14 May 2016

Nara: Oh Deer

Nara is one of the places that I was most looking forward to visiting during my stay in the Kansai region. I'd spent hours (literally, hours) googling pictures of the adorable deer that populate Nara Park, and was in a frenzy of anticipation at the prospect of being able to feed these cuties with wafers (which you can purchase for just 100 JPY in the park). I mean, just look at them:

Cute Deer Numbers 1 and 2

Cute Deer Number 3

Cute Deer Number 4

However, what should have been one of the best moments of my time in Japan (if not one of the best moments of all time), quickly descended into farce as I proceeded to be pecked repeatedly on the bum by impatient deer who didn't have the time for me to unwrap the biscuits. Once unwrapped, I attempted to feed the ungrateful deer, but ended up practically throwing the wafers at them as they got more and more aggressive, and I more or less broke into a sprint in the opposite direction as soon as the last biscuit had left my hands. I only saw the following warning sign after the heartless attack had taken place, which frankly was just too little, too late.

I suppose it is often the moments you most look forward to that end up in disappointment. You just hype them up so much in your mind that the reality can never quite live up the imagination. Anyway, once I'd gotten over the fact that the deer had ruined what should have been a beautiful moment for all involved, the rest of the day unfolded, and as I walked through Nara Park I realised that although I had come for the deer, Nara had so much more to offer.

A red torii gate sits on an island in Nara Park

Todai-ji is Nara's centrepiece, a great temple with a huge Buddha statue in its main hall. One of the reasons why such an impressive temple exists in Nara is because the city used to be Japan's capital. The central hall, where the Buddha resides, is actually the largest wooden building in the world.

Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall)

Daibutsu (Big Buddha) is 15m tall

Bodhisattvas statues sit either side of the Buddha 

Other Buddhist statues decorate the rest of the interior of the hall

There are a couple of other buildings in the Todai-ji temple complex worth looking at, including the Nigatsu-do and Hokke-do halls. The walk uphill to these is worthwhile, with ancient trees and stone pillars lining the way to the top.

Once I'd wandered around the Todai-ji temple complex, I visited Isui-en Garden, which sits just outside Nara Park. I've become incredibly fond of Japanese gardens since coming to Japan, and when visiting a new place I tend to seek out the nearest landscaped garden and pay it a visit. They are not only beautiful places aesthetically, but also provide a soothing respite from hectic urban life.

The entry fee to the garden also includes entry to the museum, which holds the ceramics collection of the garden's founder, Nakamura Junsaku. He collected ceramics from Japan, China and Korea. 

If after that, you're still hungry for more, there's another Japanese Garden just next door, called Yoshikien. Even better, it offers free entry to foreign visitors. This was a pleasant surprise, as many of the benefits offered to foreigners are only for those on tourist visas, and as I am here on a working holiday visa, I don't normally qualify.

Like most Japanse gardens, this one is divided into distinct parts: a pond garden, a moss garden and the garden of tea ceremony flowers.

The pond garden at Yoshikien

Cheeky deer, a giant Buddha and impressive gardens. It was a long day sightseeing in Nara, but unfortunately there were still things I didn't have time to see, such as the Nara National Museum. But as I drank a matcha latte at the end of the day, my tired feet told me that the day had been a good effort nonetheless.

What do you think of Japanese Gardens? Do you like their manicured appearance, or do you prefer a more 'natural' garden design?


  1. I'm looking forward to visiting Nara but those deer sound really pesky

    1. Yeah, they're an adorable nuisance: far too tame to have any fear of humans!

  2. I loved Nara - although didn't realise until I got there that my shorts were the same colour as the wafers so ended up getting bitten on the bum by a deer (much to the supressed amusement of a nearby Japanese family).

    1. Haha - sounds like you were lucky to make it out of there in one piece!