Lying to the east of Osaka and south of Kyoto, Nara Prefecture is a popular day trip destination, but with enough to fill a whole month! The region has enjoyed huge significance in Japanese history as at times the political, military, and spiritual heart of the country. In fact, the very first fixed capital of Japan was modern day Nara City, then known as Heijo, in 710 AD.
Plenty of this history still stands in the region, particularly in the rural Sakurai area. Nara City also has plenty for itself. In the city park you’ll find Todaiji Temple and its gigantic carved buddha — once the head temple of all Buddhism in Japan — as well as forest shrines tucked among ancient trees.
This park isn’t just home to spirits and buddhas: it also has by far the most famous deer in the world. The story goes that the priests of the temples made a habit out of feeding wild deer, which caused them to occupy the park en masse. Now tourists can feed them crackers and chill with them on the grass.
The prefecture also has some other photo-ops in Japan, especially at Mount Yoshino. The slopes of this mountain are covered with 30,000 cherry blossom trees, making it the most noteworthy sakura cherry blossom viewing spot in the country.
Whether you just stop off for a deer selfie on the way to Osaka, or make a fully-fledged pilgrimage around arguably Japanese history’s most significant prefecture, Nara will reveal itself as one of the most unique and memorable parts of your trip.
Sign up to receive insider tips about the food scene in Japan's most extraordinary areas.