Nara, the capital of Nara Prefecture, is 35-45min by train from Kyoto city. It’s 35km south of Kyoto & 28km east of Osaka, so no matter if you’re based in Kyoto or Osaka, Nara makes an accessible day trip.
Taking a solo day trip to Nara from Kyoto
Last December, I had a day to myself while my family went to Universal Studios Osaka for Harry Potter which I wasn’t interested in. Armed with little information, I still popped over to Nara for [half] a day trip, setting off from Kyoto, for the sake of deer, of course.
There’s really a lot of deer roaming around freely.
Nara Park topped the list of my to-go places for my Tokyo-Kyoto trip. There are almost 1,200 deer in Nara, a 2:1 ratio to Nara’s population. A distinct feature of Nara, these deer are considered to be messengers of the gods. Prior to arriving, I’d imagined cute, tame deer cuddling up to us humans and hanging out casually as what social media portrays. And was curious to see if that’s the case.
Not too far a walk up from the station, I started to see deer along the pavement and got all excited.
Being a tourist in this age, I had to do what everyone does:
Take a selfie with a deer.
The deer are always watching you.
Always watching to see you have deer crackers, probably sneakily hiding them.
Are the deer in Nara really so tame?
Although they look like endearing creatures, these deer are still wild animals and can get rather aggressive if they think you have food for them. I bought some deer crackers and they followed me closely. In my haste, I stuffed some crackers into my jacket pocket and walked away, but a deer came knock-nudging into me from behind. It was very determined to make me surrender the crackers! Very quickly, I finished giving it all away and dismissed all ideas of purchasing a second packet. I don’t wanna get head-butted by a deer!
There are signboards warning you that the deer are known to occasionally attack people, including biting, kicking, head-butting and even knocking down humans. Please be careful.
You can’t tell from static pictures, but now and then, there’ll be random shrieking from terrified humans around Nara Park.
What else to see in Nara other than deer
Nara is also home to plenty of temples and shrines. Todai-ji Temple (東大寺, Tōdaiji, “Great Eastern Temple”) is the most popular one in Nara. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I entered for photos, prayers and to purchase Japanese amulets as souvenirs.
Officially opened in 752AD, its main hall – the 48m-tall Daibutsu-den (Big Buddha Hall) – is the largest wooden building in the world. The temple was burned by fire twice. The current one is actually a reconstruction and at merely 2/3 of the original temple hall’s size, can you imagine? It is already a magnificent sight.
Daibutsu-den contains the 15m-tall, gigantic bronze statue of Buddha (Daibutsu) – one of Japan’s largest.
More deer as you walk to or leave the temple grounds.
There’s so many deer everywhere and when you see them all gathered at an area, I have to say the Cute level quickly descended to Creepy level, but it’s just me.
As I wanted to go back to Kyoto city to hop over to Gion for a chance to see geishas (and I did saw! Post about geisha-spotting here), I left Nara by mid-afternoon.
Should you take a day trip to Nara?
When I see people ask – is Nara worth visiting? – before they planned Kyoto / Osaka itinerary, My answer is yes! I mean, where else can you find a city where deer can wander freely, and there are people going on with their lives, it’s incredible!
A few things you need to know Nara and its deer
- The deer are wild / semi-wild animals. There are signboards (though not enough of them) warning Nara visitors that the deer are known to get violent when provoked. Do not over-tease the deer. I would even go as far as to say, do not tease the deer.
- If you’re buying crackers and have finished distributing, show open hands to the deer so they know you have no more crackers for them.
- Does the deer really bow back when you bow to them? When I went, the deer-bowing thing that spread over social media lately wasn’t a thing yet. I didn’t try bowing to a deer, but my friend did post a video of her bowing and it really bowed back, indeed very cute.
- Nara Park is an open park with no admission charges. Temples require entrance fees.
- There is deer poop everywhere.
- How to get to Nara from Kyoto: I bought a Kintetsu One-Day Rail Pass from a hotel opposite Kyoto Station, and took the train at Kintetsu Kyoto Line at Kyoto Station, to Kintetsu Nara station. This might not be the cheapest method (1500yen) but it was easy to understand for me. My train left at 10.24am. By 11.25am, I’d already reached Nara Park. You can refer to this website for more recommendations.
- Kintetsu Nara Station and JR Nara Station are 2 different train stations. The former is nearer to the tourist attractions.
Do you wanna visit Nara? Have you been there? How was your experience like?
Visited: Dec 2015
Additional useful links: Visit Nara • How to get to Nara Park
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