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Osaka, Japan

The Kansai region – which encompasses Osaka, Kyoto and Nara – is the beating heart of Japan, its astonishing number of Michelin-starred restaurants, ancient temples and exuberant street food markets demanding the attention of any travel itinerary. As Japan’s third largest city, boisterous Osaka is known as ‘the nation’s kitchen’ for a reason, so arrive hungry and eat your way around it. Kyoto, Japan’s imperial capital for more than 1,000 years, is steeped in history and culture while nearby Nara is similarly historic, dotted with temples and artwork that date back to the 8th century. 

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Nara was Japan's first imperial capital, with cultural artefacts dating back 1,300 years. Nara lies about 30 kilometres east of Osaka, and its small size makes it easy to discover its hidden charms.

While the temples, gardens and historic attractions of Kyoto may get more attention, Nara's heritage is arguably older than Kyoto's and home to some of the most stunning examples of ancient design and architecture in the country. The most famous, Todai-ji, is home to a huge flock of tiny deer, which are sacred in the area.

Nara served as the capital of Japan for 74 years from 710. In 794, the seat of the imperial court was transferred to Kyoto, known as Heian-kyo, and Nara's importance began to wane. Thus Nara has retained its small-town feel: it’s easy to navigate and isn’t cluttered with tourists.

Like Kyoto, the city grew around a grid pattern modelled on Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty China (now known as Xi'an). And whilst the commercial area around the train station could be that of any provincial Japanese city, a visitor does not have to walk too far to step back into time.

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