My second day in Japan, I decided to head over to Nara for some sightseeing. I’d heard so many great things about Nara when researching for my trip, so it was really high on my must-see list. Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan, and it houses some of the oldest and largest temples in the country, including 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s also a great place to go for a day trip as it’s less than an hour from both Kyoto and Osaka by train and it’s possible to see many of its most impressive sights in a day or two.
I was mostly focused on exploring the area of Nara Park, also known as Deer Park. This park houses numerous temples and shrines, including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and other important historical Japanese places. It is also the home to about 1,200 wild and tame deer that roam freely around the area. You can buy Shika Senbei (deer crackers) for about 500 yen and feed the deer by hand. The deer will even bow to you as a way of asking for some snacks! It was adorable, but a few deer were so focused on eating my maps that I didn’t even have to buy them snacks to interact with them.
My first stop was Todaiji Temple, one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara and one of Nara’s most popular sights. This UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) that is housed in Daibutsu-den Hall, the world’s largest wooden building, despite the fact that it is only two-thirds of its original size. It is free to explore Todaiji Temple; however, it costs about 700 yen to enter Daibutsu-den and view the 15 meter tall, bronzed Buddha statue.
Next, I headed to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, another famous UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk from Todaiji Temple, and is actually very pretty. The paths that lead to this shrine are lined with loads of lanterns, and you will definitely see deer poking their heads out for some snacks as you walk to the shrine. This place was packed with so many tourists and high school students, but it was super nice to look around. It’s free to go behind the shrine’s offering wall, but you do have to pay if you want to go closer and see some of the buildings up close.
This shrine is famous for the thousands of lanterns that have been donated by worshippers. There are two festivals throughout the year where all of these lanterns are beautifully lit all at the same time.
Near the entrance, there is a wall where many people were buying deer-shaped wooden tablets. These tablets, called “ema” are used to write wishes for good health and prosperity. I couldn’t read them because they were in Japanese, but they were adorable!
I started getting a little tired after this temple so I quickly stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I started feeling a serious migraine coming on and was debating whether or not to call it a day and go back to my hostel to rest, but when I looked at my map, I realized that Isuien Garden and Yoshikien Garden were only about a 15 min walk away. I told myself that I’d go to the gardens and rest, and if I didn’t feel better afterwards then I’d go home.
Once I got to Yoshikien Garden, I Iearned that it was actually free for foreigners. I rushed to the rest area near the entrance and drank my water, rested my eyes, laid down, and just tried to feel better. (I hate taking medicine, so I just tried to feel better on my own).
After a while, I started to feel human again, so I decided to actually walk around the garden and explore. Although it’s a little small, it is very beautiful and has a pond garden, moss garden,and a tea ceremony garden all in one area. It was definitely a nice place to relax and take a break. Oh, and have a mini photoshoot!!
Once I left the park, I realized that I didn’t have much time left before the temples and shrines began to close so I looked at my handy-dandy map to see what was close. Sure enough, Kofukuji Temple was within walking distance. Kofukuji Temple used to be the family temple of one of the most powerful family clans when Nara was a capital city. This temple also has a 50 meter high pagoda, making it the second tallest pagoda in Japan. You can explore most of Kofukuji for free, but you have to pay to visit the National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall. Unfortunately, these buildings were closing once I got there but I was able to see some of the other buildings in the temple since they don’t close.
There were a bunch of buildings that were under construction, so I just wandered around the area for a while. I got a little lost, made a turn, and somehow ended up at this Sarusawaike Pond, where they were having some sort of festival!! I swear, sometimes my life is so random LOL. I’m still not exactly sure what was going on, but there were lots of people and there was something happening on a boat in the river.
Afterwards, I found my way back to the bus stop, went back to Nara Station and headed back to Osaka for the night. I really enjoyed my time exploring Nara, and it has such a comfortable feel to it. The deer were absolutely adorable, the temples were gorgeous, and it was just the perfect day to walk around and explore. I definitely want to come back here in the future!