August 2015

Deer are to Nara what beef is to Kobe or the castle is to Himeji. A few moments after you leave the Kintetsu station on your walk up towards Nara park, you pass clusters of them on the pavement with tourists snapping photos (selfie + deer seems to be very in) and feeding them deer biscuits. There are warning signs everywhere that they could be dangerous, but the ones I saw were all very passive and having them ambling around certainly adds a certain charm to the place you can’t find elsewhere. The only downside is naturally the mess they leave, a very rare sight in Japan.

The day I visited did not start out too auspiciously. Thinking that the 5 pieces of paper I got for my Seishun-18 ticket were all tickets and not just one ticket with 4 information slips, I foolishly had thrown the top part away in Kyoto. I asked many times to get a new one in Namba, Kyoto and Osaka Airport, but was politely turned down on each occasion. Understandable I suppose, but frustrating to lose 4 days of ‘free’ travel with such a careless error. Still, these things even themselves out in the long run.

Nara is easily walkable and you can cover the main sights in a day at a leisurely pace. The main attraction apart from the deer is the ‘Daibutsu‘ (Big Buddha), who is very big indeed. He also has a very nice house, as tends to be the way in this part of the world. In fact, I found this building to be the most striking thing in the whole park. On the inside, there were two elements more intriguing to me than the massive statue itself.

The first protrudes out of the back wall and seems to be a Buddha hand with middle finger upraised, I’m not exactly sure what for. Maybe he’s just sick of the deer. A little further along there is a hole in a pillar that is supposed to bring you good fortune if you can squeeze through it. Most children got through while I was watching, as well as a rather lithe young Japanese fellow. Most of the others got stuck and I think it would definitely have gone the same way for me had I tried. Not wanting to have firemen tug me out of a holy piece of architecture, I decided to give it a miss.

Nara is a mini Kyoto plus deer. There are still plenty of tourists, but not in the same overwhelming numbers as Japan’s tourist mecca and I probably enjoyed my day out here more. Make sure to have it on your itinerary if you’re in this part of the world!