After a few days exploring the thousand-year capital, it was time to activate our JR West Rail Pass and take a day trip to Bambi-land. For anyone who’s feeling a little befuddled, that’s Nara – another former capital of Japan, like Kyoto, which is home to hundreds of sacred deer.
Redeeming our rail passes was a piece of cake, and soon we were off on a rapid train to Nara (¥710/ £5.21 one way without a pass). From JR Nara Station, it’s a short twenty minute walk to the outskirts of Nara Kōen, arguably Nara’s star attraction. En route, we passed dozens of souvenir shops and cafés plying their wares and before long arrived at the Five-Storey Pagoda. It wasn’t long before we caught a glimpse of one of Nara’s famous sacred deer – a majestic stag peeking out from behind the toilet block!
Upon entering Nara Kōen, we promptly spotted a vendor selling deer biscuits and a host of deer on standby. Laurence queued up to do the deed and, as he was doing so, one slightly overenthusiastic deer nipped him on the bum! At this point, a rather persistent stag stepped in and the traffic light turned to red. This not-so-little greedy guts was going nowhere and proceeded to munch almost half of the biscuits before the light turned green and we could make our escape! Deer 1, Rosie and Laurence 0. Lesson learnt: purchase biscuits further into the park, where there are more escape routes!
Fortunately, we soon found some friendly does to feed and spotted some adorable, fluffy fawns. At other stands, we noticed punters getting absolutely mobbed by the deer – hilarious to watch, less amusing if it was you caught up in the deer stampede!
Laurence was having a whale of a time feeding the deer, but we eventually tore ourselves away in search of food.
Lining the path to Todai-ji Temple was a street food market selling everything from crushed ice and chocolate-dipped waffles to octopus balls and ramen. Laurence bought a little tray of octopus balls while I opted for a thoroughly European chocolate-dipped waffle. Not the most practical thing to eat in 30°C+ heat, but I couldn’t resist!
Having fed both the deer and ourselves, we continued in the direction of Todai-ji Temple.
The entrance gate was a gorgeous, intricately carved wooden structure; plenty of sika deer were lounging around in the shade, so we partook in a few deer selfies. When in Nara . . .
Despite its impressive exterior, the real reason people visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site is to enter the Daibutsuden Hall, the world’s largest wooden building and home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha sculpture.
At almost fifteen metres high and cast from 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kilograms of gold, the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) is a pretty wacky sight! Judging by the number of visitors, we weren’t the only ones to think that.
Besides the Daibutsu, the hall housed a number of other enormous, ornate statues. Outside, we passed a rather creepy statue draped in a red cloak!
Temple tour over, we cooled off with some shaved ice (and went a little bit overboard on the syrups) before setting off for deer feeding round two. We followed a lantern-lined woodland path in the direction of Kasuga Taisha Shrine, before venturing onto a dirt path and ending up utterly lost. This did, however, result in our own private viewing of some grazing deer in a grassy clearing! Heading up the grassy verge we found ourselves in a large meadow and successfully found our way back to civilisation. We rounded the day off with some souvenir shopping (read: deer poo chocolate shopping) before feeding our remaining biscuits to the deer. Laurence fed a stag through a fence and, biscuit consumed, it subsequently vaulted the fence right at me – luckily my reactions enabled me to dodge the flying stag!
I returned home with a whopping eighty-five deer-related photos; having sat through a viewing of all 3,793 photos, my family and Laurence can testify to the fact that I am a very snap-happy tourist. In my defence, since you never know when you’ll return, you may as well take an extra five (or fifteen . . . or eighty-four) photos while you’re there. I’ll resume posting about my adventures in Japan in January; in the meantime, prepare for a few miscellaneous posts!
- If a nationwide JR Pass doesn’t make financial sense for your trip but you intend to explore a specific region in depth, consider investing in a regional JR Pass. Our JR West Kansai-Hiroshima Area Passes cost ¥13,000 (£95.42) each – or ¥14,000 (£102.77) if not purchased prior to arriving in Japan – and covered both local lines and the shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima; the passes were valid for five consecutive days. They’re a sound investment if you intend to use them for the entirety of their validity period and factor in a return trip on the shinkansen.
- Nara’s deer are fairly boisterous, so if you plan to feed and/or pet them it would be wise not to wear anything you care too much about – avoid any floaty tops, outfits with lacy/flimsy details and white clothing. It’s also well worth bringing some antibacterial gel along too!
- Entry to Todai-ji Temple is ¥500 (£3.66); though busy, we found the crowds moved fairly quickly and we had no trouble getting an up-close view of the enormous Buddha.