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Nara, kingdom of the deer

If Japan can be described as an astonishing and idiosyncratic blend of modernity and tradition, then the city of Nara is the perfect illustration of this. For both families with children and lovers of wildlife in particular, it is one of the essential places to see when visiting Japan. I certainly believe I saw some charming creatures walking around when I was there.

Welcome to Nara, kingdom of the deer

Almost as soon as you get off the train at Kintetsu station your eyes are met with what is quite a disconcerting landscape. To the left, various buildings stand as testament to the advance of urbanisation; to the right, the continued strong presence of nature makes itself felt, with greenery extending as far as the eye can see.

Head off in this latter direction and you will rapidly see the city give way to the countryside, to the extent that within around 200 metres you will encounter your first deer. Then, before you even have time to ask yourself what it is doing there, you come across another, then a small herd, to the point where you finally realise that Bambi's pals are in the majority in this area. And there is a good reason for this: considered messengers of god in the Shinto religion, deer have been elevated to the status of national treasure in Japan.

A deer in Nara

Cultural Nara

Continue on your route and you'll soon arrive at the Todai-ji temple, with its huge wooden doors and giant bronze Buddha (a beautiful baby, 15 metres high and weighing 350 tons).

Next take the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing break in the Isui-en, perhaps the most beautiful garden in the whole of Japan.

Be sure to also make a quick trip to the Nara National Museum, which is well worth visiting for both its collection of calligraphy and its Buddha and bodhisattva sculptures.

You must not, in fact you simply cannot travel through the Kansai region or visit Japan without spending some time in Nara. Lying just one hour from Kyoto and Osaka, the earliest capital city in Japan's history is as refreshing and invigorating as it is rich in culture.

Lying just one hour from Kyoto and Osaka, the earliest capital city in Japan's history is as refreshing and invigorating as it is rich in culture. The fact that its main attractions are located so close to each other means you can spend a very full, whole day immersing yourself in Japanese tradition.

Olivier Ruel
6 contributions
Updated 12 May 2016
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