Nara Park (a municipal park in Nara City, Nara Prefecture) (奈良公園)

Nara Park is a municipal park stretching at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. It is designated as National Scenic Beauty.

Summary

Nara Park was opened on February 14, 1880, based on Dajokan Fukoku or Tasshi (Proclamation or Decree by the Grand Council of State). Most of the park is a state-owned land, which Nara Prefecture borrows for free and maintains. The formal name as a municipal park is 'Nara Kenritsu Toshi koen Nara Koen' (Nara Prefectural Park, Nara Park, and its total size is 502 hectares. The total area including the grounds of nearby Kofuku-ji Temple, Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, Nara National Museum, and so on, reaches around 660 hectares (about 4 kilometers east and west and about 2 kilometers north and south). Generally speaking, the area including these nearby shrines and temples is often called Nara Park.

The park is dotted with a lot of objects that have been designated the National Treasures or registered the World Heritages, and it is one of the tourist areas representing Japan, which a number of tourists visit from not only the domestic regions of Japan but also foreign countries all the year around. The Great Buddha of Nara and deer are famous internationally, too, and are main objects of sightseeing in Nara, so a lot of students are seen to come here on a school trip. A lot of events are held which are worth seeing as those suitable to an ancient capital like Nara, such as Shunie (Omizu-tori or Sacred Water-drawing Festival) at Todai-ji Temple, Nara Tokae (Candle festival), Exhibition of Shosoin Treasures, Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri Festival, and so on.

There are no walls, fences, nor gates, etc., and admission is free, so you can take a walk from anywhere and anytime (24 hours, 365 days). Additionally, the name under the former 'Law for the Historic Site, Places of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monuments' is 'Meisho Nara Koen' (Place of Scenic Beauty Nara Park).

Facilities in the Park

Those written in bold letters are the World Heritages.

Mt. Wakakusa
Todai-ji Temple (The Great Buddha of Nara)
Shosoin Treasure House
Tamukeyama Hachiman-gu Shrine
Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kasugayama Primeval Forest (Kasuga Okuyama Doro [Way of Drive in Nara Okuyama])
Shin-en Garden
Roku-en (Deer Center)
Kofuku-ji Temple
Ukigumo-enchi Park
Nara Prefectural New Public Hall (Big Roof)
Kasugano-enchi Park
Nara Park Silk Road Exchange Hall
Nobori Oji-enchi Park
Nara National Museum
Himuro-jinja Shrine
Hiyoshi-kan Inn
Isui-en Garden: Chisen Kaiyushiki Japanese Teien Garden (a fairly large garden form that allows visitors to view the garden while strolling around its pond and fountain and through its premise).
A National Place of Scenic Beauty by itself

Yoshiki-en Garden
Asuka-en Garden
Asajigahara-enchi Park
Kataoka Bairin (Kataoka Plum Grove)
Marumado-tei Arbor
Ukimi-do Hall (now 浮見堂, but it used to be written as 浮御堂)
Sagi-ike Pond
Araike-enchi Park
Tobihino-enchi Park
Sarusawaike-enchi Park
Sarusawa-ike Pond

Nara Park and Deer

The most ground in the park is covered with lawn, and up to about 1200 deer are prowling. They are amiable to tourists, and they are gaining popularity by shaking their heads vertically to press tourists for Shika Senbei (baked snack for deer).
By the way, the original reason why the deer are in this park is as follows:

That is to say, it has been handed down to us that a deer is a Shinshi (Divine Servant) of Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and that, when Kasuga-taisha Shrine was founded, Takemikazuchi no Mikoto who was the enshrined god of Kashima-jingu Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture had come here riding a divine deer (Kasuga-taisha Shrine is one of the branch shrines for three shrines including Kashima). Therefore, the deer in Nara Park have been protected very carefully since ancient times, and, including unexpected accidents, when someone killed one of them, he or she received a severe punishment. Legend says that a child who killed a deer with a paperweight by accident was buried alive with a body of the deer, and that the grave still remains around Nara Park. Even today, it is said that the local inhabitants have not only the love for the deer but also the reverence for them simultaneously.

These deer have been left to wild breeding, and basically, have not gotten accustomed to be given food. Besides, because they had been deified, they were protected carefully, and they increased in the number of individuals. But because an antipathy toward careful protection arose after Meiji Restoration, and because it was necessary to secure the food during and for a while after World War II, they were hunted, and as a result the number of the deer decreased markedly to double digits. After that, Nara City established 'Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara Park' and has made an effort to protect them, so that they have recovered to the present-day popularity. These deer are designated a Precious Natural Treasure of the State as wild deer, and anyone that hurt them or did them a mischief on purpose will be punished for the violation of the Law of the Protection of Cultural Properties. But on the other hand, a lot of collision or contact accidents happen between the cars which the tourists drive and the deer in recent years (this is also the top cause of death of the deer), and so, when driving in the neighborhood of Nara Park, drivers must always take care of the deer's leaping out to the road.
There exist even traffic signs that say 'Take care of the deer's leaping out to the road.'

Besides, in these days, there are many cases in which the deer get injured by cruel persons. In 2003, a case in which a deer was shot with an air gun happened, and on August 8, 2008, a deer was found to be stabbed with a fishing spear.

