Summer in Japan, 6 things to do in Nara on a day trip
Besides heading to Kyoto from Osaka, another popular day trip out of Osaka is Nara! Some people may complete Nara on their way to Kyoto. Since we only had 4 days in the Land of the Rising Sun, we decided to head to Nara for a half-day trip.
How to get to Nara from Osaka?
From Osaka, it is only a short 50 minutes ride from Namba to Kintetsu-Nara Station on the Kintetsu Line. Although there is a Nara station, Kintetsu-Nara is a much closer station to the Kofuku Temple. If you are going to Nara on the way to Kyoto, consider purchasing the Kintetsu Rail Pass (see below). You can choose from 1 day, 2 days, or even a 5-day pass to have unlimited rides on the Kintetsu Line. Having this rail pass also means that you'll get to travel for free on the Nara Buses (useful to save some walking, especially on an extremely hot day!).
An alternative should you wish to go to Nara with a tour, there's also the Afternoon Tour that will cover Nara's main attractions including Nara Park and the Todaiji Temple. This is a great option for families with young children or with the elderly as you can save quite a bit of walking plus save the trouble of transfers! The tour would pick you up from your respective hotels around 12noon and whisk you away to Nara and finally returning you back to the comforts of your hotel room in the evening.
How to get to Nara from Kyoto?
The travel between Kyoto to Nara can also be done via the Kintetsu Line, should you take the Limited Express, you'll get to Kyoto in about 40 minutes! A good idea would be to make Nara your pit stop on your journey to Kyoto! :) However, since we were running a really tight schedule to see all that we can of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. Nara was only a half day trip for us!
1. Feed and play with the Nara Deers in Nara Park
I won't doubt it, the primary reason why we even went to Nara was to head to see the deers! If you are ever heading to Kyoto and thinking of a place to pass by, it will definitely be Nara's deer park. It isn't difficult to find the deers as you will find them on your way to Kofuku-ji Temple!
From Kintetsu-Nara Station, this would be the scene that greets you...
Almost like you've been transported to an amusement park, Nara greeted us with such a view! You may be very tempted to turn into the Higashimuki shopping street but you can leave that long stretch till after you've played with the deers.
Walk straight and slightly uphill and you'll see the deers in no time! Even before you can reach the temple, the deers are fighting over biscuits with tourists at the pavement. You can choose to purchase biscuits for 100 yen, or we'd suggest heading deeper to get nicer pictures with fewer crowds!
Be careful with your belongings too! Especially if you hold a plastic bag like we did. It wasn't food but the deers certainly thought that they were and kept following and sniffing our bags. Some even tried to chew the bag away from us! :(
Even though the Nara Deers are quite mild-mannered animals, do not try to abuse them or fool them that you have food if you don't because they may hurt you in defense.
Nonetheless, ever seen the bowing deers? Some say that if you bow to them, they will bow back! But we realised that they bow to anyone who has food in their hands...
Also, DO NOT feed the deer any other food other than the biscuits as it may instead harm the deers. The biscuits are a unique blend of grains that contains no sugars!
Finally, keep all rubbish with you and DO NOT litter in the park. Doing so will make the park a dirty environment for people and the deers, plus we saw deers trying to eat the rubbish and that could have been disastrous!
You can potentially spend quite a bit of time here playing with the deers, taking instagram-worthy shots, or simply just allow your children to get up-close with these animals. However, the deers are all around Nara Park and you can continue taking in the sights as you spot more deers or even deers following you!
Besides the deers, Nara Park is a huge park that is great for people who wish to have an afternoon stroll (perhaps not quite during the hot summer season!).
2. Kofuku-ji Temple
Kofuku-ji Temple is a buddhist temple with a pagoda. After looking at several Shinto Shrines, we would say that this offers a refreshing change of scenery. Walking around the temple is free but if you would want to head inside the National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall, there will be a nominal fee charged (700 yen and 300 yen respectively).
The Kofukuji temple used to be the family temple of the most powerful clan, Fujiwara, during the Nara and Heian Periods. The five-storey pagoda seen at the site is Japan's second-tallest pagoda, just right behind Kyoto's Toji temple. It is a must-visit when heading to Nara as the Kofukuji Pagoda is both a landmark and symbol of Nara (yes, it is not just about the deers!).
Besides the Pagoda, another interesting site is the Octagonal Hall. Here, you can make donations and even ring the bell and say a prayer to the gods.
