A 40 minute train ride outside of Osaka lies Nara, the capital of the Nara prefecture. With its close proximity to Osaka and a small city center and park, it’s a perfect half-day trip from Osaka!
Why go to Nara? The town is known for it’s beautiful park which has a whopping eight temples and shrines which are on the Unesco World Heritage list. It has several beautiful temples and shrines, super fresh mochi and a park with 1200 wild deer. Below I have included some of the highlights we saw in Nara, and how we structured our day.
I believe there are few people that do not like a park full of cute (and hungry) deer. Many thing in Nara are also deer decorated (even the potholes!) and it’s easy to understand why. The deer were seen as protectors of the temples, and are protected within the park. When you visit the park, please be respectful and only feed the deer the deer crackers that you can buy from the various vendors around. They cost approximately €1/$1 and are thin wafers. The deer are very cute and quite docile…but wave those crackers around and you will soon have an entire herd of deer walking after you. If they seem to be shaking their head a lot…they are bowing…yes bowing! Even deer are extremely well mannered in Japan. During our walk in the park we fed a few deer that were more relaxed, and stayed away from those looking to steel it from your hands the moment they smelled the cracker. If you take the bus, I recommend getting off near the museum and walking from there.
Temples and Shrines
We went to Nara mainly to visit the park and see the Todaiji Temple, but the park holds 12 temples and shrines to see. The main temple we visited gorgeous and really worth the travel to Nara. It’s the biggest Buddhist temple we visited in Japan, and is made of a beautiful wooden structure. You are greeted by a Buddha of 15 meters tall at the doorway, and several other statues in the temple. A big attraction is a wooden pillar with a hole at the base. It is said that if you can pass through the hole, you will find enlightenment in your next life! I didn’t try…it did not look big enough for my Brazilian curves, but saw many adult men squeeze through!
The temple also allows you to buy Omamori – a lucky charm, for yourself or friends – luck in studying, getting pregnant, safe driving, etc. I bought one for a friend that brings good fortune and positive energy, we can never have enough of that, right?!
Outside on the left of the temple there is a wooden statue of a Buddha and it is said that if you pray to this statue, it can help to relieve you of bodily ailments you have. I went through the process for my knee, so far no improvement…but who knows! Only the Todaiji temple alone was worth going to Nara for in my opinion!
Fresh Mochi & an incredible show
For those not familiar with Mochi, it’s a rice cake made from sticky rice. It can be either sweet or savory, but my favorite are definitely the sweet versions! The fastest mochi pounders have a shop in Nara, and just watching them pound the fresh mochi is an incredible show!! Watch the show and get some delicious fresh (and sooo soft) Mochi after! For a preview, see this youtube video.
When researching what to do in Japan, I read many articles about animal cafes, be it with cats, reptiles or owls. We passed one in Nara and decided to go in as we were curious. I asked the staff inside a lot of questions about how the owls are treated and whether they don’t mind being awake during the day.
Apparently most owls in this location have been there since they hatched, so they are accustomed to the day rhythm. It was fun seeing the owl’s, and we were allowed to hold one for a while, under the supervision of staff. I’m still not convinced this is a responsible business model in general, but have to say that the animals were very well taken care of, and the number of people in the cafe was limited so they were not overwhelmed.
Day trip summary:
- Travel from Osaka: 35 minutes
- Walk to Nara park: 30 minutes OR grab a bus at the station
- Visiting Nara main temple: 30 minutes
- Walking back through the park: 30 minutes
- Lunch: there are many yummy types of Japanese foods to try in Nara (1 hour)
- Sweets: fresh mochi (15 minutes)
- Visit to owl café: 1 hour
- Walk back to station: 20 minutes
Total duration in Nara: 4 – 4.5 hours approximately
Overall, I really recommend visiting Nara!! It’s a beautiful smaller town filled with beautiful temples and cute deer!
Are you planning to visit Japan and the Kansai area? Let me know in the comments below!