Number 1: There is wild deer – everywhere!
Seeing the wild Japanese deer that roam Nara was one of my top “must-do” things of my trip to Japan. Although I’ve seen wild deer around Canada, living in the bustling city of Toronto has meant that the times I’ve seen actually wild deer here could be counted on one hand. Not only that, they are very fearful of humans! They are very protective of their own families and you can never get close to interact with them.
When I was researching where to see the deer of Nara, I initially thought that the deer just roamed around Nara Park (Nara Koen) which is a short ten-minute walk from Nara station. But I was surprised that even as we ventured from our walk from the station towards the park with a map in hand (provided courtesy of the visitor centre located right at the train station), we came across some wild deer almost immediately! There are around 1,200 deer in Nara so I’m certain you won’t go without seeing one on your trip here.
If deer is what you came to Nara for and you want to interact with them, you can purchase some deer feed (deer crackers) from the locals. These crackers make it very easy to feed them without them biting your hand or anything! You will also not have to look very hard for finding someone to purchase deer feed from them. There are people everywhere and in the little town in the centre of Nara will have lots of stores selling deer feed.
Number Two: Respect the Deer
The deer of Nara has become a symbol of the city and even been designated as a natural treasure. In Shinto (ane indigenous faith of the Japanese people), deer are considered to be to be messengers of the gods. It is so important to respect and honour the people, the wildlife, and surroundings of any place you visit.
One interesting thing you’ll come to find is that these Japanese deer will bow to you before being fed. If you purchase some deer feed crackers, all you have to do is hold the cracker above their head and they will bow to you. This is incredibly cute but please don’t taunt them! These deer are wild animals so shouldn’t try to agitate or make fun of them.
The deer are mostly quite tame and friendly to people. Of course, you should still be careful in case the deer turn aggressive in anyway. Since they are wild, you should be careful in catching any ticks which could cause Lyme Disease (Ref 1: Take care with ticks to avoid potentially fatal illness, Japan Times, Ref 2: Spike in life-threatening tick-borne diseases raises alarm in Japan, Japan Times)
Ticks can live on the deer and then transfer to your body. You should try to wear long sleeves and long pants to protect your skin, as well as wash your clothes when you get back to your accommodation. Luckily, the Airbnb place we rented for our stay had a washer/dryer and we threw all our clothes in the wash right away!
Also, like any other animal – deer shouldn’t eat people food or anything other than a diet suitable to them. As they are wild, they will try their best to eat whatever they can from you! Put away your maps, paper or anything else you’re holding as they are very sneaky and will grab it from you and munch it up. I learned this first-hand and no animal should be eating maps or anything like that!
Number 3: Cherry Blossom season is the most magical time to go
Just like the rest of Japan, the bloom of the Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) turns every place into a magical fairytale. I’ve seen lots and lots of photos of the sakura in bloom and getting to see the cherry blossoms first hand has been a dream come true. It’s really incredible but these pink delicate flowers really transforms all the cities of Japan into a pink heaven.
Although the cherry blossom season is undeniably beautiful, it means that there will be so many more people visiting Japan and wanting to photograph all its beauty. You will most likely have to wait for the perfect shot or walk much more to find a place without people.
I had so much fun (maybe too much fun!) photographing the sakura in bloom. It meant that despite the fact that I had made a walking route for our day out to Nara, I kept getting slowed down with every step when I see more and more blooms! I got a little crazy trying to get all these different angles and such because literally everything was so beautiful and I wanted to capture everything! If you are hugely passionate (like me!) and want to capture the sakura festival, add more time to your itinerary! There’s just no replacing extra time in getting the shots you want as well as just taking the time to take it all in by see it all with your own hands (and not with a camera to your face all the time!)
When I was in Nara, having so much fun feeding and playing with the deer, I conjured up the idea of sitting under a cherry blossom tree by a pond feeding a deer. I was able to attract one deer to make my dream photo come true!
It was so funny because I saw this cherry tree from the other side of the pond and knew it was the perfect place right away. There was no one around this pond, no one around this tree, and no deer around. As this very special moment all came together very quickly, my husband was able to capture it. But as I looked up there were around twenty people with cameras all wanting to get the same photo!
Number 4: Prepare for lots of walking
Nara Park is denoted one of the “Places of Scenic Beauty” and it really is! You can spend the whole day walking around taking in the beauty of this place. Nara was actually the national capital of Japan from 710 to 784 and retains the atmosphere of ancient Japan.
These sightseeing guides here and here will get you started on planning a quick trip to Nara to see the sights. But if you love hiking, Nara is also the place for you. There are also lots of hiking trails that you can take.
Just know that there is little cell phone coverage in Nara so if you are travelling with other people and planning to meet up later, it’s easy to get lost and lose each other!
Number 5: Nara is extremely easy to get to from Osaka and a must-see!
Nara was truly one of the highlights of our trip out to the Kansai Region of Japan. It is such a beautifully kept place and should be treated with so much respect for its history. Nara is known for its shrines and temples which date back to the 8th century.
You can’t visit Japan without making a trip out to Nara as well! I have had been very lucky for this to be my third trip out to Japan. I know there is so much to see in Japan so for this trip, I really wanted to focus on one area. We picked the Kansai Region and decided to stay in Osaka because we knew it would be very easy to do day-trips to see other cities by train. Even if you’re not visiting Osaka and Nara is not yet on your itinerary, you have to make it a must-do on your itinerary – much like Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji!
If you are staying in Osaka, it is very easy with two main train lines to get you there: the JR Yamatoji Line and the Kintetsu Nara Line.
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, the JR Yamatoji Line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. To get to JR Nara Station, go to JR Namba Station and take the local train of the Yamatoji Line to Kyuhoji Station and then transfer to the Yamatoji Rapid Service. This will get you to JR Nara Station in 51 minutes and will cost 560 yen.
The Kintetsu Nara Line is actually a very good option because the Kintetsu Nara Station is more centrally located with better walking access to the sightseeing locations. From Osaka Namba Station, catch the Rapid Express train on the Kintetsu Nara Line to Kintetsu Nara Station. This will take 39 minutes cost 560 yen.
You can also take a Limited Express service from Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu Nara Station which will take 34 minutes instead but cost almost twice as much and cost considerably 1,070 yen. (Reference and more information visit: Traveling from Osaka to Nara, Osaka Station)
Travel Photography: Samantha Ong Photography