Last Updated on November 24, 2023
Nara is a small, beautiful city in Japan which dates from 710. Originally known as Heijo-kyo (citadel of peace), it was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794. Despite being the capital, even before Kyoto, it was not designated a city until 1898. Nara is also the birthplace of the fundamentals of Japanese tradition.
But despite its historical lineage, today Nara is most renowned for its tame deer. In Japan they are considered messengers of the gods and are a national treasure.
What makes the Nara deer so special is that in Japan, where bowing is a custom, the deer also bow to you when they want a treat. It’s unique to see and a lot of fun to feed them.
If you want to feed them, you can purchase a bag of Nara deer treats from sidewalk vendors for 200 Yen (about U$1.30).
Nara Park’s Deer and Todai-Ji Temple
There are more than 1,200 of the deer in Nara and they roam freely. You’ll find them primarily in the 1,300 acre (502 ha) Nara Park and about nearby Tōdai-ji temple.
Tōdai-ji temple is home to a spectacular 53 foot (16m) bronze image of the Buddha, the largest in the world. Once one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The temple is the headquarters of the Kegon School of Buddhism. It consists of the Great Buddha Hall, as well as various other halls, sub-temples, pagodas and gates. All are of great architectural and historical interest. You’ll find the Great Buddah Hall to be the most impressive and interesting.
Nara is about six hours southwest of Tokyo and a 30-minute drive east of Osaka. The most comfortable way for most travelers to reach it however, is via train from Osaka, a 1¼-hour-journey.