Moreover, in Nara Park, the deer are often seen to cross the road and hinder the traffic, or to get into the houses or premises in the neighborhood. They sometimes come as far as to the garden of Nara Prefectural Government Office, and rarely to Kintetsu Nara Station. They seem to go out fairly far at midnight, and sometimes appear even around JR Nara Station. It is also said that a deer was hit by an electric train at a crossing of JR in the past.

The situations of the deer in Nara are investigated every year by their conservation group, 'Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara Park,' and according to the investigation published in 2008, there are 1128 deer in total (33 fewer than the previous year), and 262 of them are bucks, 695 does, and 171 fawns (provisional). About the causes of death, 174 deer were killed by diseases, 71 deer by traffic accidents, 18 deer by dogs, and so on. Recently, the shortage of the financial resources of 'Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara Park' has become serious, and so, that group takes some actions like actively urging tourists to buy Shika Senbei, but as the present situation it has never reached to a drastic solution. Particularly, there are many cases in which tourists give deer a lot of cookies that they had bought at the stores in the other places, which have become problems.

Annual Events

Mountain burning at Mt. Wakakusa (the fourth Saturday of January)
Deer gathering (every day from January 29 to March 11)
Setsubun Mantoro Festival (tradition of donating lanterns) at Kasuga-taisha Shrine (February 3, the day of Setsubun [the traditional end of winter])
Tsuinae kai (driving out evil spirits) Festival at Kofuku-ji Temple (February 3, the day of Setsubun)
Shunie at Nigatsu-do Hall of Todai-ji Temple (from March 1 to March 14)
Opening of Mt. Wakakusa for the spring season climbing (from March 18 to June 18)
Special opening of the doors in spring at Hokuen-do Hall of Kofuku-ji Temple (from April 28 to May 7)
Emperor Shomu Festival at Todai-ji Temple (from May 1 to May 3)
Kenpyo-sai (presenting ice) Festival at Himuro-jinja Shrine (May 1)
Children's Day Bugaku (traditional Japanese court music accompanied by dancing) Concert at Kasuga-taisha Shrine (May 5)
Takigi-Onoh (Noh performance played at night in the light of firewood) (May 11, 12)
Illumination Street in Nara (from July 1 to October 31)
Kejoe (evil-dispersing ceremony) at Todai-ji Temple (July 28)
Nara Tokae (Candle festival) (from August 6 to August 15)
Daibutsu-sama Ominugui (wiping of the body of the great Buddha) at Todai-ji Temple (August 7)
Chugen (days around O-bon) Mantoro Festival at Kasuga-taisha Shrine (August 14, 15)
Manto Kuyo-e (event of offering many votive lights to Buddha) Festival at Todai-ji Temple (August 15)
Daimonji Okuribi (great bonfire event) (August 15)
Basara Matsuri Festival (the end of August)
Shiba Noh at the garden of Nara Prefectural New Public Hall (September 10)
Opening of Mt. Wakakusa for the autumn season climbing (from September 10 to November 27)
Uneme matsuri (festival for the consolation of Uneme) at Sarusawa-ike Pond (September 18)
Toei Noh performance at Kofuku-ji Temple (October 1)
Shika no Tsunokiri (the annual deer antler-cutting) Ceremony (Saturday, Sunday, and a national holiday in early October)
Special opening of the doors at Nanen-do Hall of Kofuku-ji Temple (October 17)
Culture Day Bugaku Concert at Kasuga-taisha Shrine (November 3)
Exhibition of Shosoin Treasures (from late November to early December)
Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri Festival (from December 15 to December 18)
Special opening of the doors of the statue of Shukongoshin at Hokke-do Hall of Todai-ji Temple (December 16)

Access

Walk 5 to 15 minutes to the east from Kintetsu Nara Station.

Walk 15 to 30 minutes through Sanjo-dori Street to the east from JR Nara Station.

Or, take the City Loop Bus Sotomawari (outer loop) at JR or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off the bus stops at 'Himuro-jinja, Kokuritsu-Hakubutsukan,' 'Daibutsu-den Kasuga-taisha mae,' or 'Kasuga-taisha Honden.'

Drive 9 kilometers through National Route 169 to the north from Tenri Interchange of Meihan National Route.

Drive 6 kilometers through Omiya-dori Street to the east from Horai Ramp of Daini-Hanna Toll Road.

Drive 10 kilometers through National Route 24 (for Nara) to National Route 369 from Kizu Interchange of Keinawa Expressway.

The Other Information

A French composer Olivier MESSIAEN composed 'Seven Haikai' (literally, seven 17-syllable verses, in 1962) of which the second number is titled 'Nara Park and Lanterns of Stone.'
When MESSIAEN came to Japan in 1962, he visited various places in the country including Kyoto, and composed this 'Seven Haikai' by combining the impressions of those trips into one work.

Information about Nearby Spots

Nara Prefectural Museum of Art
The former residence of Taikichi IRIE
Nara Kitamachi
Naramachi
Nara Women's University Secondary School
Nara Hotel
Shin Yakushi-ji Temple
The former residence of Naoya SHIGA (Takabatake, Nara City)
Nara City Konoike Track & Field Stadium, Auxiliary Stadium, Throwing Range, Jogging Courses
Nara City Konoike Athletics Stadium