Once you are done exploring Tokyo and the surrounding areas, it makes perfect sense to shift base to either Kyoto or Osaka and then plan day trips from there. One advantage of Osaka is that it has an international airport that will allow you to go easily to your next destination if you are simply visiting Japan.
Coming back to Nara. Nara is the perfect city that is easily accessible from both Kyoto and Osaka and it is possible explore the area in a day. There are both Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples that you can visit and enjoy. The most famous and must see of course are the Todaiji Temple and Nara deer park. If you have time, you should definitely spend time at Horyuji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Taisha shrine. There are also some lovely gardens in Nara. If you love landscaping, then the opportunities for inspiration are incredible.
I know I sound like a broken record when I say this, but, unfortunately, the truth is that visiting each site takes time. Sometimes, you feel so pressed for time that you are not able to enjoy the surroundings fully …. that’s what happened to us.
To begin with, the weather did not co-operate fully. It was cloudy with occasional rain, which meant travel times longer than expected. We also went in mid-April… peak tourist season. This meant crowded places, fewer photographing opportunities. However, the places where we spent the most time – Todaiji Temple and deer park were well worth it.
Deer park – It is in the same vicinity as the temple. The deer park itself is very large. Luckily, as you approach the Todaiji Temple, you will encounter many deer. Please use caution when you go near them or when they come near you. They can get aggressive if provoked.
Todaiji Temple – The entrance hallway simply hides the beautiful temple behind it. After you pay for admission (Daibutsuden Hall) and enter the campus, your jaws just drop. Beautiful temple across the courtyard. Luckily for us, the rain stopped just before we entered the hall and the view was spectacular (right after it rains, everything looks gorgeous 🙂 ).
Within the temple there are 3 main statues along with 2 more statues towards the back. The statues are large and due to crowds, a little difficult to photograph… but stunning nonetheless to look at and admire. There is absolutely no chance of sitting inside and meditating when there are too many people.
Depending on how much time you are able to spare, walk inside the temple in a clockwise direction. There is one spot where a hole has been carved in the pillar and the related legend promises good luck to those who can pass through it.
There is also a small gift shop inside the temple which has some nice souvenirs that you can purchase. There is also a gift shop near the exit gate of Daibutsuden Hall.
Ideally, you will spend between 2 to 3 hours completing the Deer park and Todaiji Temple.
Depending on how much time you have left before you have to head back, you can determine which shrines or temples or gardens to focus on. In our case, most of them were drive by visits unfortunately.
Nara is a beautiful, quaint city (may be the rain gave that impression :)). It genuinely feels like a place where you can just chill and absorb the ancient traditions of Japan. I don’t think I would mind spending a night in Nara, especially in a ryokan!