Nara was my favorite place we visited in Japan. It’s about an hour from Kyoto by train so we just left our things in our Kyoto hotel as we got into Nara in the morning. We didn’t want to check in somewhere and then have to leave our suitcases.
We were welcomed by this adorable deer mascot as soon as we got off the train. You’ll soon realize why. Nara was an incredibly kind place, where there was an english volunteer group who gave tours. You need to schedule one ahead of time though, so we didn’t get one as we didn’t realize. It’s free and they don’t take tips (as is customary in Japan). They were older Japanese volunteers who wanted to practice english and just help with tourism. It was so sweet.
The train station had a Starbucks, and I love the Matcha blended drinks in Japan. We both got one. It was delicious!
We walked to a temple that was a museum of gods in a hall that had been destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the temple online and this is the only picture I have of it. It was interesting to see and hear the stories behind the gods.
Annnd, here’s the reason for the cute deer statue! The story is that long ago a god came to Nara riding a white deer. From then on, people weren’t allowed to kill them. The deer are quite domesticated and friendly with people. You can buy “biscuits”, which looked like really thin cookies to me for about $1.5. The price of the cookies made me really grateful to be in Japan. I feel like in other countries it would be inflated, but the people of Nara just seemed so kind and wanted people to have fun with the deer.
While I did film a video of me bowing with the deer, my face is in the frame and unfortunately this is an anonymous blog. @cyaneus on Youtube filmed the above with bowing deer.
I noticed that people tended to only try and bow and feed the nicest looking deer :(. It felt like a metaphor for society and how we treat those who are more aesthetically pleasing better. I didn’t know if the deer got other food other than the crackers, so I tried to feed the deer that no one else seemed to like.
In case you’re worried about getting to the park, don’t be. The deer are literally everywhere in the historical part of the city. They roam the land, free to eat all day from tourists. No one disturbs them, but maybe they like head scratches.
Next, we visited the Toda-ji temple. There were free english tours here as well. I think it was the same volunteer group as the train station, but you can request one at the gate if you want. Our guide gave us the history of the temple and we asked a lot of questions about Nara. We learned that the temple was burned down multiple times and rebuilt, due to differing parties taking over the temple each time. The current temple was rebuilt to be 30 percent of the size of the last temple, and it was the largest wooden structure until the late 1990s.
On the way to Todaji, we stopped at another temple and climbed the steps for this amazing view. I don’t recall the name but Nara is small, so you should be able to find it.
Our tour guide told us the giant wooden buddha in red outside the temple was from a myth where a buddha showed off too much. The head buddha was displeased and so punished him by making him sit outside.
There was an amusing sight inside with a ton of schoolchildren going through a hole in a pole. Some of them would get pulled out and it seemed to be a race to see who could get through the fastest. We asked what looked to be a teacher what they were doing. They said if a kid went through the hole fast enough, the gods would bestow more intelligence on a kid. Seems like fun. I’m too big now to be enlightened from the gods!
This statue was a few stories tall. Over the years the coating has eroded a bit. It’s a shame our history is so difficult to be preserved sometimes. I look forward to when we’re able to see places via VR — then we’ll never lose history.
At the temple, there was another place for small crafts you could write on. It’s wonderful to see more traveling and openness to other cultures. It’s truly a life-changing experience going to Japan. Their culture is just amazing.
Japan seems to be full of UNESCO sites and the lanterns at the Kasuga Shrine are a part of that. There are 3,000 lanterns, which are symbolic of the 3,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. The lantern symbolizes illumination of thought and knowledge. If you’re there during the Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Matsuri festivals, you’ll get to see them all lit up at night. Unfortunately, we weren’t there during this time, but hopefully when we’re financially independent we can just hop over.
Our next stop was a small toy museum called Naramachi. There were around 15 toys that Japanese kids played with during the Edo period. They were rooted in physics, and I’m surprised they created such cool things back then. As an adult, I was highly amused and the two sweet volunteers showed us patiently. The two volunteers were retired and so volunteered at the museum. The place is small, so 30 minutes would be fine.
After this, we walked through Nara’s Higashimuki shopping street. It was reminiscent of Kyoto’s and Osaka’s one-street markets.
We then headed back to Kyoto on the train, before making our way to Osaka for our last stop on our Japan trip.