Kyoto is filled with so much to see and do that you could easily spend your entire trip there visiting the many gardens, temples, shrines and shops. But there are two things Kyoto doesn’t have: the world’s largest bronze Buddha and hundreds of tame deer roaming the city. To see these, you will have to head south to Nara. Getting here from Kyoto is easy. At the station, walk through the gate closest to the ticket agent and show your JR pass. Check the signs for for the Nara Line and then walk to the platform. The trip takes about 45 minutes and the trains run frequently, so there is no need to make a seat reservation. When you get to Nara, grab a free map of the area at the station. If you can’t find one, just go into the JR ticket office and ask for one-the staff is very friendly and helpful.
With your free map in hand, follow the street signs with a picture of a deer on them from the station to Nara Park, about a 30-minute walk away. As you approach from the south, you start to see deer roaming freely. When the god of the Kasuga Shrine, Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto, appeared riding a white deer, the animals became sacred messengers of the gods and protectors of the city. Today, there are over a thousand deer roaming free, enjoying their status as National Treasures. They are tame and gentle and cute and HUNGRY. You will see vendors selling biscuits to feed the deer for 150 yen. You may think one will be enough, but you would be wrong. Buy several packages and give these deer a feast. They are messengers of the gods, after all.
After feeding the deer, walk over to the Todai-ji Temple and its Daibutsu. This giant bronze Buddha is 50 feet tall and weighs in at over 500 tons. Construction was started in 743 (yup, almost 1300 years ago), took eight years to complete and used most of the bronze available in Japan at the time. Due to fires, the hall that houses the Great Buddha has been rebuilt twice. The structure you see today dates from 1709 and was the largest wooden building in the world until 1998. The Giant Buddha is truly amazing and has cultural and religious significance to all humans, regardless of faith.
If your itinerary for Kyoto is already full, consider getting up early one day seeing the Daibutsu and deer before the crowds. Nara is only 45 minutes by train from Kyoto, so you could be back before lunch.
The tame deer roaming free and a giant Buddha make Nara a must during your trip to Japan.