yen ticket gets you into the three major sights.
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Volunteer firement gather before going up the hill.The hill set alight by 300 volunteer firemen from all over Nara and prefectural workers who climb up the hill.
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Nandaimon Gate 南大門
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Volunteeer firemen and staff hike up the hills.
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Bus stop in front of Horyuji Station. Takes you to the temple.
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Horyuji temple, Nandaimon Gate, National Treasure 南大門(国宝)
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Sacred torch arrives at the foot of the hill.The sacred torch is lit at Kasuga Taisha Shrine and brought to Nogami Shrine in a torch procession. It is a small shrine at the foot of the hill.
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Horyuji is one of Japan's most famous temples, with the world's oldest wooden buildings (over 1,300 years old). Japan's first World Heritage Site.
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Ceremony at Nogami Shrine
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Also called Ikaruga-dera, the temple is the headquarters of the Shotoku-shu Buddhist Sect founded by Shotoku Taishi.
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The crowd
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西院伽藍
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Fireworks
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The sacred torch is brought.
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Map of Horyuji. Large complex of buildings. Only two precincts are open to the public.
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Horyuji and World Heritage Site (Japan's first) marker1 comments
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Sai-in Garan West Precinct 西院伽藍
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三経院 National Treasure
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The sacred torch lights the bonfire at around 6 pm.You can also see three lanterns for Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and Kofukuji Temple. This is a joint festival between these three temples and shrine.
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Horyuji temple Five-Story Pagoda and Kondo Hall, National Treasures 五重塔 金堂
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Five-Story Pagoda and Kondo Hall, National Treasures 五重塔 金堂
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Other torches are thrown in.
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Goju-no-To (Five-Story Pagoda), National Treasure, Horyuji 五重塔
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Horyuji Goju-no-To (Five-Story Pagoda) National Treasure 五重塔
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Bon fire burns
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You can enter or see inside the buildings, but no photography is allowed inside.
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The hill behind also starts to burn.
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Daikodo Hall and Five-Story Pagoda, National Treasures 五重塔
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Burn baby burn...The fire is put out by 9 pm. Unless you're near the fire, it can get very cold, so dress warmly for this festival.
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Horyuji temple Kondo Main Hall, the world's oldest wooden building at 1,300 years old. National Treasure 金堂
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Kondo Main Hall, National Treasure 金堂
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Kondo Main Hall, National Treasure 金堂
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Kondo Main Hall, National Treasure 金堂
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Every evening during March 1-14, Todaiji temple priests carry torches on the balcony of Nigatsu-do Hall. Sparks falling from the torches bring good health. Todaiji temple 二月堂
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Kondo Main Hall, National Treasure 金堂
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Large crowd behind us. Tripods are not allowed.
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Kondo Main Hall, National Treasure 金堂
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The torch is positioned at the corners. It is totally dark when the torches are lit.
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The priest runs while spinning the torch on the balcony. Also see the video at YouTube.
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Only 10 torches are lit. Most photos show a time-lapse shot which lights up the entire hall. Tripod required though, and you need to be a press photographer.
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To Daikōdō Hall
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The torch walk ends in 20 min. Police and firemen are present.
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Daikōdō Hall, National Treasure. Houses Buddha statues. 大講堂
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Horyuji temple, Daikōdō Hall, National Treasure 大講堂
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Lantern
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Lantern relief
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Chūmon Gate, National Treasure 中門
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Chūmon Gate, National Treasure 中門
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Even the corridor is a National Treasure 西院伽藍の廻廊
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Chūmon Gate and Kondo Hall
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Corridor and Chūmon Gate 西院伽藍の廻廊
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National Treasure
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Daiho-zoin Museum. Admission included in the 1,000 yen ticket. 大宝蔵院
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Daiho-zoin Museum 大宝蔵院
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Tōdaimon Gate, National Treasure 東大門
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Path to Yumenodo Pavilion
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Path to Yumenodo Pavilion
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Path to Yumenodo Pavilion
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Gate to Yumenodo Pavilion
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Ticket gate to Yumenodo. Admission included in the 1,000 yen ticket.
