A quiet little city not too far from either Osaka or Kyoto; Nara is a great day trip location from either of the bigger cities for something a little different. It is about 45mins from Kyoto station and about an hour from Osaka via JR lines.
It is mostly known for the tame deer that are allowed to wander freely about. Considered messengers of the gods in the native Japanese shinto religion, they are cared for my local monks and are also deemed a national treasure.
They have been taught to bow by the monks as well and you are free to do the same by feeding them some biscuits sold by local vendors, but first showing them of course the same respect by bowing as well.
There are about 1200 deer which roam around Nara but mostly stay around the deer park and are very used to the many tourists that come to visit them and the other attractions such as Todaiji – a great buddhist temple that houses a huge golden buddha.
There are also many other shinto shrines in the park precinct and the walkways between each of them are adorned by lamp pedestals which are usually only lit with lanterns during special festivals.
If you’re after some unique food to try while you’re in town, head down Sanjo Dori to find a mochi shop where they still make it traditionally by beating it with huge wooden mallets – it’s a weird little spectacle which is worth a look. The end product are these little light green rice cake things, kind of a chewy dessert.
If you walk around one of the more traditional districts south of the park, you might find a few open houses that showcase what a traditional Japanese house looks like. Ceilings are a little low but maybe we are all just taller in this day and age.
In the area you might also find a small sake brewery that offers a tasting course that isn’t too expensive and you get to keep the little sake glass that they serve you with as a souvenir. I gave it a go but by palate isn’t nearly skilled enough to taste the difference between any of the 7 shots of sake I was given. You may want to take a little break and sit down in the park even if you hold your drink well, sake has a very subtle flavour but can still pack a punch.
Lastly a very big thank you to our Nara Student Guide! You can check them out here. They do great one day tours of Nara and as locals recommend some awesome places to eat and really do have a lot of knowledge about all the historical sites.