28 Aug Day trip to Nara
From the start of planning, I knew I needed to add a day trip to Nara. We had visited Nara in 2013 and loved our time there.
Nara is the capital city of Nara prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. It was once Japan’s capital, in fact it was the country’s first permanent capital way back in 710. It is less than an hour train ride from Kyoto and makes for a great half or full day trip.
Our day trip to Nara started from our hotel in Kyoto, the Citadines. We took the subway from the entrance just outside the hotel. We did this to save our legs, especially little ones, although what we saved in distance I think was made up by stairs. So many stairs, thankfully my Mum kept Fletcher from whining by singing a stair song, that she then had to sing for every set of stairs throughout the entire trip! It worked though, even when his legs were tired, thanks Nanny.
From Kyoto Station, we took the JR Nara line which meant the cost was covered by our rail passes. The train journey passed quickly as the view was always changing and always fascinating. At one stage the track passes through a neighbourhood where there are old houses tightly packed and right up next to the train. Along the way we also passed people working in community gardens, rice and green tea fields.
Walking from Nara Station
The attractions of Nara’s central area are within walking distance. From either station to Todaiji temple it is about 1.6km. We had visited Nara in 2013 when we were just a family of three. That time we had gone to the Kintetsu Nara Station and walked along the main road. This time we arrived at JR Nara Station and walked down Sanjo Dori, a picturesque street with various shops and restaurants. Along the way I bought a cheap bunch of bananas from a small fruit and veg shop. Following Sanjo Dori will lead you to Sarusawa Pond to the right and Kofukuji to the left. As the street approaches the attractions you will find the left side lined with souvenir shops.
Kofukuji is a historic temple located within Nara Park and entrance to the grounds is free. It does cost to enter The National Treasure Museum (600 yen) and The Eastern Golden Hall (300 yen), if entering both you can get a discount of 100 yen. The temple’s main building The Central Golden Hall is undergoing reconstruction work, due to be completed in 2018 and is currently covered up. Kofukuji still has other buildings visible including The Eastern Golden Hall, two Octagonal Halls and a five-story pagoda. The pagoda was first built in 730, rebuilt in 1426 and stands at 50 metres which makes it the second tallest in Japan. We simply viewed the buildings from the outside before continuing on our way.
The deer of Nara
After taking the path between the hall and the pagoda, then crossing a road, we came to the first group of people gathered to feed the deer. There was a little stand selling crackers for feeding the deer. For 150 yen you can get a small stack of crackers. Be careful! Deer will already be surrounding you. A very cool thing about the deer in Japan is that some of them have learnt to bow for their food.
We bought two packs and quickly fed the deer that had gathered around us. I definitely favoured the bowing deer, manners win. Fletcher preferred the ones without antlers. They are very used to people and are quite friendly, they can get aggressive over food though. When you run out of crackers put your palms up to show the deer you don’t have anymore.
We continued walking through the park, passing the two buildings of the Nara National Museum and of course, more deer. Eventually we came out onto the main road, which we crossed to get to the other side of Nara Park. On this side is a large grassed area where the deer hang around to be fed, with stalls selling crackers nearby.
Not Entering Todaiji
We had entered the temple during our 2013 visit (read about it here) so we waited while my parents went inside. We slowly strolled along and looked in the stores that line the approach to the temple. I am not a big souvenir fan but let Fletcher get a small deer puzzle.
I bought a Mitarashi Kushi Dango from two ladies selling them from a small stall. Dango are small chewy ball-shaped dumplings made from rice flour. Mitarashi is the sticky sweet soy sauce that coats them and Kushi refers to them being skewered on sticks. Tim wasn’t keen on the flavour and Fletcher didn’t even want to try any so I enjoyed the rest. I really liked the chewy texture.
We realised my parents had no way to contact us, so found a bench seat near the exit of Todaiji. That way we could spot them on their way out. While waiting I fed Declan a banana as he sat in the stroller. Fletcher decided he was busting and needed a toilet right then. Tim took him to find one and they were gone for ages. He wasn’t happy when my parents came out and said they had just passed one around the corner.
Within Nara Park is a large pond situated in front of Todaiji. It’s location means it offers a great view of the temple’s main hall. At present there is a boat floating on the water. It was built by 10 Chinese carpenters as part of the “To Build a Ship” project. This project is part of a tri-national event between Japan, China and Korea, designed to promote cultural exchange between the countries and peace in Asia. Nara was selected as the culture city of East Asia for Japan in 2016. The ship on Kagami-ike Pond can be viewed until October 23.
Read about the “To Build a Ship” project and other events on the Culture City website.
A funny moment
I was rammed by a deer. I bent over to the stroller and a deer head-butted me, right on my bum! Equally shocked, embarrassed and amused, I stood up giggling. I turned around to find a little old Japanese lady cracking up laughing. When I met her eyes she put her hands over her mouth and waved an apology. Don’t worry, you can laugh, I would too.
The plan was to visit other places during our day trip to Nara, in particular the Nara Government Building. It has fantastic views over Nara from a rooftop garden. I found out about it from a tweet by Nara Visitor Center on Twitter.
We didn’t get time to visit but if you are visiting Nara definitely check it out.
Lunch in Nara
It was past lunchtime, everyone was hungry and both boys were getting tired. We decided we would grab a quick lunch from a convenience store. The nearest one was a Circle K that we had passed on our way from the station. I put Declan in the Ergo and Fletcher in the stroller and we walked back along the same route. By the time we reached the store, both kids were asleep. For my lunch I chose a tuna and mayo and a fish roe onigiri. We took our lunch to eat by Sarusawa-ike pond.
After our late lunch we got a train back to Kyoto as there were many places on the list to get to.
Even though we didn’t get to see much, we all had a great day trip to Nara. It has a great fun, relaxed vibe with lots of greenery and people enjoying the roaming deer.
Read about our first time in Nara here.