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Yumenodo Pavilion, National Treasure 夢殿
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Horyuji temple, Yumenodo Pavilion, National Treasure. The Nippon Budokan martial arts hall in Tokyo was designed after ths pavilion. 夢殿
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絵殿、舎利殿
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絵殿、舎利殿
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Bell tower in East Precinct 東院鐘楼
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Bell tower in East Precinct 東院鐘楼
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東院鐘楼
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Signs to other temples
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Kasuga Taisha Shrine is next to Nara Deer Park not far from Todaiji temple. Major attraction in Nara and one Japan's most famous Shinto shrines.
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Kasuga Taisha Shrine worships four deities. People can come to pray here for almost anything.
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Deer is a trademark of Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
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Long row of stone lanterns leading to the shrine is another hallmark of Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
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Stone lanterns leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
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Free concert was held near the shrine's entrance when we went.
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Minami-mon South Gate of Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
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Kasuga Taisha Shrine bright vermillion color contrasts with the dark brown tones of nearby Buddhist temples.
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Kasuga Taisha Shrine is also noted for many bronze hanging lanterns.
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Deer on a bronze lantern atKasuga Taisha Shrine, Nara.
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Deer is the sacred messenger of the shrine's gods.
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I first heard about Nara's 1300th anniversary a few years ago through this mascot named Sento-kun. A boy priest with deer antlers was so absurd that he has become very popular and recognizable.
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I took this Kintetsu Line train at Kyoto Station. You should also bring your passport which will enable you to enter a few Heijo-kyo attractions for free.
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I arrived at Yamato Saidaiji Station which is within walking distance to the Heijo-kyo site. You can also go to JR Nara Station and ride a free shuttle bus to the Heijo Palace site.
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Arrows and Sento-kun point the way. Or just follow the crowd.
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Path toward the central area. The Daigokuden Imperial Audience Hall is in the distance on the left. This Heijo-kyo area is a National Special Historic Site.
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It was 1,300 years ago in 710 when Japan's capital was moved to this place in Nara. Hence, the 1300th anniversary celebration in 2010.
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I went during Golden Week when they had flowers and various events and entertainment. I recommend visiting here on a weekend or holiday period. That's when they have more events and entertainment. The crowds are not unbearable.
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This is the heart of the Heijo Palace site. The focal point is the Daigokuden Hall (Former Imperial Audience Hall) in the distance. 大極殿・前庭
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The Daigokuden Hall (Former Imperial Audience Hall) is a magnificent reconstruction. This was where the emperor performed his duties during the Nara Period. 大極殿
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This was the center of the capital and symbol of state authority. Only high-ranked aristocrats were allowed to enter the Daikokuden Hall.
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But now, anyone can enter this reconstruction for free. There was a long line, but it proceeded quickly and it took only 10-min. or so to get in.
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On the balcony of the Former Imperial Audience Hall before entering the building through a side entrance.
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Ornament on a balcony railing.
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Inside the Former Imperial Audience Hall. In the center was the Emperor's Takamikura Throne.
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Panel displays explaining about the Former Imperial Audience Hall.
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About the Former Imperial Audience Hall in English.
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About the Former Imperial Audience Hall in English.
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About the excavation of Former Imperial Audience Hall in English.
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About the Takamikura Throne in English.
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Takamikura Throne
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This thing is so nice that they should get a real emperor's coronation or enthronement here someday.
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Takamikura Throne where the emperor sat when there was an audience.
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Top of the Takamikura Throne
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Phoenix atop the Takamikura Throne.
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It looks like a portable shrine.
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Design pattern on the Takamikura Throne panels.
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Behind the Takamikura Throne.
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We could also go outside on the balcony and see a good view.
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They had a large stage out front on the day I visited and these ribbons attached to the building.
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The Daigokuden Hall's front gate, called Suzaku Gate, can be seen.
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Life-size model of the Shibi ornament atop the roof's ridge.
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The ceiling has hand-painted flowers.
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Paintings on the ceiling.
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Paintings on the ceiling.
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Roof tile used in the reconstruction.
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Metal fittings on a door.
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Balcony railing.
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Metal fitting and ornament on balcony railing.
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Ornament on balcony railing.
