Despite living in Japan for 15 months this was our first week long Japanese road trip. We had visited Kyoto back in February and had decided that a long weekend just wasn’t enough (read about our first trip to Kyoto here). With 4 distinct cities fairly close together and accessible by train it seemed like an obvious choice for our Thanksgiving travel plan. We booked an Airbnb a year out in Kyoto (as the affordable ones tend to fill up fairly fast), but when Japan changed its laws regarding Airbnb we ended up switching to Osaka as our home base. Each of the cities: Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka all offered something different and we feel will leave you with a good idea of what Western Japan is like.
For ease of website navigation, we have divided the trip by city, click through to the other sections at the bottom of this page, or head to our Japan page to see the individual pages. Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital from 710 – 784, was the second city we visited, so make sure to click back to see how we filled our first 3 days in Kobe!
[ D A Y • 4 ] Osaka → Nara: Nakatanidou, Kofukuji, Nara Deer Park, Himuro Shrine, Todai-ji, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Kikuichi Knife Shop, Kobe → Osaka
We hopped aboard the train bound for Kintetstu Nara Station. The kids were so excited to experience a new place and to see the deer that we had heard so much about. The air was crisp, the sun was out, and everyone (from our little tribe) was behaving on the train setting us up for a great morning. ~45minutes later we arrived; Ohayo Gozaimasu, Nara! Nara is pretty small, so it didn’t take long for us to reach Nakatanidou to witness one of the fastest mocha makers in Japan pound some serious mochi (the process is known as “mochitsuki”). And obviously after witnessing the process we had to try it for ourselves! The kids loved the idea of having sweets before lunch and we justified it all by the red bean paste filling inside – I mean, it’s beans…that’s healthy, right?
After indulging in mochi goodness we continued onwards to Kofukuji, a temple constructed by the ruling aristocratic clan during the Nara period in 710. In addition to the temple, there is also a beautiful 5-storied pagoda which is the second highest in Japan (highest is in Kyoto).
The kids were itching to visit the sika deer at the Deer Park (read: they had been asking about them all morning), so after strolling around we headed there next. Nara is home to ~1200 free-roaming, tame deer that are believed to be messengers of the Shinto gods. The deer have become the symbol of the the city of Nara, and have even been designated as a national treasure. We bought 3 packs of “shika senbei” (deer crackers) because all of the deer “looked SO hungry” (although our kiddos found out quickly that the young male deer can be a bit aggressive). This was our children’s favorite part of the day, particularly when the the trained deer would bow to them before eating the crackers.
We slowly made our way to Himuro Shrine (feeding deer allllll along the way, of course). This was a really neat stop as were able to buy a fortune on a special piece of paper that was then revealed to us by placing it on a block of ice. The fortune itself is in Japanese, but English translations are available (just ask!).
From Himuro it was off to Todaiji, another amazing temple originally constructed in 752 under Emperor Shomu. Passing through the Nandaimon Gate on our way to this World Heritage site we were just in awe. The deer were everywhere and on the sides of the huge gate stood two Nio statues made in 1203 who stood 8.5m tall!
We soon passed by Kagami-ike Pond and then walked up to Todaji. At one time, this structure was the largest wooden building in the world (it held onto this honor until ’98). It does, however, still have the world’s biggest bronze statue of Buddha standing at 16m tall. It. Is. Massive. We meandered around the hall and eventually came across a hole in a wooden pillar. The hole is said to be the same size as Buddha’s nostril and those that can successfully squeeze through it will be granted enlightenment. The kids easily squeezed through helping one another out. Dom and I on the other hand were much less graceful (or enlightened?).
Upon exiting Todaiji we took a stroll through a sea of oranges, yellows and reds to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. As we approached our last shrine the paths were lined with stone lanterns. The sun was just beginning to set as we entered and it bounced off of the thousand hanging bronze lanterns inside. Incredibly beautiful place to round out the day. So peaceful. Kasuga Taisha has been destroyed and rebuilt even 20 years since 768 to represent the Shinto religions belief in both purity and renewal.
As it was getting dark we slowly meandered back to the train station stopping at Kikuichi Knife Shop. Getting at least one very nice Japanese knife had been on Dom’s Japanese must do list since before we arrived. He loves to cook, and (after the typical crazy amount of research) he decided on a handmade Gyuto, the Japanese version of a chef’s knife.
Kikuichi Cutlery has been making knives and swords for over 750 years. Its founder was chosen by the emperor as his swordsmith, giving them the right to use the royal symbol of the Chrysanthemum flower as a mark of the high quality of their blades. Without getting into much detail, Dom chose a 45 layer Damascus steel Gyuto with a beautiful walnut handle – mission accomplished!
Before we hopped on the train home we picked up some street eats because takoyaki is always a huge hit and full bellies on the train always equates to a better chance for a relaxing ride home. It also gave us a chance to try out one more Nara specialty: sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. It was just as good as it looked! Train ride home was easy and the walk back to our Airbnb was smooth with two tired kiddos. We stopped to pick up another quick bite at Tekoya because it’s impossible to pass up street food – Japanese food is delish! Tomorrow it’s off to Kyoto!
- Hours: 1000 – 1900 (demonstrations take place at random times between 1100 and 1600)
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0900 – 1700 (last admission @1645)
- Admission: 500yen/Adult, 300yen/Jr. High & High School Students, 100yen/Primary School Students
- Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
- Admission: Free. You can purchase deer crackers (“shika senbei”) many places around the park (1pack costs 150yen).
- Hours: 0630 – 1730
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 0800 – 1630 (November – February), 0800 – 1700 (March), 0730 – 1730 (April – September), 0730 – 1700 (October)
- Great Buddha Hall + the Todaji Temple: 1,000yen/Adult , 400yen/Child (6 – 11yo), children under 6yo are free
- Great Buddha Hall: 600yen/Adult, 300yen/Child (6 – 11yo), children under 6yo are free
- Hours: 0900 – 1630 or 1700 depending on the time of year
- Admission: Offering hall can be visited free of charge, but to see the inner area you have to pay 500yen/Adult
- Hours: 0930 – 1630
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Can be bought at several vendors along the shopping streets around Nara
- Admission: Prices for a seven piece set range:
- 983yen: 7 pieces of sea bream
- 1048yen: 3 pieces of salmon, 4 pieces of sea bream
- 1178yen: 2 pieces of mackerel, 2 pieces of salmon, 3 pieces of sea bream
Kakinohasushi Tip: We bought a box of 7 pieces including Saba Mackerel, Sake Salmon, Tai Sea Bream all of which were delicious, but the salmon was our favorite! Just make sure to unwrap the sushi and not to eat the persimmon leaves.
- Hours: 1100 – 2200
- Takoyaki: 8pcs/400yen, 12pcs/600yen, 15pcs/700yen
- Okonomiyaki: 380yen
- Yakisoba: 380yen
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