Ok first things first, if you go to Japan then I can confirm Nara is a must see! If you’re not going to Japan then make plans to go at some stage just for Nara! It’s quite probably the most amazing place I’ve ever been to on the planet!
Leaving for Nara
I had mixed feelings about leaving for Nara, in terms of Nara itself I was really hyped and excited, however I was also in a relatively bad and pissed off mood as I wouldn’t be making the trip solo, instead I was being joined by another volunteer staying at the same house as me who had wanted to tag along.
Now it’s not that I mind other people, and extra company can be pretty fun. But from what I knew about the person joining me, he was lazy and more interested in sleeping or looking at his Tinder app than actually having any interest in Japan. From the outset he wanted to set off to Nara at midday! I eventually had the night before managed to say leave the station at 9.30am (If it was down to me I’d have been in Nara for 9am!). And on the morning as I expected he wasn’t ready to leave till about 9.45am, resulting in us leaving the station at 10am. I was already pissed at having lost hours of the day.
Needless to say it was down to me to work out the trains, fares and platforms etc. Not a problem as it took me all of 5 seconds to work it out looking at the station fare route map. Even walking to the station I had to slow my pace because I was ‘running’ apparently, in reality I was simply walking at normal walking pace.
The train journey took about 50 minutes, seeing Japan fly past through the windows is really great, I can only imagine what the Shinkansen must be like. Finally we arrived in Nara at around 11am (A lot later than I would have liked!), first up on the list of places to head was the remains of the Imperial Palace. A location that wasn’t far from the station but again my travel companion for the day hadn’t originally wanted to go to because “It didn’t look worth the walk”! But I had already decided that I we were going there, so left the station at the exit that side to make sure of it.
The old imperial palace
A long time ago Nara once used to be the capital, and so this site was where the imperial palace would have once stood, all that remained today was the main gate, the courtyard walls, and a replica rebuild of the main building. Around the area various foundations had also been excavated.
The main gate that remained looked fantastic, it was strange being that it was surrounded by nothing but large open ground where the rest of the complex once stood. Through the gate was open space, fields and a train track cutting across in front, it was a great snapshot of Japan!
Crossing the tracks and heading further North I arrived at the main palace building (or rather a reconstruction of it, as the original had been long since destroyed). The building was impressive either way.
Inside the building was a small museum giving details of the building, the site, and a replica of an imperial throne. Being that everything was replicas pictures were this time allowed.
From the imperial temple my travel companion then decided to crack out a premade lunch he had, which was fine but it screwed up my plans of being able to actually go in an have a sit down lunch somewhere as I couldn’t really say wait here while I go in a restaurant to eat! So I accepted that I wouldn’t have any lunch, I hadn’t even had breakfast as I’d planned to again get a nice breakfast out, but being that we left so late I opted to not even bother as to much time had already been lost.
The next site I had wanted to visit was a temple area in the south west part of Nara, not all that far away from where we were. The site was a temple with two tall pagodas on the site, however the person I was with had decided against this as it was ‘to far away’, there was of course the option of a bus if needed, but he said he’d only walk places as didn’t want to spend out. Fair enough saving money, but don’t then complain about walking!
We headed back to the station as we needed to get the other side of it for the main sites in Nara, on the way back I pointed out a path leading through a field of excavated foundations, the site even led to the side of Nara we wanted to go, but I was denied the chance to explore them as the person I was with decided ‘I don’t think we should go that way as I don’t want to get lost’.
Despite me pointing out that a) it was the right way anyway, b) we wouldn’t get lost as I have a natural sense of direction, bearings and a map in my head of where everything was, c) who cares anyway as getting lost leads to fun exploration. We ended up heading back the same way along the streets. At this point I decided that I was simply going to have to come back to enjoy and explore more of Nara on my own, with the late start and the reluctance of my travel companion to do much I was just going to have to try and enjoy what I got to see today while dragging around a dead weight!
Arriving back past the station I suggested going a couple of blocks over to where the main shopping district and market was, as it would be great to pick up some hand crafted gifts, while also being the most likely place where I could pick up some good street food to eat while I walked. This fell on deaf ears, with the other person deciding that the street directly in front was the way to go, because it was nearby. Being quite annoyed I’d now officially given up on the day!
The street we used to get to the park was lined with various shops and food places, though nothing as interesting as I would imagine the main shopping area to be. At the end of the road was a large pond, and up some steps I got my first deer sighting!
Up the steps led to an area with a temple and a pagoda as well as lots and lots of deer!
The deer in this area seemed really relaxed and chilled out, most of them were either laying down watching people go by, or slowly walking around posing for photos. There weren’t any vendors selling food for the deer in this section, so these were probably ones that had eaten and come here to relax. They really are magnificent animals to see, their really calming, friendly and so soft to touch, and the great thing was how much respect everyone was showing them. Even small children were not loud or running to chase them.
Moving through the area I then arrived at a small park full of deer who were walking around and a bit more active, they were following people, a large pack of them decided to cross the street, amazingly cleaver enough to even wait for the traffic lights to change!!! Though all of the cars driving around here were going slowly and stopping for deer anyway.
In the next area I then found a group of dear gathered around an old lady who was feeding them deer cookies, I managed to ask her in Japanese where she brought them, she then led me to a stall where I could by them, which it turns out was hers. I then excitedly headed back in to feed the deer!
