Kyoto & Nara: Beware of the Deer

After an epic five days eating our way through Kanazawa and exploring the ryokan’s of the Japanese Alps, we said good bye to our besties Chris and Jo, and disembarked from the train in Kyoto.

We spent three nights in Kyoto, and used it as a home base for exploring neighboring areas such as Nara by train. I’m ashamed to say I found great joy in locating a Starbucks at the station and enjoyed every delicious sip of my soy latte like a reunion with an old friend. Had I only known that in 5 short weeks I’d be back in Europe and Starbucks would taste like Coors Light compared to the Craft Beers of Cafés I would be befriending…

But back in Kyoto, it was damn good.

Kyoto Train Station to Nara

 

Kyoto Train Station

Day Trip 1: Nara

Our first major day trip was to Nara. To be honest we did the least amount of planning for our Kyoto stint because Chris and Jo had planned our first week in Japan and then suddenly we were in Kyoto, happy to have at least booked a hotel. Luckily there are tons of great Kyoto guides online, and all of them said go to Nara. Plus I have a friend named Nara, had to do it.

I should have known something was up when upon arrival the first thing I saw was this guy.

Creepy Nara Deer Man Statue

Then I remembered. “The guide said something about the deer.”, I said to Eric. “Huh?” “I think someone said there’s a lot of deer walking around, and you can feed them or something.”

Understatement of the year.

The minute you exit the station and head toward the temple (the main attraction) you start to see them. Everywhere. Turns out, the park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Hear that? National treasure.

Then we come across this guy.

Deer of Nara

How cute is he? Eyes closed, all cuddly. “Come pet me”, he beckons. Turns out what he’s really saying is “Get your ass over here and feed me”. There are food stands at every corner selling deer crackers. I’m a sucker for getting to pet a deer so we stock up on a few pockets full and venture forth.

To these guys.

Group of deer in Nara

So mellow, their bellies full of deer crackers. They have a few bites, all chillaxed and sweet. I get a few pets in.

We’re getting pretty hungry ourselves at this point and had packed a picnic lunch so we decide to park it on a bench and have a bite before entering the temple zone.

Then this little cutie rocks up.

Fawn in Nara

Hey little buddy, aren’t you sweet.

Oh, wait. Who’s your friend?

Big deer Nara

With the HORNS?

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Hands up, don’t butt.

He’s not messing around, within in seconds he has located the cracker stash and is mauling the backpack.

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..and the map in Eric’s hand, coming at me and my lunch and the camera. The photos don’t do it justice, this was a LARGE animal with BIG ASS horns who was aggressively shaking us down for our lunch money. It all happened so fast we went from entertained to “is this really happening” laughter to “holy shit grab the back pack!”. I stood up to get some space between the back of the bench and the horns and the furry bastard starts grabbing my shirt and tugging at it! Then he nips me! At which point I smack him away and freeze.

Having been on high alert to avoid any possible act of offense in a culture so easily offended, I gasped and looked around. “Please, oh please, don’t let me get caught backhanding the National Treasure.”

I had a bruise for days on my belly. Bitten! By a DEER! By the “National Treasure”!

Here’s what was left of our map. Bruise not pictured.

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I wish I’d seen this sign sooner.

deerattack

After escaping the deer we made it to the Tōdai-ji temple, home to the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana (note the deer horns).

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Nara is gorgeous and the temple, gardens and statues are truly breathtaking. My advice is wear deer repellant, and try not to laugh when you see a little kid crying hysterically as a pack of deer descend upon his cracker stash.

 

Day Trip 2: Fushimi Inari Shrine

Keeping in the theme of animal messengar’s of Shinto gods, one of our favorite day trips was to the Fushimi Inari Shrine within Kyoto. It’s famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Climbing to the top is a serious stair master workout and the views are worth it.

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Every shrine we visited in Japan had Ema, little wooden blocks to write your prayers or wishes, then hang at the Shrine for the kami (spirits or gods) to receive them.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Fox are thought to be Inari’s messengers, which means….you guessed it! There are thousands of wild fox running loose waiting to be fed. Just kidding. No wild or tame fox to be seen but there are fox statues and likenesses everywhere. Even the Ema are shaped like fox.adventure travel,

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It seems Eric has found his spirit animal as well. FOXFACE!

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If you’re headed to Kyoto, here are some recommendations:

  • We stayed at Hotel Gimmond. Tiny room but friendly with a great location. Book directly as it was $80 vs the $100/night using Agoda.
  • Eat the burn miso ramen at Gogya Kyoto. My friend Teri wrote a whole blog post about it, so good.
  • Buy tickets for the Kyoto World Heritage Tour Bus. Hop on hop off for all the historical sites. Consider doing multiple days, it’s a lot to cover in one. We left Fushimi Inari for it’s own day.
  • Tired of sight seeing? Take a cooking class! We took the sushi class at Cooking Sun and had a blast.

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