Nara (奈良) was the highlight of my trip to Japan in November. It was so relaxing and decompressing. I melted when I saw those deer. Nara is a must-see if you are ever visiting Osaka or Kyoto. he city is very relaxed. You could stroll through a huge public park that is home to over a thousand charming deer and some of Japan’s oldest temples and shrines that were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
You could do a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto and focus on the Nara Park for a few World Heritage sites, chill with the deer, and visit this neighborhood of traditional townhouses in Naramachi (奈良町). Staying in Nara for a night or two will allow you to visit the deer and shrines early in the morning, see more World Heritage sites, and enjoy more iconic Nara dishes.
Getting to Nara 怎麼去奈良
Nara is easy to get to from Osaka, Kyoto, or the Kansai International Airport. Nara is only a half-an-hour train ride away from Osaka. It’s easy to do a day trip while staying in Osaka.
Depending on where in Osaka you stay, you would take either JR or Kintetsu Nara Line (近鉄奈良線). The Kintetsu Nara stop is closer to your one-day highlight destinations than the JR stop. Our rooms in Osaka were located in Naniwa-ku (浪速区), so we chose to take Kintetsu Nara Line from Nipponbashi (日本橋) to Nara. (560 yen, 32 min)
奈良離大阪、京都、關西機場都很方便，從大阪坐車到奈良只要半個小時，可以住在大阪然後輕鬆去奈良一日遊。可以看大阪住在哪一區來決定要搭JR還是近鐵奈良線，近鐵的奈良站離奈良公園和奈良町比較近，JR車站比較遠。我們前幾天在大阪住在浪速區，早上剛好走路到日本橋吃早餐再從近鐵日本橋站坐車到奈良。(560円, 快速急行的列車32分鐘 )
If you take Kintetsu from Osaka to Nara, look out the windows as you get closer to Nara. The train passes through the Heijō Palace remains.
Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital. Both the imperial residential and administrative facilities were located in Nara from 710 to 794 AD. The layout of Heijō-kyō was based on the capital city of Tang dynasty in China, Chang’an. The remains of the palace was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
Getting Around in Nara
Nara has a seasonal shuttle that runs on weekends. It’s 100 yen per ride. I thought it would be a good idea to ride the shuttle from the Kintetsu stop to Kasuga Shrine and then walk our way back. I was so wrong. During peak tourism season, traffic is pretty bad from the train station to all the tourist destinations to the east. Also, the shuttle pulls over and waits at every single stop. If you are only visiting the Nara Park and Naramachi, the area is very walkable.
We did not have the patience to stay on the shuttle and ended up hopping off earlier than we planned to. We were right in Nara Park when we got off the shuttle. And boom, deer!
Messengers of the Thunder God: Deer in Nara Park 奈良公園療癒小鹿
Nara Park (奈良公園) is a public park at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. The park is about 1,240 acres. Its area includes a few of the eight places in the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara by the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Tōdai-ji (東大寺), Kōfuku-ji (興福寺), and Kasuga Shrine (春日大社). For a day-trip, the Nara Park is a must-see.
The deer is a prominent icon of Nara, and this iconography is deep rooted in the history and mythology. From the 8th to 12th century, the Fujiwara clan (藤原氏) was an influential family with controlling political power. The Fujiwara family had two guardians, or ancestral gods. One of them was the thunder god (takemikazuchi, 建御雷 or 武甕槌), a deity in Japanese mythology. Legend has it that when the political scene relocated to Nara in 710 AD, the thunder god rode a white deer to Nara’s Mount Mikasa (三笠山, also known as Mount Wakakusa, 若草山, Wakakusa-yama). Thus deer are believed to be sacred messengers of the Shinto gods. Deer are protected and respected. They get to roam in the park and these temples freely. White deer are believed to be decedents of gods’ messengers from some 1300 years ago. Back in the days, killing any of these deer meant death sentence.
