A Visit to Nara, Japan: One Giant Buddha and Lots of Hungry Deer

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I’ve just returned from a two week adventure in Japan and I’m still trying to come to terms with everything we saw in this beautiful country. From the quiet chaos that is Tokyo to Kyoto’s 1,600 Buddhist temples, we found ourselves in a dizzying state of awed inspiration just about every single day. On most mornings, it was simply overwhelming trying to decide between the many wonderful options at our disposal. How do you choose between pagodas, Zen gardens, Buddhist temples, and geishas, oh my?

Our first week was spent enjoying Tokyo and Kyoto in the breath-robbing muggy August heat, but once we had explored ourselves silly in all that these two cities have to offer, we managed to find a bit of respite in a charming Japanese town called Nara. After days of catching multiple trains, subways and buses to see the sites in the aforementioned towns, Nara was a much welcomed change in that it’s compact, easy to navigate, and of course, there are messenger deer.

The deer of Nara, Japan
Seems so sweet and cuddly, right?

Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, these Sika deer are all over the place in Nara, but are mainly concentrated in the expansive Nara Park found on the way to the local sites. There are a few vendors in the park that sell crackers so visitors can feed the deer.

Deer in Nara, Japan
They come for the crackers, but may take all they can get. This little guy almost lost one of his cute little fingers!

The Nara deer are very used to people and they are tame by wild animal standards. However, if you choose to feed these doe-eyed creatures, consider yourself warned that these hungry deer get rather aggressive when it comes to food. Don’t be surprised to get nine or ten of them jostling you to drop the cracker or even nipping at your clothes.

And as cute as they are, these greedy deer are certainly not the only tourist attraction in Nara. There are fifteen World Heritage sites found within the three UNESCO World Heritage Listings in Nara. Thankfully, the city is easy to navigate on foot and most of the sites are within walking distance from each other.

While Nara’s claims to Unesco fame makes for a long list, it’s the enormous Buddha located in the world’s largest wooden building, the Todaiji temple, that should be your first stop. The immense temple was constructed in 752 and has more than enough space for the 15-meter-tall bronze statue that dominates the interior.

Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan
The Todai-ji Temple looks enormous from the outside, but once you’re inside, the space is unbelievable!
The  largest enclosed bronze Buddha in the world, Nara, Japan
As the largest enclosed bronze Buddha in the world, this is Nara’s gem and it’s easy to see why.

Additionally, a trip to Nara wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the incredible Kasuga Taisha, the city’s most celebrated shrine. Located in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, another Unesco World Heritage Site, the shrine is most famous for its massive collection of stone and bronze lanterns. Twice a year during local festivals, they light all of the lanterns and you can just imagine how beautiful that is.

Kasuga Taisha in Nara, Japan
Over three thousand stone laterns, donated by families, line the walk way up to the shrine.
Kasuga-taisha temple, Nara, Japan
Once inside, the hanging lanterns are really beautiful, especially in contrast to the red pillars in the temple.

Nara was a beautiful stop on our Japanese tour and certainly a must if you’re headed to this part of the world. A lot of people take a day trip to Nara from nearby Kyoto because the train ride is just about 40 minutes. However, we stayed the night there in order to be able to explore this beautiful town at a leisurely place, which was completely worth it.

All of the Japanese towns we visited were incredible and I’m already wishing I could go back and explore some more cities. Have you ever been to this part of Japan? Which cities would you recommend? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email with your comments or questions.

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