3. Nara National Museum
Still in Nara Park, if you walk further in, you'll reach the Nara National Museum. The museum is primarily an art museum that showcases Japanese Buddhist Art. There are both permanent exhibitions and temporary ones which can be interesting to some.
4. Okumura Commemorative Museum
Located just across the museum you'll find the Okumura Commemorative Museum. This is not quite an attraction but it is a good pit stop for anyone looking for a place to use the washroom, rest, and drink some beverages. Entrance to this museum is free-of-charge and you can learn more about Japanese technologies that help them to cope with the frequent earthquakes. Also, the people in the museum are friendly and would help answer questions you have about the Nara area.
5. Todai-ji Temple
After passing the Nara National Museum, you'll need to take about a 10-minute walk to Todai-ji. Even with the long walk, it is worth visiting! Should you not want to walk, you can hop onto the buses opposite the Nara Museum on the side of the Okumura Commemorative Museum. The todai-ji is just a few stops away at Todaiji Daibutsuden Station (ask the bus driver if you're unsure!).
Even after taking the bus, you'll still have to walk a little to the temple. First, you'll pass through the Nandaimon gate where you'll see many deers resting in as they sought solace and shade from the hot burning sun!
The Todai-ji is a huge Buddhist Temple that was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples in Japan. During that period of time, the temple grew so powerful that the capital had to be moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to reduce the temple's influence on governmental affairs.
Entrance to the Temple's Main Hall is 600 yen but it is well-worth it because you'll get to marvel at the Big Buddha!
From far, it already looks very majestic with its two golden "horns". When you go closer, you'll see the intricate wooden temple that almost transports you to centuries ago.
Look also at the size of the Daibutsuden (Todaiji Temple's main hall) as compared to the tiny people!
Climb up that flight of stairs and you will enter the silent abode of the temple.
The Big Buddha is the first to greet you in its full glory. In the main hall, you can also view exhibits that tell you about the history of the temple and the reconstruction efforts to preserve the temple.
After walking through the main hall and upon exiting it, turn to your left to find the wooden statue of Pindola. Pindola was one of the sixteen disciples of the Buddha and it is said that Pindola has excelled in the mastery of occult powers.
People in Japan believed that if people rubbed a part of the image of Pindola and then rubs a corresponding part of their body, the ailment or pain in their body will then disappear.
We did saw several tourists try that out, so if you are in the area and are suffering from any form of pain or ailment, perhaps you'll want to try this out?
Besides the Daibutsuden (main hall), there are quite a number of smaller halls, temples and storehouses in that area. However, since we were short on time, we decided to make our way back to the station.
6. Go shopping at Higashimuki Shopping Street
On our way back to the station, we decided to grab lunch and take a look at the shopping street at Nara. Most Japanese shopping streets are easily recognisable by the covered walkways. The street is a really long walkway and you really do not have to cover it all. We tried to but found most of the interesting (and yes touristy) shops in the first stretch. However, if you do need to return to the Nara Station, this is one way to spend your walking time and effort more productively as you can browse the stores for souvenirs or food!
Here, you can find several restaurants to satisfy your hunger and thirst. However, do note that these are touristy stores and you may wish to try your luck outside the shopping street.
If you're wondering what to eat, we fulfilled our stomaches with Sukiya, a Japanese chain restaurant that offers affordable and fuss-free food.
Gyu-don (beef rice bowl) is our favourite and you can get them in several Japanese chain-stores. Suki-ya is slightly more expensive than the rest but it is very tourist-friendly as they have menus with pictures and English words and you don't have to fret over purchasing your meal through a vending machine. Everything works just like a restaurant at Sukiya minus the high prices.
We swap out our miso soup to have the asari clam miso soup but perhaps it wasn't such a good idea. The taste of the seafood is very strong in the broth and we prefer the milder seaweed and tofu version.
As Japanese beef bowls tend to be a tad towards the salty side, we were craving for some sweet desserts and settled with Mister Donut x Pablo Donuts
There are certainly more to Nara than just these 6 attractions but if you are short on time like we were, you could consider following this itinerary. We started our day from Osaka Namba at about 9.30am and managed to complete everything by 3pm. The second half of the day was spent to visit Osaka Castle on the way back to Osaka City!
Have you been to Nara? Did you enjoy playing with the deers?