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Exit of Daigokuden Hall.
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Roof edges.
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Roof edges of Daigokuden Hall.
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If there's something you have to see here, it's this building.
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Former Imperial Audience Hall.
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Daigokuden Former Imperial Audience Hall, Heijo-kyo, Nara
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The plaza in front of the Former Imperial Audience Hall is quite large.
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At 1 pm in front of the South Gate, the Heijo Palace guards (Ejitai) reenact a guard routine. They appear three times a day. 衛士隊
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A few of the guards were female.
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衛士隊の再現(南門広場)
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Twice a day, the colorful Aoni-yoshi Parade is held for 30 min. in front of the South Gate. 平城遷都1300年祭 あをによしパレー
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The Aoniyoshi Parade reflects the Tempyo Period when Japan held exchanges with foreign cultures and when Buddhism was introduced to Japan.
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Aoni-yoshi Parade is a great photo op.
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Aoniyoshi Parade at Heijo-kyo, Nara
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Buddhist priests in the Aoniyoshi Parade.
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This is in front of the South Gate.
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These two represent the many traders from China, Korea, and India doing business in Heijo-kyo.
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These pictures were taken in early May so the flower motif might change in later seasons.
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Also see my video at YouTube.
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This Aoniyoshi Parade might be canceled in the event of rain.
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A maze of flowers. On the right in the background is the Mahoroba Stage.
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Flower maze.
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Rest station. This place had cooling vapors as well.
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At the Mahoroba Stage, the Sento-kun show was held to a full house. (Standing room only.)
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And here's Sento-kun, the official mascot of the 1300th anniversary of the Heijo-kyo Capital. When he was first introduced a few years ago, some people lambasted the design as insulting to priests.
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Deer antlers on the head of a boy priest was funny. But he has proven to be a major hit among the masses and critics are silent now. The deer antlers come from the famous deer of Nara Park where they wander around with tourists.
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Sento-kun first made various poses for picture-taking by the audience.
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"Sento" means "Capital relocation" in this case, and not public bath. Japan's capital was relocated to Nara Heijo-kyo in 710, 1,300 years ago.
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Sento-kun also danced to his silly-sounding theme song. Also see my video at YouTube.
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Bus terminal at the Entrance Plaza. The free shuttle buses can take you to both JR and Kintetsu Nara Station.
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Next to the bus stop is the Entrance Plaza, the site's main entrance. The Food Court is here too, as well as souvenir shops. エントランス広場
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Where to get a tour guide for foreigners. The guided tour is free if you show a foreign passport.
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Suzaku Gate is the other prominent landmark at the Heijo-kyo site.
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Suzaku Gate 朱雀門
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Back of Suzaku Gate.
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Front of Suzaku Gate.
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Daigokuden Hall as seen from Suzaku Gate.
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The Heijo-kyo History Museum is near the Entrance Plaza. 平城京歴史館
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The Heijo-kyo History Museum includes a full-scale replica of the ship used to transport Japanese envoys to and from Tang China during the Nara Period. 平城京歴史館/遣唐使船復原展示
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When it's crowded (weekends, etc.), they require reservation tickets (seiriken) to enter the museum. The seiriken can be had near the museum. Museum admission is 500 yen, but free if you show a foreign passport..
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About the ship to China in English.
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Aboard the diplomatic ship to Tang China. It's pretty small.
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The compartment toward the front was the envoy's quarters.
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Ship's rudder
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Mast
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View of Entrance Plaza from the ship. The museum (photography not allowed inside) has animated films and panel displays.
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These platforms are the site of old buildings.
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These pillar-like bushes indicate the location of pillars of buildings which existed in the Heijo Palace.
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Another museum you should see is this Excavation Site Exhibition Hall. Free admission. 遺構展示館
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About the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall in English.
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Display of a model of the emperor's residence (Imperial Domicile).
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Model of the Imperial Domicile.
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About the Imperial Domicile.
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Wooden well
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About the excavated pillar holes in English.
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Pillar post holes which were excavated here. 遺構展示館
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Layout of the excavated pillar holes.
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Overlapping pillar holes. The hole was reused.
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Roof tile pieces.
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