It’s here that I learnt there are three types of deer in Nara when it comes to food, the calm and polite deer who really do bow to you in exchange for food! Which by the way is the most incredible sight and makes the deer even cuter than they already are! Honestly I can’t describe enough how amazing Nara is! It should be a wonder of the world!
The next type is the curious and hungry deer, these are still really friendly, but they will notice your food from a distance, make their way slowly towards you, push their heads into you to nose around, then surround you till you give them food. Again really cute dear to watch them walk up from a distance to come and see you.
Then final type is the alpha deer, there’s a couple of these around, they won’t bow for their food, they will just come right up and take it from you, weather your handing it to them or not. They will push you a bit if they feel you are holding food back from them, and they will use their heads to push other deer out of the way in order to get more food. Don’t get me wrong, they are not aggressive at all, they just really want their food.
This type of deer will also follow you around until either they are sure you no longer have any food, or until they see someone else with food. Their a really fun type of deer to watch.
There are then the deer who have already eaten and are just happy to casually wander around, I found some drinking from a little stream running through the park. And others who were just laying down basking in the sun, while some were just off for a walk in the woods.
There are so many deer around here it’s hard to describe in words, if everywhere in the world had a place like this then no one would ever be stressed and I’m pretty sure it would stop all wars because everyone would be to busy watching the deer in awe.
They just make you feel at peace, and they provide funny moments when they snoop through peoples bags or even vending machines to see what’s going to appear.
Moving further into the park area I then discovered a range of sakura trees, plum trees and a white flower tree (which I’m currently waiting on the name for). They were all starting to bloom, providing some really stunning sights around the park. Again deer were all over the place here to.
Shrines in the park
Through the course of traversing the park I discovered a lot of shrines, there was a great wall of wooden panels covered in writing.
There were steps filled with lanterns lining the pathways. On a random note I’ve just been informed that the white flowers are a different type of plum tree.
I then discovered another larger temple section which had wish shrine tags in the shape of deer, these have now become a tradition for me to do, I once again wrote a message to my friend, drew the deer face and sent her a picture.
After this I then proceeded toward Todaiji Temple
This is on the list of must see sights in Nara, a massive temple with fantastic grounds and it houses a giant Buddha. Oh, and it’s also the worlds largest wooden building!
Approaching the main gate was brilliant, there was a long pathway with shops and food stalls on one side, with a giant lake on the other, a large gateway marked the start of the temple compound.
Approaching the main temple gate was another stunning sight, the woodwork is really something to appreciate.
Through the main gate you could see the main hall of the temple, though you couldn’t walk through as a route around had been setup for purchase of tickets and entry.
The entry was only around 500 yen, entering the main compound gave a better view of the main hall, which really was a sight to behold against the bright clear skies.
In the main temple hall there was a huge Buddah statue, words really can’t do justice to how incredible this place is.
Inside the hall was lined with artifacts and other items such as small scale models of buildings.
A giant Buddah hand was also laid out to get a better idea of scale.
After leaving the temple it was almost the day over with light fading. The person I was travelling with was planning on meeting someone so wanted to head back into the city area to find WiFi to check messages, I was in real need of finding food at this point so went with the plan. There was still a little time to feed my last deer cookies to a lovely deer near a bench.
From then on it was back to the city, we passed by some really great looking food places, which had I been travelling solo would probably have gone in. But ending up in the city the other person wanted to find a cheap fast food chain that he’d eaten in before so he would know what their like. Eventually we found one and I ended up with a really nice pork rice dish. The food tasted great, but I would have liked to try something a bit different from somewhere.
Nigh time festival of fire
After dinner the person managed to check his messages saying he was meeting someone to stay with and would meet back at the house the next day. I largely suspected I would see him when I got back later in the evening, however it meant I was free to explore a bit more solo.
With the sun fading I started heading back to the park, passing through a now lit up city, looking great against the colour of the bluish purple sky. My goal was to find a festival of fire, where large torches would be lit on a temple balcony. I didn’t know exactly where it was, but I suspected it was in the vicinity of Todaiji temple.
The trip through the city was amazing at night with lots of illuminations on the ground and on trees.
There were some great colour changing displays, and as I got nearer to the temple I saw quite a few more people starting to head in the same direction, the crowds were clearly aiming to converge on a common location so I decided I was headed in the right direction for a festival.
I managed to grab some shots of the lake near Todaiji which looked great in the dark, really calm and the reflections were great. The crowds headed up a series of stairs, and eventually led to a temple at the top which was lit up brightly.
I was around half an hour early before the event, which was great as it gave me time to get into a good position, though there were already masses of people gathered and waiting.
The torches were spectacular, they were lit at the bottom, carried up some stairs and then run along the balcony in a huge fireball, before being swung round in the air over the edge of the temple where they would then explode in a stunning shower of sparks. My phone camera sadly was unable to capture good night time shots, so these pictures can’t do it justice.
The festival lasted around 30 minutes, with I think around 10 torches being turned into fireballs and exploding, each time there were cheers and applause from the crowds, it was a great atmosphere.
After the festival I headed back through the now dark park, and managed to see a lot of deer gathered together sleeping in the dark woods.
I then passed the now lit up pagoda before heading back through the city streets, which were amazing at night. Sadly my phone died at this point so pics had to stop. It was then time to jump back on the train and head home.
I strongly recommend Nara at night to see, as it really is stunning and it’s nice to explore the park with no one around. In addition I will come back here as there is a lot I didn’t see, I would probably have if solo and left when I wanted. But I would probably suggest 2-3 days in Nara.