“Nara Park,” which opened in 1880 in Kasugano-cho, Nara City, is a scenic area where the natural beauty of lush greenery and history harmonize, with Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, Shoso-in Repository, Nara National Museum and more are in the area. Nara Park is about 500 hectares, and along with the surrounding temples and shrines, the total area is a vast 660 hectares, with many national treasures and registered World Heritage buildings scattered in the area. Many foreign tourists as well as domestic tourists visit the park throughout the year. Let us introduce you to this beautiful scenic area.
This extensive city park that includes the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, which is registered as a World Heritage, is a place where you can enjoy the various coloring leaves, like none other, through early winter.
Further, on the east side of the park is the Wakakusa-yama Mountain, covered with grass, and is 342 meters high, is a place you can get a superb view, as many locals as well as tourists visit. Chosen as one of the “New Three Major Night Views of Japan,” the view from its observation deck is a vast 200-degree panoramic view of mainly Nara City. You can reach close to the mountain top by car, so it is also popular as a date spot.
Wakakusa-yama Mountain is popular for its superb view, but it is also well-known for Nara’s representative event. It is the “mountain burning of Wakakusa-yama Mountain,” which is held on the fourth Saturday of January every year. It is a traditional event that heralds the arrival of early spring in the ancient city of Nara, and the view is overwhelming as the whole mountain is burned, lighting up the night sky. The whole mountain is set fire simultaneously when the fireworks are set off around 6:30 pm as a signal. Many spectators from outside as well as from inside Nara Prefecture gather to see the mountain burning that starts with the signal of beautiful fireworks that color the winter night sky with vivid colors and lights.
What is Nara Park?
During the Meiji era (1868-1912), as part of modernization efforts, parks were systematized, and in Meiji 13, Nara Park was officially established as “Nara Prefectural Park, Nara Park.” But it has a long history, dating back to Nara period (710-794). It all started when the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo, and there, shrines and temples were built. The primeval forest that stretches east to west for 4 kilometers to Kasuga Okuyama is undeveloped since it is considered a holy precinct, and on the site of 2 kilometers that stretches south to north is where you can see many historic structures such as the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and Shoso-in Treasure Repository. Part of Nara Park is the also the precincts of Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and it is said that the shrine’s deity, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto came to the shrine from Ibaraki Prefecture’s Kashima Shrine riding a shinroku (god’s messenger in the form of a deer). This is why the deer of Nara Park have always been cordially protected since long ago, as messengers of god.
At Nara Park, throughout the year, their historic structures are lit up at nighttime. This “Light-up Promenade Nara,” which generates an atmospheric presence quite different from that during the daytime was originally a counterplan for the summer season, but it has now become firmly established as Nara’s summer tradition.
“Nara Tokae” is a summer tradition of many beautifully lit candle lights. It is an event that lights up the ancient city’s night, and in the eight areas of the park, more than 20,000 candles are lit up to create a beautiful scene. There is also “Ikkyaku Itto (One Candle for One Visitor),” which anyone can participate in, so why not light up a candle and make a wish? It should become a nice memory of your trip.
Speaking of Nara Park, deer come to mind! Why are they in the park?
It is said that deer in Nara Park are the messengers of the god enshrined in Kasuga-taisha Shrine in the park. According to legend, when the Kasuga-taisha Shrine was built, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto came to the shrine from Ibaraki Prefecture’s Kashima Shrine riding a white shinroku (god’s messenger in the form of a deer). Since then, deer have been carefully protected. One of the attractions of Nara Park is being able to be close to wild deer in the park, which are now designated a national natural treasure.
The deer in the park are not raised, but are thought as being protected by law, so there is no one that manages the deer. However, there is an organization called “Nara Deer Preservation Foundation,” which is active in capturing and keeping deer that are injured/sick/close to giving birth in the Rokuen (deer center), cutting antlers of bucks, patrolling around the park, as well as conducting surveys/research for their protection.
The population of the deer in Nara Park, which are Japan’s natural treasure, is said that there are close to three as many does as bucks. The reason for this is simple－does live longer, is what we have heard. Unlike the harsh wilderness, many deer in this park live until old age, so naturally, the number of does that live longer have increased.
Antlers grow only on bucks, and they fall off in early spring and new ones grow. Depending on the age of the buck, the shape and size of antlers differ, and in the summer, they become hard and good-looking. Fall is mating season. The bucks with the good-looking antlers lock them with each other and fight over a doe. The bucks with grown antlers are cool-looking, but humans can get hurt when attacked even a little. Especially during mating season, they tend to be irritable, so please try to stand far when you look at them.
The deer in Nara Park are a subspecies of Japanese deer called “Sika deer,” and like its name, they live widely on the main island of Japan. They are the only type of deer living not only in Nara Park, but in the entire city of Nara, and there is no other place where wild animals and humans co-exist in a city area. The deer living in Nara Park are called “deer of Nara,” and has been registered as Japan’s natural treasure. The trees of Nara Park are planted on a lower place than normal, so that the deer can easily eat the leaves, etc.
