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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exploring Nara, Japan

Nara Prefecture is south of Kyoto and east of Osaka Prefecture. We'll be talking about the city of Nara today. It is an ancient city, as it used to be Japan's capital. It's a small city but still significant for it's history and tourist attractions.

When planning your trip to Japan keep in mind to stop by Nara. It's a stop on almost every guided tour in Japan. It won't require you to be there all day, probably just a few hours, so you won't have to book another hotel. Nara is a great day trip to take. To reduce travel time you'll want to travel to Nara from either Osaka or Kyoto, as those are the closest. When traveling to Nara, get off at Nara Station. From the station you can walk to the one place I'm recommending you to visit, and that's Nara Deer Park.

Nara Deer Park literally has everything you need from temples, to scenery, a museum and, of course, deer! If you're not a walking person, I suggest renting a bike. I'll get to the deer in a bit but let me first talk about the park. Some of the famous temples and shrines you've heard about are in this one park.
The locals let the deer roam everywhere. Even in shops.
The gigantic Todai-ji Temple is a great place to start. It is a paying attraction, but worth the small amount they're asking for. When you walk down the path to the temple you'll begin to see what it's famous for which is the largest bronze Buddha statue. On the side you'll probably see people crowding around a smaller statue that wears read cloth. This statue is said to heal ailments if you rub it. When walking through the temple you'll see models of what the grounds used to look like back when it was first built. Yes, this the Todai-ji Temple was rebuilt and the current temple sitting there is not an original (you'll learn that many of the famous traditional attractions in Japan are not originals and had to be rebuilt due to various reasons). Towards the back of the temple is a pillar with a hole in it. It's said that if you can successfully crawl through the hole you'll either go to heaven or your biggest wish will come true. What happens if you can't make it through? I have no idea.
Todai-ji Temple.

The bronze Buddha inside the Todai-ji Temple.
There's a famous shrine that is also housed in the Nara Deer Park, the Kasuga-taisha Shrine. It is known for its vermillion columns and rows of lamps. If you're lucky you may even get to see a Shinto ceremony being performed. Another shrine with lamps, that's not as popular, in the park is Tamukeyama Hachiman-gu Shrine. And if you like all that then you may even like the Wakamiya Shrine as the path to the shrine guides you with rows of stone lanterns.
The stone lanterns of Wakamiya Shrine
Another must see temple in Nara Deer Park is the Kofuku-ji Temple. This temple grounds is free admission but if you decide inside the temple it'll cost money. Inside the temple is a museum of artifacts. This temple is smaller than the Todai-ji Temple but is still a sight to see. Kofuku-ji has a second tallest pagoda in Japan, the tallest being in Kyoto.
Kofuku-ji Temple's five story pagoda.
I haven't been to any of the other attractions in the park but I'm sure they're worth the visit. The reason for not visiting everything is that I spent most of the time playing with the deer. Japan is a country of animals such as Fox Village, Bunny Island and Cat Island. The deer of Nara are pretty famous too. Nara is filled with deer! These deer roam the city but are mostly seen at Nara Deer Park. They are tamed so you can pet them as many times as you want. If you can't get any to go near you you can go by some deer crackers and feed them. You'll get plenty of deer if you have crackers in your hand. These deer can have a tendency to get a bit pushy but just know they really like crackers. Another thing you can do with the deer is to bow at them. Japan has a bowing culture and it has extended to the deer of Nara. if you bow to a deer they'll most likely bow back. I'd only try this with one deer at a time because when the deer come to you in a horde you will be most likely throwing the crackers to them in fear.
I'm petting a baby deer.
While you visit Nara Deer Park be sure to keep track of your belonging as the deer like to sometimes steal things such as maps, bags and other items that may be of value to you. These deer are cute but like I said before, they can be very pushy. Be mindful of the adult deer as their antlers can get caught in a backpack or up your shirt or skirt.
A warning sign you can see throughout the park.
And that's a summary of Nara for you. I hope you get the chance to visit one day. It's a great day trip that can be taken in between other travel plans in Japan. If you've been before and will be taking someone who has never been you'll love to see their reaction (I'll be doing that next year). And if you've never been you are in for a treat.

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