If you are spending a significant amount of time in the Japanese city of Kyoto or Osaka, then you want to take a family day trip out to Nara.
Nara, designated back in 610 as Japan’s first capital, is nowadays home to some of the country’s oldest temples and ornate gardens. It’s relatively easy to get to Nara, and there are some fun things to do for all ages!
What to see
Nara has two prominent temples that should be on your must-see list: the Todaiji and Heijo, both listed on the Unesco Heritage sites. The Todaiji, the temple housing the world’s largest bronze statue Buddha Vairocana, was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1996.
The Heijo temple, about half a mile in length served as Nara’s Imperial Palace back in the 8th century when the city was Japan’s capital.
The South Gate in front of the Todaiji Temple, constructed at the end of the 12th century earned its claim to fame after being featured in several Hollywood movies and online game by Microsoft.
Not to be missed are the two gate guardians, Ungyo, and Agyo, that may look like a pair at first glance, but boast opposite expressions-one has his mouth open the other closed.
It is well worth walking down to the nearby Kasuga Taisha Shrine to see thousands of stone lanterns that line the walkway. Imagine attending the ‘Mandoro Festival’ when they all are lit!
And speaking of festivals, one of the most spectacular festivals involves fire. Every first weekend in January, during Wakakusa Yamayaki the grass on the hillside of Nara’s Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire along with spectacular firework show.
What to do
You do not want to miss feeding the deer at Nara Park! The ruminant mammals regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion are allowed to roam the grounds undisturbed.
It might take some time for some kids to warm up to feeding a wild animal; others will jump right in for the experience. It’s the largest park in Nara, so it’s easy to find, not to mention the nearly 1200 deer roaming around!
Over the years, these deer have been taught to emulate people and bow their head in return for food. Make sure to purchase crackers for the deer at various vendors around the park as they are bold and will come up to you to feed them.
If you value your belongings keep your purse and coat are safely out of the way as they are persistent and been known to chew on almost anything.
The caveat is that once they know you have food, they will follow you, practically stalk you as you make your way around the park.
Autism Travel Tips
If you go on your own, you should know there are two train companies that you can travel with– Japan Railways and Kintetsu Railways.
The train ride, is about 45 minutes and then getting to Todaiji and the deer park is an additional 30-minute bus ride.
We suggest you go with a tour company as we did to eliminate the wait for public transportation.
It might be a bit pricier but if your kid with autism can’t wait patiently then spending a few extra bucks might totally prove worth it.
If your child gets antsy, get him or her to look for the wooden column with a hole in it behind the giant Buddha. Legend has it that those who fit in there can reach enlightenment.
The terrain in the park is highly uneven, composed mostly of gravel and grassy patches, so closed toe shoes are recommended.
Remember you are walking around wild animals so tell your kids to look where they are stepping as there might be excrements on the ground.
Pack hand wipes your family can use after feeding the deer.
Since most of the park ticks are carrying visible ticks (around the ears), you may want to dress in long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect yourself. Another less desirable option is to use a tick repellant containing Deet chemical to deter the ticks.
Like in all ‘touristy’ areas there are multiple extensive souvenir stands both inside the temple and in the park itself selling stuffed animal deer and well-wish trinkets, so establish ground rules for souvenir purchases before arrival.