Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park

November 26, 2016
Nara Park

It is still a bit dark and quite chilly at 630AM as I gently close the door of Hiloki Hostel and take the two-minute walk to the bus terminal at Nara Station where I will board a bus to Nara Park. I'm going to go see Kasuga Taisha this early to avoid the busloads of tourists that are sure to come at (I am guessing) around 9AM, after they have had a hearty breakfast and a cup of coffee.

A manhole cover in Nara City

I arrive at the bus stop for Kasuga Taisha just as the sun is rising and I see a few people in the field taking photos of deer. Some are luring the deer with rice crackers, making the deer gather around and giving the feeder/photographer time to shoot some photos up close. I follow one feeder/photographer a bit and sneakily take some photos myself.

The deer are considered sacred because according to legend, a god is said to have come to Nara riding on a white deer. But I did not come to Nara Park this early for the deer (any time of the day and anywhere in the park, one will surely see deer, because I read somewhere that there are about 1200 deer that roam the park) but for Kasuga Taisha, a 1300+ year old Shinto Shrine that's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kasuga Taisha
April to September 6AM to 6PM
October to March 630AM to 5PM
Inner Area 830AM to 4PM
Inner Area admission fee: 500 yen

The path to Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns and shaded by trees on both sides, and crossed by deer wherever. All these slow me down, but I am not in a hurry anyway. I love the peace and quiet; the cool, fresh morning air; the abundance of trees.

Kasuga Taisha's temizuya (where you purify yourself by washing your hands and mouth) is what else? A deer!

I reach Kasuga Taisha's inner area 30 minutes before opening time. I return to the path and follow it further where it leads me to Wakamiya Jinja and a dozen or so smaller shrines. Before returning to Kasuga Taisha's inner area, I observe a shinshoku (person responsible for the maintenance of the Shinto shrine) do his morning prayers at Wakamiya Jinja.

A small shrine

And the ema, where prayers/wishes are written, are also shaped like a deer!

I enter Kasuga Taisha's inner area through Nanmon (south gate) at 830AM. The inner area is surrounded by a covered walkway with white walls, vermillion columns, and green lattice windows. Lanterns of different designs and colors (bronze, gold, green) donated by the shrine's worshippers hang along the walkway.

Chumon (middle gate) and Oro (open veranda)

Lanterns also hang from the eaves of the Chumon (middle gate) and the Naoraiden Hall (a hall where feasts and morning worship services are held). There is a man taking photos of a small chicken stuffed toy with the Chumon as the background (I later learn that people usually take a photo of the coming year's Chinese zodiac animal and send it as new year's day cards).

Behind the Chumon is Kasuga Taisha's main sanctuary where the shrine's four main deities are enshrined.

Lanterns hang from the eaves of Naoraiden Hall

There is also a small room called Fujinami-no-ya Hall which used to be the shrine's priests' office. Now it is a dark room filled with lit lanterns. Enchanting.

Inside Fujinami-no-ya Hall

In different areas of the sanctuary are small vermillion altars for deities and more behind the main sanctuary. There are deities to protect from evil, to protect from enemies, to protect from disasters, to grant long lives, etc.

In less than an hour, I have seen every corner of Kasuga Taisha's inner area. I skip Kasuga Taisha's botanical garden (9AM to 5PM, 500 yen) and museum (10AM to 5PM, 500 yen), and go back to the hostel to check out and leave my bag at the reception and then go to Kintetsu Nara Station, the meeting place for the Naramachi Walking Tour that will promptly start at 10AM. I will return to Nara Park in the afternoon to see two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are located within the park: Todaiji and Kofukuji.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at the Park (you're here!)
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour
Nara: Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Kyoto: Day 5: Rainy Day in Uji City
Kyoto: Day 5.5: Tofukuji, Kawai Jinja, Shimogamo Jinja
Kyoto: Day 6: Ginkakuji, Ryoanji, Ninnaji
Kyoto: Day 6.75: Gion Night Walking Tour
Kyoto: Day 7: All Day in Arashiyama
Kyoto: Day 8: Last Day in Kyoto
Osaka: Day 8.75: Dizzying Dotonbori
Osaka: Day 9: Osaka, Over and Out


  1. Beautiful Autumn colors especially the last pic with a dear.... I bet is is cold at that time in Kansai.

    1. Hi Ian! Yes, it was maybe below 10C, since it was early morning. I love autumn! Don't you?