Magic in the land of Nara


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.

Find a place to eat or drink

Find a place to eat or ‘drink (drank)’ from your walk from JR Nara Station to Nara Park


The top of the five story pagoda of the Kofuku-ji peeking from below the road


Kofuku-ji’s pagoda is the second tallest in Japan. Exploring its temple grounds is free but there’s a fee for the museum and other halls



The more we walked, the more we encountered more deer and we saw a lot of them outside this small eatery, where we had lunch. The lunch was nothing to go back to but the deer seemed hopeful they were going to get fed by the diners with the deer crackers. Just be careful, when you start to feed one, most of the others nearby will also want some piece of the action



The trail leading to the Kasuga Taisha shrine is flanked by stone lanterns



Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine



Deer (and spot the deer poop) lead you to the Nandaimon Gate of the Todaiji temple

The deer...

The Nandaimon Gate to the Todaiji Temple

The largest..

The Daibutsuden is Todaiji’s main hall. The photo might not do it justice, but it’s really impressive. It’s the world’s largest wooden building, which houses a 15-meter tall bronze statue of Buddha

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.



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