I owe this trip to all-around awesome dude @earino (go follow the man!). While in Japan, I kept tweeting about my trip, and he suggested I should check out Nara. Turns out it is very easy to reach from my base in Osaka – it takes about an hour and the train fare is quite cheap. So I decided to spend my last day in Japan in Nara. I got there as early as possible, spend eight lovely hours there, and then made my way from Nara straight to Kansai International Airport.
Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan from 710 to 784. As you would expect from such a place, it is filled with history. Many old temples and shrines have lasted until today and eight sites have been jointly designated as a UNESCO World Heritage. It has become a major tourist attraction.
I definitely recommend making a day trip to Nara if you are in the area. As mentioned above, it’s easy to reach from Osaka and it seemed to me like a day is enough to see most of the essential sites, even though I’m sure there is always more to discover.
To be honest, the historic sites were not my main reason for visiting. While I love those, there are certainly other places in Japan where you can visit similar sites (e.g. Kyoto). Don’t get me wrong, Nara is absolutely beautiful, well-preserved, and features some truly breathtaking temples. However, it also features something else that makes the city quite unique. Wild deer. All. over. the. place. Nara basically feels like a big deer park with countless deer just strolling around freely.
Some are quite shy and bolt at the first sign of humans approaching them, especially in more remote places and up in the mountains. Contrarily, others will straight up try to lick your face off if they think that you have food on you. I guess they can get a bit aggressive at times too depending on the circumstances since they are still wild animals, but I never had any problems with that. However, this possibility does exist, and Nara cautions you of that in the most Japanese way imaginable.
There are definitely spots where the deer are a bit more ‘aggressive’ and herds of deer start following you as soon as they spot some food on you. It was quite amusing to observe (teenage) girls flee with screams that seem to express equal parts terror and glee from deers gently pursuing them. There are definitely some hot spots where the deer are extremely approachable. Please only feed them the designated food items. These are definitely the ideal places to take some pictures, but beware. You will get your face licked. Just accept that it will happen at some point. Here, I was also able to take my favorite picture of myself ever:
As Konas awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himelf transformed into a gigantic deer.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the various sights as they all kind of blended together in my mind. Therefore, I will just post some brief impressions below. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time in Nara.
There are lovely parks all over Nara.
Almost everything is covered in moss, which creates a really beautiful atmosphere.
The temples are beautiful and can be found in very scenic locations.
Japanese temples usually have ‘mascots’ that can be found all over these temples and on wooden plaques that you can write your wishes on. Well, you can probably guess which animal many of these temples in Nara go with.
Speaking of which, the city of Nara has an official mascot called Sento-kun. And…well:
There are definitely a lot of things to discover, like this lovely botanical garden:
There is also what looks like a small grassy hill next to one of the top deersighting sites.
It looked like an easy little climb, so I went up. Turns out, it’s a lot more challenging than it looks from below, but you are rewarded with a great view of Nara.
Also not a bad place to get some wedding photos done.
The biggest non-deer attraction in Nara is probably the massive Tōdai-ji Temple that contains giant Buddha states. Definitely include this in your to do list.
A final note: Let’s get back to the deer. @Earino also told me that I should bow to the deer because they will bow back. ‘There’s no way that’s true, now he’s ribbing me’, I thought to myself. But sure enough, they actually do!
And with that, my second trip to Japan came to an end. Once again, it was an incredible experience, and a childhood dream come true. I was able to cross some more stuff off the bucket list that I didn’t manage to do in Tokyo, and I had a fantastic time. I hope I’ll be back at some point. And once more if you haven’t seen it, I made a video of all my best photos from my two trips to Japan, set to some lovely Okinawan music.