Visiting the Deer in Nara, Japan
Alot of advice we received mentioned a visit to Nara to see the deer that roam about and also because it's dotted with traditional gardens. We opted to spend the night there as we found a hotel that looked quite promising and thought it might be a nice way to break up our time in Kyoto. Catching the train from Kyoto to Nara was easy (it took around an hour) as the fair was included in our JR pass, plus our hotel was a 3 minute walk from the JR Nara station. Jackpot.
Our hotel in Nara was the Hotel Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring (catchy name) and it was ideal for us; tatami mats throughout (that means you have to remove your shoes immediately at the door, a concept that we LOVE) simple decoration and all the amenities that you could ask for - it was a brilliant mix of west-and-east to make us comfortable but also provided us with new experiences. The hot springs were an example of that. The hotel has a bathhouse (with separate facilities for men and women) including natural hot springs, sauna and plunge pools. There were endless rules and guidelines for using the baths correctly as everyone is required to enter the water naked, so it's essential to be clean beforehand out of respect and courtesy (and it makes good hygiene sense!) for everyone else. There was an order in which to prepare to make sure the correct etiquette is followed and although it sounds really complex there were signs in English (amongst other languages too) so we managed to figure it out. It was a real highlight of our trip and we are now trying to figure out how we can incorporate more bath time into our everyday life!
Nara itself was quite beautiful. It was a busy place that felt open to tourism and when it got busy it was still much quieter than Kyoto but we preferred walking around in the mornings and also after 4pm (ish) when the day-trippers tend to be back in the 'big city'. It must sound like we don't like being around other people but that's not the case at all. The light is definitely better for us around the edges of the day but because we were in Japan on the brink of Autumn it seemed to elongate those golden hours and to be honest, I don't think that 'bad light' exists in that part of the world!
The deer just weave between everyone and nod at you (they've learnt that if they bow they get fed) which is quite endearing but we were still very cautious of them, no matter how cute they look! The story is that they are the divine messengers of the Kasuga Grand Shrine and are protected/managed by the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties.
Much of our time was spent stood under trees just people-watching, slowly meandering from temple to pagoda and breathing in the scent of the incense burning at the shrines. There are many gardens to visit here and we chose one in particular that we liked so much we ended up re-visiting the next day just to see how it looked in the morning compared to the evening.