Japan is great for many things, among them opportunities to get up-close and personal with animals. Whether you visit islands filled with cats and rabbits, an onsen where red-faced macaques bathe or a fox sanctuary, Japan is paradise for people who love to pet things.
One of the most accessible kawaii (a Japanese word used to describe all things cute and cuddly) destinations is the city of Nara, located in easy day trip destination of both Kyoto and Osaka—that’s the good news. The better news? Its population of wild deer notwithstanding, Nara is also home to some of the world’s oldest architecture.
What’s the Story About Nara’s Deer?
The deer of Nara Park, in the center of Nara city, have been there since at least 1300, when the park was founded. Belonging to the sika species, these deer number around 1,200, and are believed to be sacred due to a reported encounter with one of the Gods from a nearby shrine. These days, thousands of tourists each day flock to Nara, and purchase “deer food” from stalls, which allows them to feed the spoiled animals as they take in the sights of the city.
Nara’s Amazing Wooden Buildings
And there are a lot of sights in Nara—namely buildings made of wood, of which Nara’s are some of the world’s oldest surviving examples. The most impressive and famous of these is Todai-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s home to Japan’s second-largest Buddha statue, and whose enclosing Daibutsu-den is the world’s largest wooden building. Other famous wooden structures in Nara, most of which sit between Nara Station and Nara Park, if you’re walking, are the three- and five-story pagodas of Kofuku-ji.
How to Reach Nara from Kyoto and Osaka
The easiest way to reach Nara from Kyoto is the JR Nara Line, which leaves Kyoto Station twice per hour and takes 35 minutes. This train is included in the JR Pass, which is yet another reason why purchasing said pass is such a great value.
From Osaka, the JR Yamatoji Kaisoku line runs four times per hour and takes a little under an hour. Alternatively, several private train lines run from all over Kansai to Nara; you can also travel from Kyoto or Osaka to Nara by bus.
There’s definitely enough to do in Nara that you could stay there a night or two, particularly if you can splurge on a room at the cozy ryokan Tsubakiso.
The Bottom Line
Nara is one of the best day trips not only from Kyoto or Osaka, but in all of Japan. If feeding and visiting with Nara’s indigenous deer doesn’t charm you, the spectacular wooden architecture of the city center is sure to make up for it.