奈良到處都是鹿，鹿在奈良有古老的神話和歷史淵源。西元八到十二世紀，藤原氏家族在日本有權有勢，藤原氏有兩個守護神，其中一個是日本神話裡的雷神 (takemikazuchi, 建御雷或武甕槌)，西元710年，日本遷都到平城京、結束飛鳥時代、開啟奈良時代的時候，傳說雷神騎著一頭白鹿來到若草山 (或稱三笠山)，鹿被視為神的使者，應該要好好尊敬和保護，可以在這些廟和公園自由自在跑來跑去，白鹿被視為一千三百年前雷神的使者的後裔，據說一直到十七世紀，殺死鹿都可能被處以死刑。
Deer in Nara seem to be well taken care of. The Foundation for Deer Protection in Nara keeps track of them, raises awareness about deer conservation and protection, and runs a sanctuary for injured and pregnant deer. According to the the foundation’s census, the deer population as of July 2017 was 1,498. The Foundation also sells deer crackers made of rice bran and wheat – called shika-senbei (鹿仙貝). A pack of 10 crackers is sold for 150 yen. You’re not supposed to feed the deer anything other than these crackers. Feeding deer random items may result in a fine of up to 50,000 yen. Be mindful about not holding any map or brochure in your hands. Deer will snap it from your hands and eat it. There is no trash can in the Nara Park so that deer won’t end up eating plastic bags and wrapping from a trash can.
These deer don’t mess around. They’ll hassle you for food. The conservation group sets up signs in Nara Park to warn tourists that deer are wild animals and can attack people by biting, kicking or knocking people down. Deer get annoyed when people break off crackers to tiny pieces or teasing them with crackers. They’ll bite your clothes or head-butt you. Deer are especially protective and cranky from May to July when fawns are born. In general, don’t be a jerk, and you’ll be okay.
A lot of these deer bow at tourists for food. It’s super cute. We were wondering how deer learn bowing as a way to signal for food. Not knowing deer body language, some of us were returning the gesture and bowing at the deer. Later on I found some say that the bowing really means: “Come on human. Just give me the damned cracker. Or you’re getting a head-butt.” Apparently in the wild, male deer bow to show their rack before they start a fight. So when silly tourists bowing back at the deer, we’re pretty much saying: Provocation accepted. Let’s go.
Must Eats in Nara 奈良必吃美食
Nara has lots of good food to offer. The two snacks/dessert you cannot miss are mochi (よもぎ餅) from Nakatanidou (中谷堂) and custard from Daibutsu Purin. (Read more about these desserts.)
For lunch and dinner, it’s up to what your heart desires. If you want to splurge, there are a number of restaurants with Michelin stars in Nara where you can enjoy traditional fine dining. If you are not up for $$$$ kind of pricing, 元喜神 is a highly recommended chicken broth ramen place that is known for tsukemen (沾麵). (750-950 yen) Edogawa (江戶川) is a well-reviewed restaurant for grilled eel over rice. (1650-3500 yen)
Nara specialities are persimmon leaf sushi, cha gayu, and kamameshi.
Persimmon leaf sushi (柿の葉寿司) is a local dish in Nara and Wakayama. Locals make these sushi with sushi rice and cured fish (mackerel, salmon or trout) and then wrap each piece of sushi in a persimmon leaf. Persimmon leaves are supposed to kill germs and prevent degradation. The most famous place to get persimmon leaf sushi is Hiraso (平宗), founded in 1861. Hiraso has restaurants and shops throughout Nara, and there is a to-go place right outside of the Kintetsu Nara stop. I would not make this your meal. Fermented fish and persimmon leaf give this sushi a distinct taste. You should get a small to-go order to see if you like it. I did not get to try persimmon leaf sushi on this trip, so I cannot tell you what it is like. One thing to note: although you may eat the persimmon leaf with the sushi, you don’t have to. Hiraso tells people to peal the persimmon leaf off and eat the sushi without the leaf.