The deer may be acting like they aren’t thinking much, but they actually live an ordered life. As soon as they get up at sunrise, they go to their feeding ground, which is the grassland or the approach to the shrine in the park where tourists give them senbei (crackers). During the day, the approach is full of deer, but at night, you won’t find even one.
Speaking of Nara Park, this is what to do!
Feeding the deer is really fun. There are over 1,000 deer living in Nara Park, and you can get close to them by feeding them shika senbei (deer crackers). We recommend seeing the deer during the day. They seem to be around from about 8:30 in the morning to evening. They can see from afar who is buying the senbei, and they will come near right away.
They seem to perceive humans they have never seen before as people who give them the senbei. This seems to be the reason the deer gather and chase after tourists. A good way would be to hide the senbei after you buy them, and when you find a deer you want to give your senbei to, take them out of the bag one by one to feed them. When you feed them, put your hand up high and say “arigato (thank you)” while you bow. Sometimes, the deer will bow back to you.
The shika (deer) senbei are 150 yen per a set of 10. They are made purely of rice bran and flour, without any sugar or salt added. They are safe snacks for deer to eat.
Further, this is not well-known, but about 360 deer die within Nara Park annually. Among them, 100 die of traffic accidents. These deer are taken to the Rokuen located in Nara Park, cremated there, and buried in the deer mound. Every November of every year, a shinto priest of Kasuga-taisha Shrine hold a memorial service and console the spirits of the dead as manufactures of the deer senbei and others attend the ceremony. Deer are considered messengers of god (Kasuga-taisha Shrine), so the spirits are consoled. The Rokuen is located in Nara Park, so you may want to stop by.
How to walk Nara Park
Nara Park is a park located in the northern part of Nara Prefecture, in Nara City which is close to Kyoto. It is a scenic place and tourist hot spot with the most attractions in Nara Prefecture with historical buildings and places to enjoy nature as well as the famous deer.
“Kofuku-ji Temple” is the temple that has the Five-storied pagoda, which can be called the symbol of Nara, remarkably outstanding in Nara Park. In the temple are many buddha statues, many of them national treasures such as the statue of Ashura, which ignited the Buddhist statue boom. Among all the buddha statues designated national treasures in Japan, surprisingly, 15% of them are enshrined in Kofuku-ji Temple. In the temple’s National Treasure Museum are many temple treasures are on display, such as the statue of Ashura with Sanmenroppi (three faces and six arms).
“Todai-ji Temple” is where the Great Buddha of Nara is enshrined. Known for its Daibutsu-sama (Great Buddha), it is a representative temple of the Nara period. The temple has many especially huge-scale things such as the Great Buddha hall which is one of the world’s largest wooden structures, and the nation’s largest Kongo Rikishi statue at the Nandai-mon gate. Todai-ji Temple shows us today the history Nara period and the profoundness of Buddhism culture.
The “Ukimi-do Hall” is a hexagonal hall floating on the Sagi-ike Pond. Its reflection on the pond is beautiful, and it is a place of relaxation at the waterside. It is a great comforting spot where you can take a leisurely stroll, take pictures, and eat your lunch. You can enjoy a different kind of elegance for each season, such as cherry blossoms in spring, and coloring leaves during fall, which is a highly recommended place to be in the park.
“Kasuga-taisha Shrine” is the head temple of the 1,000 Kasuga-jinja in Japan, located at the western foot of Mikasa-yama Mountain which continues from the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. In 1998, the shrine and the areas surrounding it was designated UNESCO World Heritage. Kasuga-taisha Shrine was established in 768 as a shrine to protect Heijo-kyo (ancient name of Nara) and pray for the prosperity of the people. The Fujiwara clan’s guardian god is enshrined here. According to legend, god came to Nara riding a white deer, so deer are considered messengers of god. The shrine is worth seeing because of its historical structures, but aside from that, it is a wonderful power spot for the rich nature that can be appreciated throughout the year, and also benefits of a good marriage.
The “Nara National Museum” is one of the most popular facilities within Nara Park. It is a museum mainly exhibiting cultural assets, centering around Buddhist art of ancient Japan, and this is the only place you can see more than 100 Buddhist sculptures at once. Further, following “Tokyo National Museum,” it is the second oldest national museum in Japan. There are four galleries－the “Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall,” exhibiting one of Japan’s greatest collection of Buddhist statues, the “East Wing” and “West Wing” where many people visit every fall to see exhibitions such as the Shoso-in Treasures, and the “Seidoki (Ritual Bronzes) Gallery” where they exhibit bronze artifacts of ancient China. Not only the exhibitions, but the architecture of the main hall is also a must-see. It is one of the very few genuine Western-style architecture and is designated as an Important Cultural Property. Every fall, the museum holds an annual exhibition of the Shoso-in Treasures, so we recommend visiting them at this timing. It is a precious hot spot where you can experience the Meiji era history, which was the start of modernization in Japan.
