How would you like to visit a city park over run by deer? If you haven’t known already, the city of Nara in Japan has it’s famous deer park where you can go foot to hoof with these 4 legged creatures.

Getting There

Going to Nara is relatively easy if you are already staying at Kyoto or Osaka. Both cities connect to Nara by JR train lines, and if you already have the JR Pass, this train ride is basically free.

From Kyoto Station, JR rapid trains leave at 30 minutes intervals and take 45 minutes to arrive at Nara Station. The tickets costs ¥710 one way but are covered by the JR Pass.

From Osaka Station, JR rapid trains leave every hour and take 50 minutes to arrive at Nara Station. The ticket costs ¥800 one way but are also covered by the JR Pass.

Another railway company, Kintetsu runs trains from Kyoto and Osaka to Nara. Prices are lower and their station is nearer to Nara Park compared to JR, so if you don’t have the JR Pass, you can consider the Kintetsu trains instead.

 

Nara in a Day

Nara itself is a small city and for most visitors, a visit to Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. Nara was the first permanent capital of ancient Japan established in 710AD. Later the capital was moved to Kyoto in 784AD. Because of this, you will find a large number of temples and the ruins of an imperial palace in Nara.

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Legend says that the god of the Kasuga Taisha came to Nara riding on a white deer. I guess this mascot figure at the train station represents that god?

Most of the attractions including the deer are centred around Nara Park. From JR Nara station the quickest way to get to Nara Park is by public bus. Otherwise you can walk the more than 2km distance if the weather is good. For ourselves, we took a taxi from JR Nara station to Nara Park. The distance is not far and for a group of 4-5 people, a taxi can be a more economical choice of transport.

If you take the Kintetsu trains, then the Kintetsu Nara station is much nearer to Nara Park and you can just walk over.

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When you step into Nara Park you will be greeted by herds of deer. They are said to be native to Nara for more than a thousand years. They have also become accustomed to humans and are not shy to come up to you.
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As a kid I grew up on Disney cartoons and my impression of deer were that they were gentle and cute like Bambi. Heck! I even named my pet dog Bambi…
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In reality, the deer here are really a notorious bunch. Warning signs are put up everywhere to let visitors know that they are still dealing with wild animals.
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So I was tempted to buy some “deer biscuits” from one of the many vendors scattered throughout the park. The fact that the deer didn’t try to snatch the displayed biscuits but waited patiently concealed their true nature.
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You can run but you cannot hide… Once money changes hands and the “deer biscuits” are in your hands, suddenly those gentle deer become a horde of murderous deer chasing after you for food. I must say I did feel a sense of panic upon seeing a herd of deer charging at me for biscuits.
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Checking out a tourist for any hidden biscuits.

While children may find it cute to feed the deer. Small children shouldn’t do it as the deer can be aggressive when feeding and knock smaller children down, or bite to get attention. I received a painful nip to my leg just because 1 of the deer didn’t get a biscuit in time, and my pants pockets were wet with deer saliva because they were putting their muzzles inside to look for biscuits. And that’s my first experience with the Nara deer.

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As long as the deer know you don’t have biscuits on hand they are rather docile and are willing to pose for that dreamy woodland shot. Do look before you lie or roll on the grass since the deer are fond of pooping anywhere.

So besides cavorting with resident deer, Nara has the very famous Todaiji Temple complex which is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple lays claim to the world’s largest wooden structure and stands at 48m tall.

To get to the temple you have to pass through the equally impressive Nandaimon Gate (South Great Gate) which is also an all wood structure.

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The huge and impressive Nandaimon Gate which visitors have to pass through to enter Todaiji Temple. The gate houses 2 wooden guardian gods which stand at 7m tall, guarding the temple from evil.
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After passing through Nandaimon and another inner wall, we came face to face with the main temple. It’s hard to believe that this huge temple is supported only by wooden pillars. The temple was first built in 745AD and took 15 years to complete. It was rebuilt in 1709 and has lasted until now. It’s said that the the present temple is only 2/3 the size of the original temple.

There is an entry fee of ¥600 to enter the main temple which houses the Great Buddha Hall. I do think it’s totally worth it to pay to enter the temple as you will get to see the largest bronze Buddha in Japan inside, plus many other ancient artifacts.

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Visitors are welcomed to pray at the temple, and there are 2 big incense urns for you to do that.
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The more popular urn is the one just in front of the great hall. Visitors from different countries come here to pray for Buddha’s blessings.
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The great bronze Buddha statue which has darkened over the ages represents the Cosmic Buddha, stands at 15m tall and weighs over 500 tons. You can see the massive timber pillars and beams which support the whole temple.
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In one of the massive pillars that supports the temple, there is a small square hole which is said to be the same size as the nostril of the Great Buddha statue. Anyone who can squeeze through that hole will gain enlightenment for their next life. So many have tried, but only the small of hip will pass through.

Besides the Great Buddha Hall, there are several other notable buildings in the Todaiji temple complex. They don’t require any entry fees and are within walking distance from the great hall.

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The small pond just outside the Great Buddha Hall makes for a great photo.
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The Bell Tower dates back to 1210 and houses a 26 ton bell which is in working order. You can ring the bell by swinging the log against it.
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Rows of stone lanterns lead the way to Nigatsu-do, a sub-temple of Todaiji.
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From the corridors of Nigatsu-do you can see the Great Buddha Hall in the distance and behind it, the city of Nara.
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A quiet moment before the tourist crowds appear.
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I visited Nara during the spring period and got to see these beautiful cherry blossoms against traditional architecture.

Once you’ve had your fill of deer and temples, it’s time to head back to Nara city. There is a small shopping street where the tourists hang out for snacks and souvenirs. This is also a good time to check out some of the restaurants in Nara. For ourselves, we decided to eat at Edogawa Grilled Eel Restaurant which serves unagi, or Japanese fresh water eel. This restaurant is quite well known and it’s better to make reservations. We had to wait almost 45 minutes as we were just walk-in customers.

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The main shopping street is Naramachi Street, a covered pedestrian walkway with shops and restaurants on both sides.
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One of the more quirky shops along Naramachi run by an artist which features cat art on everything. Feline lovers will love this.
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A famous moochi shop along the main street. Moochi is a Japanese chewy rice cake which the 2 guys are pounding with their mallets.

From Naramachi Street or the main street of Sanjo Dori, you can walk back to JR Nara station or Kintetsu Station to catch your train back to Kyoto or Osaka.

For a typical day trip, most people will opt to visit Todaiji and Nara Park in the morning as it’s less hot, and then make their way back to Nara city to enjoy lunch/tea break at the restaurants and do some shopping before catching the train back to Kyoto or Osaka.

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6 thoughts on “Nara Deer Park

    1. Yes they are really adorable especially when the mommy and baby deer do their lovey dovey thing. Just make sure you they don’t see you holding deer biscuits. It’s like a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing.

  1. What a nice weather when you were there! Nara looks so different compared to when I went — it was mostly cloudy and gloomy. Speaking of the deer, I noticed how they persistently followed people who were spotted carrying the deer biscuit, therefore I decided to keep a safe distance from them — probably the most aggressive thing one could ever encounter in Japan! Those are such lovely photos, Edwin.

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