It’s Nara. Oh deer!

The final day in Japan is usually the worst. Leaving the hotel as late as possible, last minute shopping and a whole lot of anxiety about the flight ahead meaning no appetite and a desire to curl up and sleep.

I don’t want that day, so I suggest we go to Nara, a single half-hour train ride away from Tennoji. B agrees. Alex doesn’t know what he’s in for.

Checking out, we leave our bags with the hotel and head to the Mio building at Tennoji Station for our traditional breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon at Muu-Muu, a Hawaiian themed restaurant. Then it’s down to catch the Yamatoji Line Rapid bound for Nara and Kamo.

I’ve done this stretch twice before, as this is the first section of the Kansai Main Line. No KiHa 120 DMU’s (my favourite trains) for me today, or at all on this trip, as this section is electrified. It’s quite pretty, running along the Yamato River.

We arrive at Nara and join the hordes of other tourists. The grand old style station building is actually a tourist office and from there we pick up a map of the city.

Nara was the capital of Japan between 710 to 794 AD and houses a number of significant temples and shrines. The main street from the station to the Nara Park, where the main temple complex and museum is located, is lined with shops and cafes aimed at tourists, both local and foreign.

We stop for a first try of persimmon, a fruit currently in season that looks very similar to tomato, but tastes more like melon. It’s so pleasant we buy a cup of persimmon slices.

Our only other visit to Nara was back in 2006, before Alex was born. We did the temples and shrines then and after so many visits to Japan they are not really B and Alex’s cup of tea anymore. But we still walk up to the Kofukuji complex and admire the five-story pagoda. Perhaps it is the same one that sits atop our model railway layout.

The real reason we are visiting Nara is for Alex’s benefit: the Sika deer. Once considered sacred, the deer roam freely through Nara’s parks. There are crackers for sale from carts around the parks for feeding the deer. Many will bow before snatching a cracker from your hands, although this is actually a sign that they are about to headbutt. They can be quite aggressive in trying to get food and prone to nibble on bags and clothes as well. Some of the dominant males are very vocal in controlling their female harems and their actions rather scary, especially those equipped with larger antlers.

Still, despite being a bit nervous, Alex loved it.

We continue on to the Todaiji temple, once the world’s largest wooden building and housing the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. We don’t go inside the complex, but outside there are sticks of dough for sale to feed the huge carp and turtles in the pond.

Next it is time to feed our own stomachs. Wandering through the quieter backstreets, peering across fences into the pretty gardens of the old houses, we come across Kitahara Soba. B hasn’t eaten soba on this trip and despite me having had quite enough of noodles yesterday the historic building overlooking a pretty canal is too attractive to resist.

Their broth tastes strongly of yuzu, a Japanese citrus whose flavour I like, but there is nothing that really takes Alex’s fancy and we end up sharing most of his meal. But I enjoy the tranquillity of the setting, sitting cross legged on the tatami eating off a low table.

The restaurant seems popular with tourists and the peace is broken when a large group of young American students finally get in after queuing for most of our meal.

Further along we walk past the entrance to the Yoshikien garden. Alex just wants to return to the deer, but this is what I need, for where better to find tranquillity and contemplation of beauty than in a Japanese garden?

It is indeed quite beautiful and wandering almost alone along the winding path through the different sections of the garden is calming to my troubled soul.

Eventually B and Alex join me and we complete the circuit together.

As we head back there is time for some more feeding of the deer. Then we retrace our route to the station and board the train to return to Tennoji. Sitting in the front carriage I have a driver’s view of the tracks flowing towards me as our final day in Japan comes to a close.

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