Nara is probably best known to foreigners for its deer park. However, this city has so much history behind it as it’s one of the ancient capitals of Japan: it served as one from 710 to 794 before the seat of the Emperor was moved to Kyoto. Its historical treasures were appreciated by UNESCO who made it a World Heritage site.
Let me share what are the best activities to do in Nara to combine cliche activities with more culturally insightful ones!
1.Treat the deers at Nara park
Undoubtedly, a deer is a symbol of Nara. You can see their images as soon as you arrive at the train station. Deers are even depicted on local wooden ema tablets – those are prayer and request tablets that can be bought at the shrine.
Deers in Nara were used to be worshipped as sacred animals and were considered as the messengers of the gods. But after WWII when the Japanese emperor officially declared that he’s a human being and not a descendant of the gods, deers were “degraded” from sacred animals to the regular ones.
Let me be straightforward: deers in Nara are not domesticated. Those are wild animals who can bite and be aggressive and unfriendly. When they see food in your hands, they go crazy if they’re hungry. But how cute are they!
Important: Please only feed the deers with special biscuits sika senbei that can be bought at the special stalls, human food can harm them!
2. Feed koi at Manyo Botanical Garden
Manyo Botanical Garden is famous for its plant collection and especially for its wisteria garden! Wisteria is one of the main symbols of Nara, as it was the symbol of one of the most important regent clans for the Imperial family from antiquity till the Meiji restoration. I’m talking about Fujiwara clan 藤原氏, with the first character 藤 in Japanese meaning “wisteria”. There was also a common saying that just like wisteria wraps around trees, so the Fujiwara family wraps around the imperial family.
The wisteria bloom period is around April-May, so if you’re visiting in a different season, you can still enjoy the Manyo botanical garden: they have a great variety of plants and a pond with koi whom you can feed – with a special food again. The park was opened in 1932.
3. Count the lanterns at Kasuga Shrine
Kasuga-taisha is one of the most important landmarks of Nara and it used to be the main Fujiwara shrine. It’s absolutely majestic, and is famous for numerous stone and bronze lanterns donated by worshippers. It dates back to 768 BC!
Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The buildings of the shrine are repaired and repainted every 20 years, so you won’t even notice that it’s about 12 centuries old!
4.Measure Buddha’s nostrils at Tōdai-ji
Large crowds of tourists come to see the bronze Daibutsu of Tōdai-ju Temple, and all for this reason: this huge ancient bronze statue required the construction of the largest wooden structure in the world! The temple dating to the 8th century is surrounded by cherry blossoms and is especially pretty during the spring season.
Children can crawl into a hole at the base of one of the columns: it is believed that its inner diameter is exactly the size of the Buddha’s nostril and if you go there, it’ll bring you good luck.
A reminder: when travelling to Japan, you might notice that people don’t enter temples as they are. First you must cleanse yourself: wash your hands with water, rinse your mouth and fumigate yourself with smoking incense.
5.See the weeping sakura at Himuro Shrine
Himuro Shrine in Nara dating back to 710 is a beautiful place with weeping sakuras. The deity enshrined here is the guardian deity of the hiike, of the pond where the ice for the court was taken from.
You might also want to check my other blogs about Japan:
- Learn Japanese with me: p1 and p2
- Rabbit Island
- Ginza, Tokyo
- Kumagaya, Kanto
- Tokyo, Kanto
- Saitama prefecture, Kanto
- Yokohama, Kanto
- Kanagawa prefecture, Kanto
- Momiji VS Sakura
- What I adored in Japan
- Suzugami workshop (Toyama prefecture)
- Furoshiki workshop in Pantechnicon
- Japanese cocktails in Pantechnicon
- Japanese trail, Kew Gardens
Hope you liked my blog!