Japanese’s ancient capital Nara can easily be reached if you are staying in Osaka. The train ride is around 30 mins on a JR line. If you have the JR Pass, which means the trip is covered, there is no reason why you shouldn’t visit this unique city where deer roam around freely and where some of the most interesting historic buildings are located. The other plus is that it is an easy walk from Nara Station to the main attraction Tōdai-ji (meaning Great Eastern Temple), which is a large Buddhist temple. Getting around by foot and seeing all the main attractions could not be easier.
Nara Station is a big complex and there are plenty of shops around it. When you step outside, there are plenty of signs to show you where you need to walk if you want to see the deer and temples. Just head towards Sanjo-dori, which is the main walkway.
As we walked down Sanjo-dori (dori means street in Japanese), we were greeted to lot of really interesting shops and restaurants. As Nara is a popular tourist destination, you can expect to see a lot of tourists and lots of things to attract tourists, like this owl cafe, where the owls are outside to say hello. (I felt bad for the owl. I think the term ‘night owl’ has some truism.)
There is a lot to see while walking down Sanjo-dori. I found it interesting that there are not a lot of tall buildings in Nara, so the city gives off a more rural vibe, and many of the buildings were old looking. (Mind you, the size of the crowd in the Sanjo-dori sort of removes that rural vibe.)
When you get to the end of the main area, where the shops and restaurants end, on Sanjo-dori, you will see Kōfuku-ji in the distance behind a canopy of trees. At the moment, we decided it’ll be a good time to take a step off the main street to explore the temple grounds. It is a huge are and you are allowed to walk around the several buildings without a fee. We happened to visit on a day where there heaps of students visiting. The students were all very well behaved and curious.
Walk past the main pagoda and you’ll enter a park that reminds you of a wonderland from your childhood. As I walked in for the first time, I noticed how green and beautiful it was, it was like I entered some kind of enchanted forest where happy people and animals were comingling.
As you get closer to Nara Park, you will start to see deer. If like me, I’m sure it’ll be an exciting moment. The deer roam freely in the park and you can even find them roaming around the temple grounds as well.
One word of caution, please only feed them the ‘animal feed’ that are sold by the vendors. Do not feed them our food. Unfortunately, due to the increase in tourists, deer in Nara have been suffering due to the ingesting things that they shouldn’t be eating. I have read news reports that deer have passed away and when they were examined, it was found that they had eaten heaps of plastics.
It’s also best to not touch the deer. Let the animals do what they want. If you want a picture, you should just be content to capture them in their natural demeanor.
Also, these deer, like Japanese people, are very polite and interestingly will return a bow.
We thought that making Tōdai-ji our destination was a good idea. It meant that we had a goal to reach, but like any adventure it was the journey and not the end goal that made it exciting. Along the way, there was a lot to take in and it was a lot of fun walking with the crowd.
We thought throughout the day that we were lucky to have an almost cloud-less sky. This was the middle of spring during cherry blossom season.
Around Tōdai-ji are several stores selling soft-serves, so we had to try the sakura (or cherry blossom) soft serve. There are several vendors and the prices do vary from store to store, albeit only slightly. (To this day, I don’t know if I could properly describe the cherry blossom flavor, other than to say that it was subtlety sweet and smelt almost like strawberries.)
On Sanjo-dori, you may come across a couple of men making exaggerated sounds while beating mochi with hammers. I recommend grabbing some of their mochi. It is gooey and filled with a delicious serve of sweet azuki (or red bean.)
We spent only the late morning to mid-afternoon in Nara, e.g. from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. It was easy to reach and was excellent and in the end it was worth it, because we were able to capture so many beautiful sceneries and ate some of the most delicious sweets. Add it to your list.
I think it is better to visit Nara from Osaka than Kyoto. Osaka has more cheaper hotels and with the JR Pass, there are more transportation options, i.e. Osaka City Loop, to travel than Kyoto.
Most of Nara’s main attractions are centrally located. If you want and you have a good sense of direction, make your way to Tōdai-ji and see if you can reach it without using Google Maps. You may surprise yourself with how easy this place is to navigate.
Nara Park is located here: