Beyond the Deer: A Guide to Nara, Japan

By CrustyCanucks - May 09, 2017

Ok, we admit, it was the deer that drew the Crusty Canucks to Nara, Japan, but after spending a few days in this magical place we soon realized there is much more to see and do than just the adorable deer. 

This ancient city is often overlooked as tourists flock to the bigger cities around Japan and its more famous immediate neighbor Kyoto. But, if you want to escape the bright lights then Nara offers plenty of scenic and historic sites making it the perfect place for a few days. While we never endorse less than two days to experience any international destination, if you absolutely have to, Nara is easily doable as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka as the majority of sites are close to each other - and seeing some of it is better than nothing. 
Make sure you stay overnight in one of the many authentic Japanese guest houses. Traveling from Kyoto or Osaka on the Japan Railways (JR) train is pleasant and takes under an hour. If you are visiting multiple regions make sure you get the Japan Rail Pass which offers unlimited travel on almost all JR trains including some of the famous bullet trains. 

Once you arrive in Nara, head straight for the world famous Nara Park which embraces a host of Naras main attractions including Kasuga Taisha and Todaiji Temple. Stroll through the park and you are bound to find one of the hundreds of freely roaming deer throughout the park. In the past, killing one of these deer was considered a capital offense and was punishable by death but these days the deer are merely designated as National Treasures. Don't be afraid to get up and close as the deer are more used to tourists than even you are. Make sure you purchase some readily available deer-crackers to feed the deer.

The large number of deer used to be considered sacred due to a visit by one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine. The registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kasuga Taisha is a celebrated shrine that is responsible for the protection of the city. The brilliant red colored pillars and 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns are just some of the astonishing features of the sacred site.

A mere 10 minutes walk away is Todaiji Temple. As you enter through the central gate you are greeted by yet more deer. Walk up to the main hall which is the worlds largest wooden building and houses one of Japans large bronze statues of Buddha. As you circle the statue towards the back, you'll see a wooden column with a hole through its base. The hole is exactly the same size as one of the Great Buddhas nostrils. Legend states that anyone who can squeeze through the hole will be ensured enlightenment in the next life.

Nearby, make sure you experience the picturesque, moss covered Isuien Garden. The attractive "garden founded on water" dates back to the 17th century and consists of two separate gardens as well as a number of tea houses scattered throughout. Can you spot the crane and the tortoise on the two islands?

So when is the best time to head to Nara? October and November is a great time if you want to take in the beautiful autumn foliage perfect for photos. but we were there in the heart of the Spring and the place was a dream. 

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