Mrs. Selfish and I decided very early on that a trip to Nara was necessary as part of our long stay in Kyoto. Nara was the capital of Japan prior to Kyoto, though only for a period of 70 years. It does have some pretty magnificent sites, however, including the largest Buddha in Japan and a shrine with over 3000 stone lanterns.
It also has deer – lots of deer. According to legend, the deer are heavenly protectors of Nara, and enjoy a special status. What it means in practice is the Nara parks are packed with deer and people selling deer merchandise and deer food.
It also means the deer are very aggressive.
Nara can be reached from Kyoto Station pretty easily by train. Trains travel to and from Nara about every 20 minutes and vary in travel time from 30 minutes to 55 minutes, ranging in price from around 1200 – 600 yen if I remember correctly.
Once we got off the train we immediately headed toward the main park area. It wasn’t long before we started seeing deer – and deer warning signs.
Deer will apparently bite you, steal your bag, and ram you from behind.
For the small price of 150 yen, you get a packet of deer cookies wrapped in paper. The deer aren’t too smart, so will eat the paper if given the chance. Mrs. Selfish bought a few packs of deer cookies, and within a few moments we were surrounded by our own deer entourage.
Unfortunately we ran out of cookies quickly, and the deer started getting testy – biting Mrs. Selfish on two separate occasions. With no other tourists in sight to attract them we got rid of the deer the only way we knew how – by running away!
Deer biting: probably not covered by travel insurance.
While we could outrun the deer, however, we were no match for cute Japanese schoolchildren. There seem to be a lot of field trips in Japan for kids of all ages, as you can tell from all the uniforms. In our case we were surrounded by kids working on their English projects who needed signatures from native English speakers. Cute!
At least they didn’t bite.
The Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
Continuing on, we headed to the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. The Shrine is dedicated to the god Takemikazuchi, who rode into Nara on a white deer, and is said to protect the city. The Kasuga-Taisha Shrine has been around since Nara was founded and has been around in one form or another since 768 AD. It’s also has over 3000 stone lanterns.
The Todai-ji Temple
Next we headed to the Todai-Ji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure. Started in 752, Todai-Ji Temple is home to Japan’s largest Buddha. Crazily, its present form is 2/3 the size of the original – this being Japan, the temple has burned to the ground on multiple occasions.
The Todai-Ji Temple is the most popular temple in Nara, so we ended up having to navigate our way through throngs of school children being harassed by throngs of deer.
Entrance to the temple is 500 yen, but man is it worth it – especially if you’re a fan of massive structures. We’ve seen some pretty big Buddhas in Asia, but at close to 160 feet the Buddha at Todai-Ji Temple is worth a gander.
Despite the highly trafficked route, Nara is definitely a city worth seeing. We enjoyed our time walking through the parks, and catching a glimpse of ancient Japan.
Just watch out for the deer.