Our second day-trip out of Osaka was to Nara, an ancient capital city known for its historical temples and a large, tranquil park. A day in Nara was a lot more relaxing than a day in Kyoto, and everything is within walking distance. As soon as we got off the train we headed east towards the park in search of the deer that Nara is famed for. Over 1,200 wild sika deer freely roam Nara Park (about five square kilometers in area). Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death until 1637 and the deer are currently designated as national treasures. As we walked up towards Kofuku-ji, we spotted our first group of deer, followed by many, many more!
While the deer were incredibly friendly and even posed in our photos, there were posted signs warning of possible aggressive behavior such as biting, kicking, butting and knocking down. I think sometimes people need reminding that these are actually wild animals… For obvious safety reasons, all the deer have their horns cut off which happens at a deer-horn Cutting Ceremony every October.
Kōfuku-ji, a landmark and symbol of Nara, is a Buddhist temple that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples. At 50 metres tall, the five story pagoda is Japan’s second tallest. It was first built in 730, and was most recently rebuilt in 1426. Kofukuji’s main building, the Central Golden Hall, was destroyed in a fire in 1717 and reconstruction work is currently ongoing.
Entrance Fee: Free
Todai-ji (Great Eastern Temple) is a Buddhist temple complex first constructed in 752. Todai-ji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) was last rebuilt in 1709 and was the world’s largest wooden building until 1998 at 57 metres long and 50 metres wide. The massive building houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.
Entrance Fee: 500 yen for Buddha Hall
Once we left the hall and walked back towards the centre of the park we noticed that tons of buses had filled the parking lot and the paths had turned into steady streams of people. We opted to head away from the crowds, skipping Kasuga-taisha shrine, and have lunch in town.
Wondering what to do next and trying to avoid the massive and growing crowd in Nara Park, we browsed TripAdvisor for other “things to do.” When I noticed Sake Tasting was near by, I couldn’t resist.
Harushika BREWERY SHOP (Sake TASTING)
For a mere 500 yen ($4.50 USD) I was served six shots of sake, each one with a brief explanation. The glass cup was mine to keep at the end of the tasting. I previously disliked sake, but I’m so glad I gave it another chance! The sake I sampled at the Harushika Brewery was a million times better than any sake I’ve tasted in Canada. While each sake had a unique flavour, they were all slightly soft and light, neither too sweet nor too dry. The sparkling sake, something I hadn’t previously heard of, was amazing and definitely my favourite.
In addition to sampling a variety of Nara’s famous sake, the tasting included samples of traditional Japanese vegetables pickled in sake lees (a by-product of the brewing process). The taste was very strong and one sample was enough for me.
I’ve since learned that I tried sake in the historical heartland of sake, that can lay claim to being the first place that sake was produced, in a commercial, somewhat mass-produced way (during the 8th century!)
Sake Tasting: 500 yen
A walk through the city
After sake tasting, we wandered back through the city towards the train station. Our day trip (which was really only a half-day) was coming to an end and it was time to head back to Osaka.
Nara was the first time we used our JR pass. We bought the 14-day unlimited pass which gave us the freedom and convenience to hop on and off trains as we pleased. From our apartment in Osaka, it took a little over an hour to get to Nara on the the JR Yamatoji line.