Nara, Japan – a day trip to see the deer (and temples)

After a few days relaxing and exploring in Arashiyama, we returned to Osaka. We only had a couple of days left before we had to leave Japan. Since we had already explored Osaka at the beginning of our trip, we decided to take a day trip to Nara.

Nara is only about 45 minutes from Osaka by train. We spent the entire day near Nara Park. The park, also called the “Deer Park” is home to hundreds of Sika Deer which roam the park freely. According to legend, the deer are seen as protectors of the city.

Deer

For many people, the deer are the main attraction in Nara. So… below are my better pictures of the deer. Generally, you can walk right by the animals and they don’t seem to mind. But they are still wild animals; there are signs all around the park warning people that they will bite, kick, or otherwise injure you if you don’t respect them.

Beyond the deer in Nara

Around the park are several temples and shrines; notably Todaiji, Yakushiji, and the Kasuga Shrine. Todaiji is one of the largest wooden structures on the planet. We didn’t realize this at the time. For a lot of people, ourselves included, the deer in the park was too much of a unique experience so we walked by many of the temples without much intrigue.

One aspect of Nara Park that intrigued me was the hundreds of stone lanterns, or Toros, that line many of the walkways. The lanterns look especially old with moss growing on top. Nara is the old capital of Japan, so many of the structures are over 1,000 years old; including the lanterns.

Mossy lanterns in Nara Park - 10-26-2019
Nara stone lanterns

High pointing

To the East of the park is a trail that leads to Mt. Wakakusa, the high point of the area at 342 meters. There are deer present at the top of the mountain as well. Walking up the gravel trail takes you through an old-growth forest with waterfalls and tall trees. At the pinnacle, you can view the city, surrounding mountains, and some of the temples around Nara Park.

View from Mt. Wakakusa - Nara, Japan
View from Mt. Wakakusa with Todaiji and Nara below

Deer food

There are several locations in the park that sell “deer crackers” that you can feed to the deer. Visitors should not feed the deer with any other food. The deer might chase you down if you have food out.

Getting to know the deer

Even if you don’t have food, the deer often check out the people in search of food. The Nara deer have co-existed with humans for generations, so they are quasi-domesticated animals. There are warning signs urging people not to feed or touch the deer, but often the deer will approach people and they are generally used to being pet. I’m not sure about the bucks though. The larger bucks appear to have their antlers cut off to protect visitors. Some of the bucks have small antlers that have yet to be cut off.

Deer asking for food and a buck without antlers

Summary

Nara Park is a really great outdoor escape. The cities in Japan are remarkably well put together. The cities heavily incorporate nature and allow residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors. Nara is certainly an extreme example with deer running around everywhere. The area is also very spiritual with several large temples, gardens, shrines, and scenic views all within walking distance. If you like the outdoors, Nara is a great place to spend the day.

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