Daytrip to Nara
Don’t let anyone tell you a half day is enough to see Nara.
I probably decided to cram too much into this trip. But I just felt that a daytrip to Nara would be worth it. See the sacred, if slightly aggressive, deer, and some temples. Wow. It was definitely worth it but I also did not have enough time to see everything I wanted. I was nearly late to my tea ceremony in Kyoto because I was snagging Polaroids and a temple stamp.
I left Osaka by 9AM and arrived in Nara by 10ish. I’ve now learned to plan 30minutes in each new place “for confusion.” I couldn’t find the luggage lockers, and when I did I had no cash. Oh well! First stop was Kufuku-ji temple. This complex is pretty large, with a shrine and two temple buildings that each cost 500Y to get into. I honestly don’t think the entrance fee is worth it. The buildings only house some nice statues and some basic information on Buddhism. But they are lovely to look at from the outside!
Then I found the famous deer. I immediately bought a pack of cookies for 200Yen and set off to be followed by masses of deer. They’re a little aggressive, they’ll nip at your pockets/purse and headbutt your back. But their horns are generally capped so it’s not a big deal. If you’ve been around a horse or a large dog it’s basically the same. They’re really cute and fun to see everywhere.
Gardens and tea
Part of the reason I think I loved Nara so much was because I didn’t go to super touristy spots a lot. Nara’s gardens were my favorite of those I saw in Japan. Isui-en Gardens are gorgeous. The entrance fee is a little steep at 800Y but it does include access to the small museum on site. I had so much fun wandering the gardens with hardly any people. It’s also where I think you can start to see some of the traditional markers that are found all over Japan. A rock with rope tied around it means you can’t go down that path. A plant with red berries generally seemed to mark entrances.
Even in winter these gardens were well worth the visit. However, if you are wanting to save money, there is a free public garden literally to the right of the entrance. It is also very beautiful, and has more camellia flowers (my favorites). I liked both pretty equally 🙂 Isui-en also has a lovely tea house. Matcha and a sweet was 800Y and it has some sublime views and atmosphere.
I wasn’t really expecting much, but Todaiji wound up being one of my favorite temples (not the most favorite though). The three giant statues are really quite impressive. And the large dominance of the building as it comes into view with it’s two golden “horns” is surprisingly unexpected. The entrance fee can seem a little steep again at 600Y but this one feels worth it. It’s definitely not a spiritual place, so don’t expect mysticism. But it is really cool. There’s also a place to get your fortune for 100Y (I got Good Fortune, shocker :P).
After Todaiji I had to start heading home. I got some freshly made mochi for 150Y and some delicious maple bread from a bakery on the way to the train station. My time in Nara was wonderful, and I’ll definitely be back for a couple of days next time.
I hope this has given you some ideas of what you can see with just 4 or 5 hours in Nara! But I really recommend you stay the night and give yourself time to fully appreciate everything, and visit some further away temples and especially hike in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. A Daytrip to Nara simply isn’t enough but sometimes it’s all you’ve got, and it’s worth it.
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