OYOP: The chronicles of Nara, Japan.
At some point after we left the city of Kyoto, I must have stepped into a magical wardrobe because it led me to the other-worldly land of Nara, Japan.
I was already bound to be fond of the small town of Nara. If not for the plethora of the traditional Japanese architecture I’ve grown so fond of, it is also home to the magnificent Nara Park, over 1,000 acres of endless greenery with walking paths to beautiful ponds, moss gardens, and some of Japan’s oldest and most revered shrines and temples. Most notably, the Todai-ji Temple was originally founded in the 8th century and contains the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, one the most popular attractions in Japan and the reason for Nara’s many visitors.But the real magic in is the deer. Yes, those antlered woodland creatures that are considered a nuisance in the United States. But not here, for in the magical land of Nara, deer are considered the messengers of the gods. The 1,200 deer who live in Nara roam freely in the park, the streets, and at the temples and shrines. They interact with people and bow politely in request for the town’s frequently-purchased specially made deer crackers, though they also will take leaves or grass right out of your hands. They generously pose for photos (even if they’re selfies), and they don’t mind a good petting either. The cheerful locals beam with pride at this charming co-habitation, and almost everything in town seems centered around these sacred creatures. Deer paintings appear on the steps of the local metro station, deer trinkets are sold in every corner shop, chocolate candies are fondly marketed as “deer poop”, and restaurants adorn deer photos and art on the walls. Better yet are the dozens of day-trippers who come from Osaka and Kyoto with their families to spend the day frolicking and laughing as they follow deer around in the parks and the streets. There is just an air of pleasantry, of constant joy, in the fresh air, the warm, welcoming folk, and the giddy visitors. It is a place that you can spend hours relaxing in nature, people watching, all while surrounded by culture and history, and not have to do a thing at all but sit back and soak it all in. One of my other favorite parts of our Nara stay were the 3 nights we spent in the Nara Backpacker’s Guesthouse. I rarely talk about our accommodation, but this guesthouse was a 100-year old traditional Japanese home with a charming garden, bamboo posts lining the ceiling, and sliding wooden doors with paper screens. Our room was an old tea room, with the traditional tea table and pottery still in tact, and tatami mat floors where we slept on a futon rolled out at night in the traditional Japanese style.
It was easy to get swept up in the idyllic Nara, and I would highly recommend a couple of days getting lost in the magic wardrobe to end up there, though perhaps more easily, you can also arrive there by taking a 45-minute train ride from Kyoto.