As part of our fantastic trip in January, we had a day of deer and Buddha in Nara, Japan. We did this day trip from where we were staying in Kobe. Nara’s Todaiji Temple is one of Japan’s most famous temples, home to a ginormous 15-metre high bronze Buddha. But Nara is most famous for its tame, free-roaming deer, whose cuteness has made the city a popular tourist destination.
You can follow a pilgrimage route to the temple via loads of cute Bambis. And if that doesn’t sound like a good day out to you, we’re no longer friends.
The deer park
The deer are completely free to roam in Nara. They’re seen as messengers sent by the Shinto gods, so they have right of way on roads and are treated with respect by locals.
They sleep and graze higher up in the mountains but stroll down into the city every morning. This is definitely to do with them blessing the city with their presence, and not at all to do with being addicted to the deer biscuits available for tourists to feed them.
They’re happy to have a good scratch on the head, but will wander off if another tourist has deer biscuits available. They may be sacred, but they aren’t loyal.
The deer have no fear of humans and due to being so used to the swathes of tourists, they’ve perfected the art of the selfie. This one wanted us to tag him on Facebook because his horns were looking on fleek.
After you’ve been mugged by the deer, you can follow the pilgrimage path up to the Todaiji Temple complex. The main deal is in the Daibutsuden Hall, home to the biggest Buddha you’ll ever see. (Probably. Bigger Buddhas are available).
The Daibutsuden Hall is also the world’s largest wooden building. Which is no surprise when you see the size of the Buddha…
It’s really hard to capture his size on camera, but he’s 15 metres tall. For reference, Caroline is quite far in front of him in this photo so he doesn’t look as big. But he was taller than our house and very imposing.
A huge wooden gate guards the entrance to the temple complex. Like everywhere in Nara, it’s full of deer casually strolling round.
Once you’ve taken in the enormity of Buddha, you can visit plenty of other shrines and buildings. We didn’t have time to see much else because it had started snowing and we were in desperate need of warmth and sustenance.
The city of Nara
Outside the temple complex and deer park, it’s made very clear that Nara is keen on its deer. We particularly enjoyed this deer-themed streetlamp.
The city itself is fairly low-rise for Japan: a refreshing change from Kobe, where we were staying. The main stretch of shops and restaurants up to the deer park was much calmer than other cities (although, this was in January). There was also this beautiful lake at the start of the deer park.
Of course, like everywhere in Japan, you’re never more than a few feet from a never-ending mall. There were lots of cute deer-themed souvenirs as well as the usual myriad of restaurant options.
Nara, Japan: useful information
How to get there
We got the train from Kobe and changed at Osaka. Nara is on a JR line, which means your Japan rail pass is valid to get there.
Where to stay
We just went for the day, from Kobe, which was an excellent base for this and other day trips.
How to get around
Everything is walkable.
When to go
Spring would be gorgeous: deer with cherry blossoms seems too Disney to be true. But we found it fine in the depths of winter, even in snow. Just bear in mind that the main attractions are mostly outdoors.
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