• Visit the ancient Todai-ji shrine and its splendid Great Buddha
• Feed the free-roaming deer in beautiful Nara Park
• Wander through a mystical, moss-covered forest
Just east of Osaka, less than an hour away, is the beguiling ancient city of Nara. Founded in 710, this was Japan’s first permanent capital, and it has the historical landmarks and pedigree to prove it. Nara’s compact cityscape is easy to navigate, and the best place to begin is at Todai-ji. The 8th-century Buddhist temple is most famous for its Daibutsu (Great Buddha), an impressive 16-meter-tall bronze statue. While touring the complex, you’ll also find a support pillar with a hole in it—those laughing children you see squeezing themselves through the hole are said to be assured enlightenment. (Adults, attempt at your own risk!) From here you’ll pass between two menacing statues guarding the large wooden Nandaimon Gate to Nara Park, home to hundreds of free-roaming deer who are eager to be fed special crackers, shika senbei, that are for sale around the park. In the Shinto faith, deer are revered as messengers to the gods, and you’ll spot them throughout the park, in the adjacent woods, and along pathways leading to Nara’s most important Shinto shrine, Kasuga Taisha. This ancient site has an almost mystical atmosphere, set deep in the forest, surrounded by pathways lined with mossy stone lanterns and hidden satellite sanctuaries that beg to be explored.
Nara is 40 to 60 minutes from the Conrad by taxi, depending on traffic. To take the train, walk five minutes south to Higobashi station and take the Yotsubashi (blue) subway to Namba station. The train to Nara departs from Kintetsu Namba Station. Take the Kintetsu Nara Line (rapid express, 35 minutes) to Nara Station. Walking between the various sites takes about 20 minutes total.