Eating in Nara Park
■ Shunsai HIYORI
This is a restaurant where you can fully enjoy the flavor of ingredients which are “Yamato vegetable” grown on their exclusive garden, and many of their fans are health conscious women. But vegetable dishes aren’t the only things served－also on the menu are dishes using char from the clear streams of the Suzuka Mountains, and “Yamato Ushi Beef,” a brand beef of Nara.
Their restaurant, located close to the entrance to Naramachi, is characteristic for its modern exposed concrete finish building. Far inside the restaurant are terrace seats, where soft natural light shines, which are also popular.
This set meal named “Yasai -biyori,” consists of appetizers, various Yamato vegetable dishes, steamed ancient rice, pickles, hot pot for one, dessert (home-made bracken-starch dumpling), and more.
This is Yamato vegetable kaiseki (formally arranged meal), consisting of dishes made in ways suitable for each kind of vegetable. The vegetables steamed in a clay pot are sweet and exquisite.
●Mondays, Wednesdays-Thursdays, national holiday, day before national holiday: 11:30-14:30（L.O. for food: 14:00）; 17:00-22:00 (L.O. for food: 21:00)
■ Naramachi Tofu-an Kondo
Designated as a registered tangible cultural property, this is a tofu restaurant that welcomes you in an elegant 180-year old townhouse. “Kondo tofu ten (tofu specialty shop)” that creates tofu using carefully selected soy beans and natural bittern, started this restaurant because they wanted people to deliciously taste their proudly made tofu. You will enjoy their dishes that are made to bring out the natural flavors of tofu, such as oboro tofu and namayuba sashimi.
“Naramachi Tofu-an Kondo” stands in the tasteful corner of Naramachi.
At the table seat, you can have a relaxing time while viewing the tsubo-niwa (small garden). The dishes using 100% made in Japan soy beans should be exquisite when eating them in such a calming atmosphere.
Basically, there are only course meals. Each course has various tofu dishes you can enjoy. For lunch, they only serve the “Kondo Hiruzen.”
“Naramachi Tofu-an Kondo”
●12:00-13:30 (last admission: 13:30), 17:00-22:00 (last admission: 20:30)
●Closed Mondays and Tuesdays (If a Monday or Tuesday falls on a national holiday, they will be open, and the following day will be closed.)
“Awa Naramachi” is a restaurant in a remodeled 140-year old townhouse located in the “Naramachi” area which is within walking distance from Kintetsu Naramachi Station. It is a long-established restaurant where you can feel relaxed and enjoy dishes using ingredients from Nara such as Yamato Beef and traditional vegetables of Yamato. They have four lunch courses. For dinner, they serve three courses priced between 3,900 yen and 5,000 yen.
The appearance of the restaurant is a hideout that fits right into the good old-fashioned townscape. If you open the lattice door, you will see the earthen floor leading inside.
Other than a tatami mat rooms, they also have table seats. Since it is a remodeled old Japanese-style house, they have various rooms such as a storehouse room, a room with the view of a small garden, and a hidden room-like room. One thing you will enjoy is not knowing which room they will take you to until the last minute.
Served in a basket, it is the strikingly beautiful “Awa Shukakusai Gozen.” It is an assortment of appetizers that use various colorful vegetables you can enjoy. Each dish is made meticulously, and you will enjoy the simple goodness of vegetables.
*Please call to book by 9 pm of the previous day. Please take note that cancellation on the day of use will result in a 100% cancellation fee.
●11:30-15:00 (last admission: 13:30, L.O. 14:00); 17:30‐22:00 (last admission: 20:00, L.O. 21:00)
How to get to Nara Park
From major cities to Nara
■Using the train
Tokyo to Kyoto: about 2 hrs. and 10 min. by Shinkansen
Kyoto to JR Nara Station/ about 35 min. by limited express, about 50 min. by express
Osaka to JR Nara Station/Kintetsu Nara Station: about 40-50 min. by rapid train
■Using the bus
Shinjuku to Nara (night bus): about 7 hrs. and 30 min.
Nagoya to Nara (day bus): about 2 hrs. and 30 min.
Kansai International Airport to Nara: about 1 hr. and 25 min.
Osaka International Airport to Nara: about 1 hr.
■To Nara Park
JR Nara Station to Nara Park: about 20 min. walk
Kintetsu Nara Station to Nara Park: about 5 min. walk
Summary of Nara Park
Along with Kyoto and Kamakura, Nara is one of the prominent tourist destination cities in Japan. The popularity of Nara Park has been increasing among foreign tourists because of the easy accessibility from major cities in the Kansai area such as Osaka and Kyoto. Nara Park has many allures including World Heritages, many temples and shrines, the famous deer, and rich nature. Their official website is in five languages－Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional). The website has information on access and events, the history of Nara Park, hot spots, and more. Use them for reference when you plan out your trip. Please try Nara Park, where you can enjoy yourself throughout the year.
*The above information was last updated August 9, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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