04 June 2016

Nara (Japan) - A Day Trip to Nara Park

Date of Exploration : 2 Apr 2016

When we planned a day trip to Nara Park, my intention of coming here was to see the park's famed tame deer. But at the end of my visit, I can't help but marvel at the buffet of experiences I had been served. The park has a unique and delicious mix of natural, cultural, and architectural flavours that few places in Japan, or anywhere else in the world can emulate.

Our excursion to Nara Park was part of the Osaka leg of my first trip to Japan's mainland, which also covered Tokyo and Kyoto. On the intended day of our Nara Park day trip, the weather in Osaka was rainy and gloomy so we checked the Japan MET forecast, saw that the following day was sunny in Nara, and decided to switch our plans to go Nara Park the next day. Boy were we glad we did. Visiting the park during a beautiful day of spring was sublimely splendid! So check the forecast before you visit and retain some flexibility in your itinerary to respond to the weather condition.

Getting to Nara Park (from Osaka)

Nara Park is at the centre of Nara City within Nara Prefecture and it is easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka. The city of Kyoto, Nara and Osaka form sort of a triangle relative to each other with Nara in between the other two cities.
There are two main train services that link Kyoto and Osaka to Nara. One is the Japan Railways (JR) train and the other is the Kintetsu train. Where possible, choose the Kintetsu railway service as the station is located closer to Nara Park (about 10 minutes walk) while it takes around 20 minutes to walk to Nara Park from the JR Nara Station.

We stayed at Osaka's Namba district and there was a direct Kintetsu railway train to Nara. Ticket price was ¥560 (approx. S$7) and it took us about 40 minutes on the express route. It can be quite confusing when taking the rail services as the same route is served by different trains.

As a general rule, any train that goes the normal route will stop at every station between two points while "limited express" will stop at limited stops between the same two points.

Along the way, we sped past neat rows of low rise houses and buildings as well as fields that stretches towards the city nucleus.

We made the mistake of getting on a normal route train but thankfully we asked the other passengers on the train and a college youngster, though he spoke almost no English, did his best to get us to alight at the last stop that the limited express train would stop and board it. He did it by accompanying us to get off at the stop and pointing us to board the express train even though it was out of his way.

I was so impressed by his hospitality and very grateful because the express train skipped stopping at around 8 stations that the normal train would pick up passengers and that saved quite some travel time. The longest travel time on the limited express train between two stations without any stop is about 25 minutes so do go to the toilet before boarding.
Nature, Culture and Architecture

This post is a brief summation of my visit to Nara Park with an overview of what I encountered and experienced. Key attractions and activities at Nara Park include deer feeding, visiting Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Nara National Museum and enjoying the lush gardens throughout the park. We didn't managed to cover everything and you can click on the highlighted links above of what we managed to do for more detailed information.

We left our hotel at about 10am to go to Nara Park and ended the visit at about 5pm so plan for a full day trip and go even earlier than us in order to see everything at the park.

The first thing that made my heart skip were the free roaming deer we came across as we got closer to one of the entrances of Nara Park. I didn't expect to see a deer so soon and thought it would be a matter of luck to see them but no, they were everywhere! And if you bought their favourite snack (shika sembei deer biscuit) from one of the street vendors, you won't be left alone.

You don't have to look for the deer at Nara Park. They look for you if you have their addiction on hand... shika sembei. It is okay to feed, pet and get close to the deer but keep in mind that they are wild beasts, abet accustomed to humans, so have an eye out for aggressive behaviour and avoid those that are intrusive.

Some beg, others snatch, but most would bow to be fed. Click here to learn the trick of feeding the Nara Park deer.

吵架了。Looks like they had a quarrel and are not seeing eye-to-eye. Well, in any relationship that is close, it is inevitable that each others' coat get ruffled once in a while. It is a test of the strength of the union and the depth of letting-go-ness. Strong ones will grow stronger through the trials, and the unstable ones will snap.

This scene looks like one of those drawings I made in my childhood years as part of those psychological assessments that predict your personality based on where you placed elements such as tree, river, house, mountain, sun, etc.

The first site of historical importance we came to was Kofukuji Temple. It adjoins a five-tiered pagoda that was built in 730 and has become an unofficial symbol of Nara.

A museum (not the Nara National Museum) that we passed by while on our way to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

The middle gate (chumon) of Kasuga Taisha, which is a Shinto shrine and stands out from other shrines because of its...

... countless stone and bronze lanterns that decorate and surround the shrine grounds. Read more about Kasuga Taisha here.

From Kasuga Taisha, we walked over to Todaiji Temple, one of Japan's most historically and culturally significant places of worship.

The attraction at Todaiji, and it's hard to miss, is the giant Buddha. Read more about Todaiji here.

Nara Park consists of many gardens and parks that offer rewarding sights during different seasons. We came during the beginning of spring marked by the blossoming of sakuras and an explosion of pink blanketed the Kasugano-enchi Park near Todaiji Temple.

Upclose with one of the yaezakura (cherry blossoms with flowers that have more than 5 petals) species.

The roof poking out from the trees is that of Todaiji Temple. We ended our excursion to Nara Park at Kasugano-enchi Park. The sun was beginning to set and painted the far sky with crimson hues. Surrounding the park were sakuras in full bloom and a wide expanse of grassy field in front of us. I didn't think the scene was particularly captivating, but it was beautiful because of the company I had to see it with.

Related Posts :
Deer Moments at Nara Park
Kasuga Taisha Shrine of Lanterns
Todaiji : The Great Eastern Temple of Shingon Buddhism

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