Nara, Japan is, for a lack of a better word, a magical place to visit. I had the pleasure of visiting this lovely small city an hour away from Kyoto/Osaka in early May 2014 and would like to create a Nara travel guide for those of you out there who are interested in visiting.
Nara Travel Guide
This Nara Travel Guide will be a little bit different than what you might be used to. First of all, the folks over at Japan-guide.com has created this wonderful page that can pretty much help you with all you need to know on what to do while in Nara. If you want to know more in depth on how to get to Nara, this page can help you.
Instead, my Nara travel guide will get more down into the dirty details as to my opinions on what makes Nara great, what makes it not so great, and who it’s for. Let’s go.
Things I Like
Easy Connections: Nara was very easy to get to. When I went, I started off in north Osaka, and all it took was just one train, the Kintetsu Nara Line, which took about 40 minutes to get to Nara from Osaka. That cost was about 540 Yen. But even if you’re not in Nara, you can still get there from Kyoto using the JR Nara Line, or from Japan using one of the inter-city buses (Like the JR Buses). Once you get to Nara, just follow the crowd and you’ll find your way to Nara Park, where your adventure can begin. There are bountiful tourist maps at the Nara JR Station (I took the one from my hostel). Remember, this is a very popular tourist site, so you can find maps at your hostels or at Nara Station!
Walkability: Almost everything that’s remotely interesting about Nara was located around Nara Park, which was a very walkable park. Now, you can either walk or bike. When I went, I decided to walk because, hey, it’s a nice spring morning, so why not? I wasn’t in a rush for anything. Car traffic was light even though it was Golden Week in Japan. Also, if you’re a photographer, walking just makes more sense so that you can just walk, point, and shoot (with your camera, not with your guns. No, your biceps do not count). Because there were also signs everywhere pointing you to all the tourist attractions, getting lost was something I had to purposefully do. It really was that easy!
Temples, Shrines, Oh my: Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji Temple, Horyuji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple. Yes, that’s a lot of temples and shrines, but it’s because of how much history Nara provides. Todaiji Temple is something that you cannot miss, because not only is it a UNESCO world heritage site, but also that it houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan, and one of the largest in the world! The rest of the temples were all pretty cool in their own rights, but since I’d been to Kyoto before this, I was a little templed out…which was why…
Beyond the Temples: I actually enjoyed other parts of Nara besides the temples. For example the rampant deers that were everywhere in the park, as well as the neat little gardens that you can pay to go into. I went to the Manyou Botanical Garden because they were advertising the blooming wisterias. Not gonna lie, it was worth the price of admission. You can see it in the gallery below. So pretty much, there was something for everyone. You can temple sight see, you can walk in the primeval forest, you can go to neat gardens, or you can just chill out under tree and have a picnic while deers frolic around you. Speak of deers…
DEERS! Are there any other place in the world where you can pet wild deers? I don’t think so. If there are, I haven’t heard about it. Besides its temples, Nara is known for having deers who have been around monks since olden time that by now, they’re so used to humans that they’re not even scared of us anymore. Instead, they just roam around the park, hanging out. You can buy little crackers to feed them. They’re all actually pretty chill. If you kids, just be around your kid, but in my time there, I didn’t see the deers biting anyone. In fact, you can actually even get the deers to bow (as if it’s bowing to ask for food) when you outstretch your hands like the picture to the side. Very unique experience!
Relaxing atmosphere: If you’re looking for a day trip from Osaka/Kyoto, you can do that (I did that. I started off at 9am in Osaka and got back by 6pm and saw almost pretty much everything). Or, if you want to take it slower, I believe there’s definitely enough to spend 2 whole days and 2 whole nights in. It’s because the entire atmosphere of the city is very relaxed. Maybe it was because of Golden Week, but everyone was just out, with the parks, the deers, enjoying themselves and some rays. If you want to go to a place to get away from the hustle and bustle but still have a unique experience, Nara is your gal. Not only that, but it’s suitable for all ages. The kids were all getting a kick out of the deers, that’s for sure.
Things I Did Not Like
Deers: Now, hold on, before you throw your laptop at the TV at this paradox that I just did, hear me out (don’t worry, this Nara Travel Guide isn’t going twilight zone on you). While the deers are pretty cool, I’m curious as to how healthy they are. If you take a look at their fur, a lot of them have really bad fur pattern (or whatever you call the thing that’s on a deer’s hide. Or maybe hide? whatever). I know for some animals, they start losing body hair when they’re stressed out, so I’m wondering how well are these deers being taken care in the modern time. And yes, there’s a lot of them. If you don’t like deers, don’t come here.
Cost: Okay I mean, this shouldn’t surprise you. Japan is expensive. It was expensive to get to Nara, it was expensive to get into these temples, and it was also expensive to get back to Osaka. If you’re really penny pinching, there’s still quite a few bit of free stuff to do (the primeval forest I mentioned to you earlier, Nara Park itself, as well as some pretty cool lakes located aroud the park). They all involve a lot of walking. I’m from California. I hate walking. I was dying by the end of the day.
Who Nara Is For
The backpackers who’s looking for a little history with a little sightseeing with a little uniqueness without spending too much money (hey I did it! And I’m super cheap!).
The family who’s looking for something that can bring the family together on a nice sunny day, all the while enjoying a picnic in the midst of hundreds of deers (or thousands..)
The culture seeker who’s looking for more stories on Japan’s unique history and culture, especially their Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
The nature lover who’s looking for some deer sightseeing and if you’re here during the right time, the fall colors or the wisterias booming.
And that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed my Nara Travel Guide. Let me know what you think in the comment section below. Hopefully you’ll like it and share it!
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