Travel: Hello, deer friend – A day in Nara

I haven’t really touched much on my travels in this blog, and since I’ve done a fair bit of it in the last 5 years or so, it seems like a good idea to write a bit. You may be aware that I spent the last week of June in Japan, on a lightning tour of some notable towns accessible from Tokyo where I was based, namely Kyoto, Nara, Nikko and erm… Nagoya (there was a reason for that one).

Nara deer

But let’s try Nara first. After a friend’s recommendation I took a two-day trip here, seeing Kyoto on Sunday and staying in a cheap (and as it turns out, hard to find) hotel there, before hitting Nara on the Monday. From Tokyo, Nara is best accessible via Kyoto, so this made sense. Using my JR Rail pass, the Shinkansen to Kyoto took about 2 1/2 hours, but Kyoto to Nara on a the JR “Nara line” took a lot less time, about 45 minutes I think.

From there, I learnt my lessons from Kyoto and immediately got on a bus outside JR Nara station. There is a lot of overlap in bus routes, but one route in particular loops around all the touristy bits. I got off outside the prefectural offices to visit the Kofukuji temple across the road. Immediately I was confronted with a rather indifferent-looking deer. As a Brit, I can’t remember the last time (if ever) that I’ve just seen a deer that’s not in a zoo, but this turned out to be the first of several hundred deer (or shika) wandering around Nara. They aren’t stupid, you’ll see a lot around the big tourist spots, as little old ladies have stalls dotted around that sell little deer biscuits. Only about 150 Yen, they are little wafers you can feed to deer, they are really tame.

Todai-ji

Kofukuji was a nice starter for the day, including an impressive 5-storey pagoda. But I’d seen a lot of shrines during the week, and I knew there were bigger sights to be seen. So after a leisurely walk around the temple complex, I wandered in the direction of the A-List temple in Nara, Todai-ji.

It’s an impressive building, in fact the main building inside is the largest wooden building in the world! This contains one of the biggest Buddha statues in Japan, making it THE main attraction in Nara (deer aside). After this, I wandered around a few of the several nearby shrines, it’s a nice place to walk around, and easy to navigate (take notes, Kyoto).

I did even managed to feed some deer, who stalked me as soon as they saw me approach a deer-cookie seller. They weren’t aggressive at all, in fact they were incredibly docile, but they certainly left no doubt that they were going to get those cookies. One nibbled my t-shirt impatiently, and even bit my ass, much to the amusement of a group of Japanese schoolgirls.

To round off my day, I visited the Kasuga Taisha, a popular Shinto shrine in the East of Nara’s main tourist area. It’s a bit of a walk if you’re already tired, but it was a nice walk and despite the steep path, was a peaceful and beautiful spot. All in all, Nara was a charming town, easy to navigate, leafy and picturesque, and a much more satisfying experience than Kyoto in my opinion. Kyoto must be a tempting stop for any tourist, but I would strongly recommend a day-trip to Nara too.

Path to Kasuga Taisha

 

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