Day 3: Nara
Nara Park, Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha & Shopping!
We took the train to Nara pretty early in the morning. It’s a bit of a walk from the JR Nara train station to Nara Park where all the shrines and deer are, but there are a lot of cute shops along the way. We decided to check out the shopping area later, as our main goal for the day was to see the deer!
Our first stop was Kofukuji, which is the first temple you run into coming from the train station. There were a handful of deer there, but it didn’t really prepare us for the sheer amount of them we’d soon see!
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I heard the park was full of deer, but we weren’t disappointed. You can buy crackers to feed them, and they’ll take them gently from your hand. I wouldn’t recommend trying to eat any of your own food around these animals, because they will definitely attempt to pilfer it right from your hands.
One of the cutest things about the deer is that they bow! The deer are considered sacred animals and protecting spirits of the grounds. They are treated with respect and after many years of patrons bowing to them, the deer have learned to bow back. Of course, when they bow, they’re also looking for handouts...
The park in Nara is huge! There are a lot of different shrines and temples to see, but we headed to the biggest one, Todaiji. The main hall houses one of Japan’s largest bronze Buddha statues (15m tall!), called Daibutsu, along with other smaller (but still huge) statues and a model of the original hall. Admission is 600 yen, which I think was one of the more expensive temples we paid to visit on this trip, but definitely worth it!
We wandered the area near Todaiji, where there are many more buildings and small temples, and then headed back toward the main gate to get a roasted yakiimo (sweet potato) from a seller we’d spotted on the way in. We got a large one to split and tried to hide it from the deer while we searched for a relatively deer-free area to sit and eat.
We found a small covered area with benches and sat down to eat. We were nearly done when a friend came to visit. A deer had finally found us! She stared for a moment, before coming over and sticking her nose right in our food. We gave her some of the potato skins, which she devoured, and then she stole the paper the last of the potato was wrapped in right from my hand and ate it! Jeez. After that she hung around us for a while, so we petted her and tried to take a selfie with her. I guess we made a lifelong friend! (Until more people came near, who she thought might have more food.)
Parting ways from our deer friend, we headed across the park to Kasuga Taisha, following the trail of lanterns to the main buildings. After that, we were too hungry and tired to continue. We knew there was a Coco Curry back down the main street, Sanjo Dori, so we left the park and headed there. We got katsu curry with cheese and a vegetable curry, both of which were insanely delicious!
Then, it was time to go shopping! There are a lot of super cute touristy shops down Sanjo Dori, which have tons of goods featuring-- you guessed it, deer.
Lynnette Narration Take Over!
At the park end of Sanjo Dori, we went to two covered shopping streets, Higashimuki to the north and Mochiidono to the south (Mochiidono is right next to famous mochi shop Nakatanidou; Higashimuki is across the street). We found several adorable stores selling cat-themed items (cat person, here!) and some tiny artist shops selling handmade wares.
All the way at the end of Mochiidono, we stumbled upon a real treasure of a cat-themed shop, owned by local artist Itoi Tadaharu, an older gentleman who was sitting in his tiny closet sized shop drawing cats when we arrived. I made a purchase, using my broken Japanese, and gave him my business card, explaining that I also draw cats. I was way too excited. He was excited, too! When we got home from Japan, finding more of his art became a bit of an obsession for me, so being able to have some of it in our shop is still really thrilling. (1) (2)
Other Shops We Liked/Remember:
Vesel (on Higashimuki, it’s on the 2nd floor and sells Wachifield goods)
Necoco (on Mochiidono, more cat stuff)
Torito Te (on Mochiidono, down a tiny off-shoot with some other artisan shops; handmade bags and accessories)
On our way back to the JR station to return to Osaka, we stopped by a small shop selling specialty melon pan called Melon de Melon. They had all sorts of flavours, but we went for Earl Grey and Uji Matcha. They were delicious!