Day trips from Kyoto: Nara (Just my travel notes)

Located almost halfway between Kyoto and Osaka – Nara is a great day trip if you have a spare day. Nara was previously the first capital city of Japan (Heijo c710) and stood as the capital until 784.

When you think Nara – the thing you will likely first think of is Deer. One of the thousands of local deer in Nara. They are pretty friendly, just don’t tease them or taunt them and you will be fine.

Easily accessed from Kyoto on the JR Nara Line, the train takes only about 45 minutes and costs 710 Yen (or use your Japan Rail Pass). Make sure you use Hyperdia to plan your travels.

Kofukuji Temple

Located about a 1.5km walk from the Nara train station is the Kofukuji Temple. Formally a family temple of the Fujiwara clan it was established around the time Nara was founded (710).

Nanendo (Southern Octagonal Hall), Kofukuji Temple, Nara

There are several historic buildings in the complex including a five-story pagoda and a three-story pagoda. The five-story pagoda stands 50m tall and is Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda.

Kofukuji Temple Five Story Pagoda & Eastern Golden Hall

There are three main halls that you can pay an entrance fee to visit, the Central Golden Hall, the Eastern Golden Hall, and the Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum. The Central Golden Hall was destroyed by fire roughly 300 years ago and after many years of reconstruction it was opened to the public in October 2018 (after we had visited – so no photos sorry).

Nara is home to some very special temples and sites in Japan. As the first official permanent capital of Japan it was a centre of power for a very long time.

Noborioji Park (Nara-koen)

Located just outside the exit from the Kofukuji Temple is the start of the Nara Parks, the Noborioji Park. This will be perhaps the first of many encounters you have with Nara’s resident Deer population. During the day you will catch a large number of Nara Deer at this park, being fed by tourists.

Nara’s deer are sacred – you don’t have to feed them but it is a fun experience to do so. If you are quiet and respectful the deer will barely pay you any notice.

For around 150Yen you can purchase a package of cracker biscuits to feed the deer. It is worthwhile just watching the carnage for a little while as some tourists are not as comfortable around the deer.

If you are driving around pay attention as the deer will take over the streets. At least they learnt to cross at the pedestrian crossings.

Certainly as a word of warning – don’t taunt the deer, the antlers are real and they do hurt. Likewise they will follow you to get food and give you a gentle nudge (not always gentle) if they don’t feel like you are being forthcoming with the food.

The deer will certainly check out tourists just incase you have some of their favourite “crackers”. Don’t tease them as they are sometimes a little less polite.

Nara Deer are regarded as sacred. There is an ancient legend that the deity rode to Nara on a deer. As a result they have been protected for many years as “natural monuments”

The “Crackers” that are sold are actually a specially made product with no sugar to keep the deer healthy.

From the Edo Period (1603-1868) there is a yearly traditional ceremony where the antlers of the deer are removed for both safety reasons and to protect the trees.

Please make sure you treat these animals with respect, they are still wild despite their comfort around tourists. Please don’t feed them any of our “human” food, likewise do not leave any rubbish such as plastic bags. Recently a number have died after ingesting plastic rubbish bags.

Toidaiji Temple

The Toidaiji Temple is easily on of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples, and is also a landmark of Nara. It was constucted in 752 as the head temple of all Buddhist Temples in Japan. Located within the grounds of the Nara Park you won’t miss this temple (partly because it is where the massive throngs of people will be heading and accumulating).

Nandai-mon (Great South Gate) of the Toidaiji Temple

As you approach the Temple you will pass through the Nandaimon Gate a large wooden gate, which in itself is designated a national treasure of Nara.

Chumon – Middle Gate at the entrance to the Toidaiji Temple

The Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) was until recently one of the worlds largest wooden buildings and houses one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. Sitting at over 15 meters in height the Buddha exudes a real energy in the hall. As you walk around the Buddha there are a number of models that show how the temple was originally constructed.

Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) – this hall is huge, and yet it is actually a reconstruction and is only two thirds the original temples size.

The grounds of the Toidaiji Temple are extensive and there are several other buildings and shrines that you can look around.

Located at the foot of the entrance is the large Octagonal Lantern which dates from the founding of the Todai-ji temple.

The temple can get extremely busy – if you can time your visit to be either early morning or later in the afternoon you will stand a better chance of getting some breathing room and photos without too many people.

At over 15 meters tall the Buddha statue is huge. It is an imposing figure as you walk around the temple.

The temple is open from 7:30am to 5:30pm every day – entry fee is around 600 Yen.

To the right of the main statue, Kokuzo Bosatsu, Deity of Wisdom and Memory, Todaiji Temple, Nara

Nara is certainly an enjoyable visit from Kyoto as a day trip. Even after being particularly “templed” out in Kyoto it is an interesting exploration of this city especially around the Nara Gardens.

As you walk back down towards the train station to head home there are plenty of shopping streets and restaurant areas. We checked out Totogin Kaiten-Sushi for some quick Sushi for Lunch.

A very nice conveyor belt Sushi restaurant in Nara. Totogin is just at the entrance of the Higashimuki Shopping Street
Plates ranged in price from Y120 to Y550 depending on colour – these plates were the Y350. Very nicely prepared and lovely quality.

That was the key highlights from our day in Nara. Have you been to Nara? Leave a comment below to let me know what you thought. I really enjoyed our day here, we were battling crowds a little bit but not too bad.

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