Cha gayu (茶粥) is porridge with roasted tea and salt, served cold or hot. This dish did not interest me so I did not look for the best place to get it.
Kamameshi (釜飯) is a Japanese dish that is not a Nara specialty, but there is a famous kamameshi restaurant in Nara – Shizuka (志津香). Kamameshi is rice and various ingredients cooked in an iron pot. You’d scoop rice from the pot to your individual bowl to eat it, and let the remaining cook further in the pot. Then the rice at the bottom gets slightly burnt with a desirable texture and flavor. A note of caution: kamameshi might taste bland for a lot of people. (1000-2000 yen)
至於正餐，有閒錢的話奈良有幾家米其林星等餐廳，平價餐廳有評價很好的元喜神雞白湯拉麵和沾麵 (日幣750-950)，中高價位有看起來很厲害的江戶川鰻魚飯 (日幣1650-3500)。
奈良限定的特色餐點有柿葉壽司、茶粥、和釜飯。柿葉壽司是奈良和和歌山的特色，通常是醃漬的魚和醋飯壽司，用柿子的葉子包起來，據說柿葉可以殺菌和保鮮，最有名的柿葉壽司是1861年創業的平宗 (Hiraso)，在奈良有很多店和餐廳，近鐵奈良站附近有一間可以外帶的店，網路上看起來評價很兩極，我這一趟沒有吃到。茶粥雖然是奈良特色鄉土料理，看起來不是很誘人。釜飯雖然不是奈良特有，但奈良有一家有名的釜飯 — 志津香，看起來要排隊所以沒有去，列入下次奈良之旅的行程。(日幣1000-2000)
Souvenir Shopping in Nara 奈良紀念品
There are plenty of places to shop for souvenir around the Kintetsu Nara station and in Naramachi. I recommend that you stop by Yu-Nakagawa (遊中川) and Nipponichi (日本市) by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten. A linen mosquito net manufacturer founded in 1716 in Nara transformed its bestseller into cute tea towels that are trendy souvenir. I was intrigued by this history. You would find lots of deer-themed tea towels and other souvenirs here. (More about souvenir shopping at Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten.)
近鐵奈良站跟奈良町一帶很多好買的地方，但我超推中川政七的兩家文創商店 — 遊中川和日本市，中川政七是個十八世紀初在奈良起家的麻織品和蚊帳公司，後來轉型做文創，跑到有名蚊帳產地買蚊帳布做成的抹布感覺很酷，而且有奈良限定款，都是大佛和小鹿，超可愛！(看我們的奈良中川政七之旅)。
Nara One-Day Trip Itinerary 奈良一日散策
9:00 am Arriving Nara → Get your picnic snacks to go: Daibutsu Purin vanilla custard with caramel from B1 of the Kintetsu Nara Station or persimmon leaf sushi from Hiraso (平宗) near the train station → Nara Park: buy some deer senbei (crackers) to feed the deer → 10:00 am Tōdai-ji (東大寺) → 11:00 am Kasuga-taisha (春日大社) → Kohfukuji (興福寺) → 2:00 pm Lunch → Yomogi mochi (よもぎ餅) from Nakatanidou (中谷堂) for snack → 3:00 pm Souvenir shopping at Nipponichi (日本市) and then Yu-Nakagawa (遊中川) by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten → Strolling through old town Nara (Naramachi 奈良町)
(In Naramachi you could walk all the way down to the Naramachi information center to get a walking map. We did not make it that far. See the Nara Google Map below here.)
9:00 am 抵達奈良 → 外帶散步野餐之點心：車站內B1買大佛布丁或車站附近買平宗柿葉壽司 → 奈良公園買鹿仙貝餵小鹿 → 10:00 am 東大寺 → 11:00 am 春日大社 → 興福寺五重塔 → 2:00 pm 午餐 → 中谷堂麻糬 → 3:00 pm 中川政七的日本市和遊中川文創紀念品店 → 奈良町散步
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