Once upon a time, around a century or two after Buddhism was established in Japan, during the beginning of early Japanese poetry and probably long, long before anime was born (or I may have my timelines mixed up), legend has it that a mythological god arrived on a white deer to guard the new capital of Heijo-kyo or present-day Nara.
Fast forward more than 1,300 years and the ancient capital still possesses a storybook charm. There’s something almost magical about Nara.
Maybe it’s the sprawling park with its sun-dappled trails that lead to several beautiful shrines, temples and gardens. Maybe it’s the sight of the herds of deer that roam freely around the park and sometimes stop where the sun hits them perfectly (so you can take that photo), charm you for biscuits, or stand up on their hind legs and fight each other for those said biscuits (I swear all of those things happened). Maybe it’s seeing the tip of a pagoda you’ve been looking for peeking from the top of the trees as you walk up a road. Maybe it’s how you feel like you can take a leisurely stroll anywhere in the small town and you’ll still be surrounded by a soothing scenery to make you forget about how upset you were that you lost some things in the train station earlier that morning. Or maybe it’s just finding a Gachopon of your favorite anime in some nondescript arcade near the JR train station of Nara of all places (Yowamushi Pedal!).
Whatever it was, I was convinced that Nara held magic.
It also has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which you can see in one full day as they are spread out around the more than five-hundred hectare park. I told P that I was okay just walking around the park and leaving Nara without having to see the temples and shrines because, like a kid, I really just wanted to see the deer. But the more we walked around the park, the more we wanted to see more of it, including its temples and shrines and gardens.
How to get to Nara: You can take the JR Nara line to the JR Nara Station or the Kintetsu line to the Kintetsu Nara Station. We got off the JR line and it was around a half an hour leisurely walk to get to Kofuku-ji. From there you can pass by Nara National Museum, then Kasuga Taisha and upon going back head to Todaiji before going to Kintetsu station.