Continuing on from my expedition to two of Nara’s most aesthetic temples, I next decided to stay at a lodge named Deer Park Inn surrounded by wild deer in Nara Park. Nara Park is not only famous for its temples and lovely scenery, but also its friendly deer who beg visitors for rice crackers (called “shika senbei”). This is a great place to start your morning because there are a number of hiking spots and gardens to visit. You will also see many deer mobs grazing in the grass and waiting for humans to awake so they can feast on their delicious rice crackers. Deer are a sacred animal of Nara because they were once seen as messengers of the gods. For their high social status, these fellows never seem to get enough food! Fortunately you can buy crackers all over Nara for the mere price of 200 yen. Where I’m from in the United States, deer are extremely shy so having them approach me and behave like dogs was quite the experience:
Getting to Nara Park
From Nara Station, you can take the 62 bus to the Todaiji Bus Stop and arrive at the park in 10 mins for 220 yen. You can also take a short and inexpensive taxi ride here too. Nara Park is open 24 hours, but restaurants close early so it is advised you buy snacks from convenience stores if you want to eat at night.
Single rooms at the Deer Park in go for around 4000 yen but you can book a dormitory room with other people for a cheaper price. The advantage of staying in the park versus the city is that you can see the temples and gardens in the morning with fewer people. You can also feed deer from the balcony of your room! I had so much fun waking up and watching them from my window. It was a one of a kind experience that you can only get here in Nara!
Places I recommend checking out in Nara Park are:
- Ukimudo (a bridge that leads to a gazebo in a pond)
- Todaiji (a famous temple with a giant golden Buddha statue)
- Kasuga Taisha (a bright shrine with a deer statue)
- Kasuga Taisha Manyo Botanical Gardens
- Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest
Overall I spent about 3 hours in Nara Park before taking a short bus ride back to the main part of the city. All of the places I listed are very accessible and you can easily reach them on foot. Nara Park is free to enter, but some temples and gardens have a 300-700 yen entrance fee. I think the price is worth it because many of these places are historical landmarks that are surrounded by luscious nature. Plus you can interact with as many deer as you like if you carry their favorite food!
Running to Ukimudo
Since Ukimudo is surrounded by a beautiful pond and is in a forest with several sakura trees, this is where I decided to start my morning. Due to the lack of tourists, there have been reports of the deer acting more aggressive toward people for food, but if you open your hands and show them that you are not carrying any rice crackers, they will not attack you. When I went running this morning near Ukimudo, the grazing deer pretty much ignored me after giving me a few curious side glances since I wasn’t carrying any bags or food. However, when I returned with several rice crackers it was a different story! I was circled by groups of deer, and the more aggressive ones would bite at my skirt when I wasn’t feeding them. Fortunately it is easy to run away from them, and they will not trample or bite you. Just be prepared to be lightly head-butted at times and always protect your belongings!
Also, there are signs posted not to feed them any food other than the crackers because it can be harmful to them.
Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha
When I first studied abroad in Japan, I was completely awestruck by the giant golden Buddha statue that I saw at Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. Roughly 9 years later I had the opportunity to see this Buddha again during sakura season, and it took me back to the fond memories I had when I first visited Japan. The street that paves the path to Todaiji is lined with vendors, food stalls, and souvenir shops full of good luck charms and stuffed deer mascots so it’s quite enthralling when you first visit. Another thing I love is how the deer just make this part of the city their own—they have learned to live in harmony with humans and nature. Nara certainly wouldn’t be the same without their sacred messengers, and the people here have come to love them.
Kasuga Taisha is just a short walk from Todaiji. It’s not as impressive as the giant halls of Buddha but it’s worth checking out for the beautiful forest and gardens that surround it. The flowers naturally change year round which make it feel like a magical place. Be sure to lookout for sakura trees too, as they are scattered throughout these temple grounds.
Sakura Season is also Deer Mating Season
I didn’t realize this before, but sakura season in Nara is actually during the mating season of the deer. That explains why some of the bigger deer were trying to bite my skirt—it all makes sense now! In all seriousness, please be on the lookout for aggressive deer. There are many kind Japanese shop owners and also rangers in Nara Park that will help you if the deer come too close for comfort. One Japanese vendor helped me by clapping their hands firmly near the deer to catch their attention. This is a safe way to keep them from attacking you. For the most part, most deer are friendly and know that even when you run out of food, other visitors will eventually come to feed them more. They obviously won natural selection!
Top Food Recommendations
Like its surrounding cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is also full of delicious food! Stop by for deer macarons at OVER MACARON before heading to the park. They have a large selection of flavors including chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and creme brulee. If you like Japanese desserts, you can also get strawberry daifuku with deer-shaped cookies in them Daibutsu Ichigo. This shop is also located near the entrance of the park and is impossible to miss because it always draws a crowd. For breakfast, I highly recommend Mizuya Chaya which is located inside of Nara Park. This is a teahouse that serves wonderful beverages, desserts. and breakfast sets. I ordered rice porridge that had a beautiful floral design in it, and it tasted amazing! My final recommendation is a vegan restaurant named KURURU located slightly outside of the park where I had creamy mushroom vegan pasta. Once again, I was blown away by the taste and it really filled me up! Whatever local eatery you visit here will surely satisfy you.
For those who are interested, I made a reel of my video footage here. My next article will be the final of this series, and will focus on a trippy aquarium I found in Nara City and some more highlights of Kyoto’s sakura season. Thank you to all who have kept up with my crazy journeys! I am excited to announce my next trip very soon!