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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide - Kansai - Nara
Heijo Palace (Nara Imperial Palace) 
# 9   of 16 most visited
sights in Nara

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During most of the Nara Period (710-794), Nara served as the capital of Japan and was known as Heijo-kyo. The Heijo Palace extended about one kilometer wide and one kilometer long and served as the site of the emperor's residence and the government offices. For its great historical and cultural importance, the palace site is included as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nara.

Although the palace once stood as the majestic center of the ancient capital, all of its buildings were eventually lost with the exception of a single hall that now stands at Toshodaiji Temple. When the capital was moved away from Heijo-kyo in 784, Heijo Palace and a large part of the city were abandoned as people flocked to the new capital. The temples on the outskirts of the former capital, however, retained their importance, and the city of Nara eventually resumed its growth around these temples, while the palace grounds were used for nothing but rice fields.

In more recent times, it was decided to rediscover and celebrate Nara's past. The lack of development on the grounds of the former Heijo Palace made it particularly easy for conducting archaeological research, which has been ongoing since the 1950s. Visitors to Heijo Palace nowadays will still find a rural atmosphere, but the government has gone to considerable lengths to put on display for visitors the history of Heijo Palace with historic reconstructions and museums.

Three major structures of the former palace complex have been reconstructed in recent decades. Foremost among them is the Former Audience Hall (Daigokuden), the largest building on the palace grounds, which was reconstructed on the occasion of the 1300th anniversary of Nara Capital and opened to the public in April 2010.

Former Audience Hall

The large audience hall was used as the site of important ceremonies and meetings. Its ceiling is decorated by the four animals of the direction on the compass and the twelve animals of the lunar calendar. A throne stands in the center of the hall. The building is called the "former" audience hall, because it was replaced by the "latter" audience hall in the second half of the Nara Period. The latter audience hall's foundations are visible to the east of the former audience hall.

Two more full scale reconstructions from the 1990s are the Suzaku Gate (Suzakumon), the main gate of the palace to the south, and the East Palace Garden (Toin Teien), which features a pond, streams and bridges, and was used by the imperial family for banquets. Also partially reconstructed were the offices of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho).

East Palace Garden

Furthermore there are various foundations found across the palace grounds, some of which are highlighted by bushes, poles or low walls to indicate the former locations of other palace structures, such as the imperial living quarters and administrative offices.

At the north east corner of the palace grounds stands the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, where exposed excavation sites are left open to be viewed by the public. At the western end of the grounds is the Nara Palace Site Museum, a moderately sized, very informative museum with artefacts, models, photographs and maps on display, including several wooden tablets that were widely used as an alternative to more expensive paper during the Nara Period.

A few steps from the Suzaka Gate stands the Heijokyo History Museum, which was originally built for the 1300th anniversary of Nara Capital in 2010. Its main features are a replica of a ship used to travel between Japan and China during the Nara Period and an impressive high-resolution movie about the capital city as it looked like during its heydays. Unfortunatelly, there are no English signs or subtitles.

Foundation of the Latter Audience Hall

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How to get there
On April 1, 2014, the consumption tax increased from 5% to 8%, causing widespread changes to transportation fares. This page has not been updated yet, and some of the fees and fares in this section may not be up-to-date.

Heijo Palace is located a 15 minute walk east from Yamato-Saidaiji Station, which can be easily reached from Kintetsu Nara Station by Kintetsu trains (5 minutes, 200 yen, frequent departures).

Alternatively, the palace grounds can be reached by buses bound for Yamato-Saidaiji Station from both JR Nara Station (about 20 minutes, about 250 yen, every 30 minutes) and Kintetsu Nara Station (about 15 minutes, about 250 yen, every 30 minutes). The Excavation Site Exhibition Hall is located near Heijokyuseki bus stop, the Imperial Audience Hall is located near Sakicho bus stop, and the Nara Palace Site Museum is located near Nijocho bus stop.

How to get to and around Nara

Hours and Fees
The reconstructions and museums of Heijo Palace
Hours:9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00)
Closed:Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday)
December 29 to January 3
Admission:Free
English:Moderate

Heijokyo History Museum
Hours:9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00)
Closed:Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday)
December 29 to January 3
Admission:500 yen (free for foreign tourists; passport required)
English:None

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Hotels and Ryokan
Nara is commonly visited on a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, and only a few tourists overnight there. Indeed, the range of accommodation in Nara is rather limited, but there are a few options for those aiming to visit the city in more than a day trip. A location close to Nara Park is generally preferred.
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Asukaso
A fine ryokan with hot spring bath offering views of the famous five-story pagoda. Located in the heart of Nara town.
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Asukaso
Centrally located ryokan with outdoor baths that view onto the pagoda of Kofukuji Temple.
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Hotel Fujita Nara
Regular business hotel located halfway between JR Nara Station and Nara Park.
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Nara Hotel
One of the oldest Western style hotels in Japan, located next to Nara Park.
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Tours and Packages
Nara Tours
Various tours and travel packages for Nara and surroundings.

User Ratings
Ratings for Heijo Palace:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  outstanding  
User Rating (by 200 users):
81/100
  recommended

Best rated sights nationwide (out of 764):
318.  Tenmangu Shrine (Dazaifu)   81/100
319.  Daishoin Temple (Hagi)   81/100
320.  Lake Ashinoko (Hakone)   81/100
321.  Takao (Kyoto)   81/100
322.  Kenchoji Temple (Kamakura)   81/100
323.  Heijo Palace (Nara)   81/100
324.  Botanical Garden (Tokyo)   81/100
325.  Zojoji Temple (Tokyo)   81/100
326.  Sengakuji Temple (Tokyo)   81/100
327.  Daishi Kyokai (Mount Koya)   81/100
Most visited sights nationwide (out of 894):
152.  Shinkyo Bridge (Nikko)   520
153.  Sapporo Beer Museum (Sapporo)   518
154.  Hakone Shrine (Hakone)   508
155.  Korakuen Garden (Okayama)   503
156.  Shitennoji Temple (Osaka)   503
157.  Heijo Palace (Nara)   501
158.  Kokoen Garden (Himeji)   494
159.  Mount Hakodate (Hakodate)   488
160.  Hiking Trails (Kamakura)   486
161.  Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone)   485

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We strive to keep japan-guide.com up-to-date and accurate, and are always looking for ways to improve the user experience. If you have any updates, suggestions, corrections or opinions, please let us know:

English Links
Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties
English website of the organiztion in charge of the preservation and management of Heijo Palace.

Japanese Links
Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties
Official website of the organiztion in charge of the preservation and management of Heijo Palace.

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