On the third day of our Spring in Japan trip we took a 40 minute train ride from Osaka to Nara! The city now known as Nara used to be called Heijo, and was Japan’s first permanent capital in the year 710. The capital was later moved to Nagaoka in 784, and a few years later to Kyoto. Due to its past the city contains a lot of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples!!
We explored Nara Park, which houses most of the Nara’s main attractions like Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and the Nara National Museum. But most importantly it is home to over a thousand free roaming deers, which are considered the symbol of the city and national monuments in itself. This Nara Travelers Guide has some great information about the deers!
About 500 meters from the train station, as soon as the park begins, you will see small stands selling deer cookies. Part of the fun of visiting Nara Park is feeding the deer! The crackers, called shika senbei are made of wheat flour and rice bran. They are actually a registered trademark of the Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara and a portion of their profits goes towards protecting the deer.
If you go early in the morning you will get a lot of excited deer begging for crackers. Do be careful because even though they are used to being surrounded by humans, they are still wild animals and can be a bit aggressive at times.
Want to know the craziest part? The deer will actually bow before you feed them the crackers. Not sure how they learned… but my guess it’s from observing Japanese people bow? It’s so darn cute!! There are several ways to get them to do it. First you can bow yourself and they will most likely follow. You can hold the cracker up high and they will bow. You can also try hiding it behind your back and they will bow as well.
We didn’t have any plans besides feeding the deer and visiting the Todaiji Temple. On our way to the temple we noticed some semi bloomed cherry blossom trees in this small shrine, so of course we had to stop. This is the Himuro Shrine, before turning left towards Todaiji.
Here’s a map of the places we visited while around Nara Park: