Japan is one amazing country. My quick vacation of five days barely allowed me to skim the surface. Being that I live life on a budget, I anchored myself in Osaka and ventured to different areas in Kansai. I fully recommend the three day Kansai pass as it allows you to use the subway system in Osaka (very nice btw) and travel throughout the district. This will give you access to places like Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara. The Himeji Castle (Hyogo Prefect) is also in the area, but it is under reconstruction until 2014 so I wouldn’t waste a day visiting unless you like to look at wonders with a huge tarp on top of them.
However, the highlight of my trip had to be the small city of Nara. Nara is simply amazing. It’s fun to be such a fan of older video games and travel to Japan. You start to gain a sense of the inspiration for certain games. The mystical countrysides or the feel of trains and conductors in these games are much better understood after experiencing the privately owned railways or walking along the lush greenery of Japan. What video game does Nara remind me of? That’s easy- it would be the Legend of Zelda (Preferably “A Link to The Past”) .
I felt like Link searching for the Master Sword. Nara has an endless expanse of green fields, austere yet complex wooden temples, the most friendly/aggressive deer I have ever encountered, and an eerily yet beautiful atmosphere. During my visit, it was very overcast and misty. This only added to the wonder of the city. My companion and I tried to wing it. In the process, we probably missed most of the city’s attractions. Nevertheless, Nara is small enough where it is fully possible to walk from attraction to attraction. I recommend this as the walks help any traveler appreciate the beauty of this magical place.
I have six suggestions for visiting Nara.
1) If you travel to Japan, go to Nara- It’s by far the coolest place I saw in Japan. It is hands down more fun than Kyoto.
2) Feed the deer- You might not have a choice. I got antler raped by the deer on a few occasions. There are stalls where you can buy food for the deer. The deer know this- as soon as you have acquired snacks you will find yourself being rushed by four to six deer. Once you run out of your snacks, they will eat the paper and the napkin as well. Additionally, my soda ice cream and part of my belt fell victim to the insatiable appetite of the deer. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of deer and they add to the ambience and of the city. Legend portrays the deer as heavenly creatures who protect the city and the province. Despite their grotesque eating and bathroom manners, there is something other-worldy about these deer.
3) Visit Todai-ji. It’s the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, and impressive building I saw during my trip to Japan. It easily smoked anything I saw in Kyoto.
4) Don’t wing anything in Japan, study beforehand and make a list of three or four places you want to see. Freely explore areas around the places you plan on visiting. Many temples are actually complexes and you can spend hours exploring the stuff you don’t see on postcards. Stop by the tourism booth and get maps, information on busses, and a clear plan of where and how to reach your targets. Draw it out on your map and stick to the plan. There are eight related temples and a Palace to visit in Nara. Comprehensively, they form a Unesco World Heritage site.
5) Allow yourself some time to walk the neighborhoods and the downtown area of Nara. We found a small venue that specialized in Belgian beer and wine. The employee took us on a small tour of his neighborhood to help us find a restaurant.
6) Arrive early. If you arrive early, I believe one day is sufficient to be satisfied with Nara.
Enjoy the pics and please visit Kimchibytes on facebook to view all my pictures from Nara.
The Secret Map- Check out their video series, Big in Japan. In a very similar spirit, they made some great videos documenting their week in Kansai.