Just to clarify: Our first animal adventure in Japan was at the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
In addition to our side trips to Kyoto, we spent one of our days in Osaka exploring the nearby city of Nara. The main attraction of Nara is the city park where over 1,000 wild deer roam freely. You can purchase deer crackers for about $1.50 a pack in order to feed the deer. Be careful though! The deer may seem timid and hesitant at first glance, but once they catch sight of some deer crackers in your hand you may find yourself surrounded by a mob of hungry deer chomping at your shirt or bags or anything else in reach. The deer were at one point considered to be religiously significant animals by the local temples and so earned protected status. That religious protected status eventually carried over to National Treasure protected status, allowing the deer population to flourish in the area.
Nara was about an hour and a half by train from Shin-Osaka station. I had to work in the morning, so we didn’t actually meet up in Nara until around 4:00 in the afternoon. Alana spent the morning exploring Kuromon Market. In retrospect we should have scheduled this trip for another day. Most of the temples in the park closed at 5:00, so we didn’t have much time to check them out.
After arriving we walked over to Todai-ji and checked out the Big Buddha Hall. This was at one point the largest wooden building in the world and houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. Even for someone who isn’t into temples it was a pretty impressive sight.
Following Todai-ji, we took a walk through the park. We made an effort to walk to some less heavily trafficked areas and feed deer that might not have otherwise run into tourists. This was more for the sake of self preservation than for helping the under-served deer though. Initially we had fed a deer near the park entrance and before we knew it there were deer on all sides. They got pretty aggressive and the only way we could get them to leave was by tossing some deer crackers off behind them. From then on we made sure to seek out deer that weren’t hanging around with friends. A lot of the deer were not super aggressive though and would delicately take a cracker from your hand. Being Japanese deer they would also bow their heads if you bowed yours at them.
Next we walked through the park to Kasuga Taisha, but it was already closed. We still had a good time walking around the grounds though. On the way back it was already starting to get dark out and we could see groups of deer huddled together under the trees, getting ready for bed.
Our half day trip felt fairly brief, so if you have a full day to spend in Nara I’d recommend it.