An easy day trip from Kyoto is the ancient city of Nara and one of the friendliest lunch spots in Japan. Kinatei is a vegan-friendly restaurant run by a warm and welcoming owner who loves to meet and chat with her guests.
Kinatei is an easy 5 minute walk from the Japan Railway Nara station. Lunch is a traditional Japanese set meal with small thoughtful side dishes, rice, soup, dessert and tea or coffee. At Kinatei the rice and soup have unlimited refills. Though the best part might be the company!
The owner is renowned for helping visitors, she has a habit of offering a ride to customers toward the main sightseeing area of town if the restaurant isn’t too busy. We were lucky enough to have her hospitality, after our meal she drove us to Nara Park to feed fruit & veggie scraps to the deer. Nara is famous for it’s pervasive wild deer, they are literally everywhere, and very adorable. They will even bow to you asking for a treat!
Many vendors sell senbei (rice crackers) specially for feeding to the deer (be careful, in certain areas you might be deer swarmed!) but fruit and veggies are a more healthy snack for deer, closer to their natural diet. After saying goodbye to our new friend from Kinatei, we strolled Nara Park and walked toward the Kofuku-ji pagoda.
Nara is an ancient city and was the capital of Japan in the 8th century, thousands of years ago in the aptly named Nara Period. The history and culture here is amazing, and Nara is a major tourist destination for Japanese people as well foreign guests. This trip to Nara we accidentally went on a weekend holiday…I would recommend a weekday, though you should still expect a crowd. My absolute favorite place in Nara, and the most famous, is Tōdai-ji (東大寺, Eastern Great Temple). Founded in the 8th century it houses the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), a giant bronze Buddha, one of the largest in the world. The sheer scale of this temple can’t really be captured in photos. We purchased incense and joined the throng burning them in great cauldrons before the Buddha.
Inside Todai-ji there are many other monumental statues flanking the Buddha as well as places for candles and offerings.
At the back of the temple are model replicas of the complex, showing changes over the years. There is also an infamous column with a hole at the base, it is said that crawling through will bring you luck. We watched loads of children, and even some adults, make the passage!
We walked back from Todai-ji through Nara’s center, passing shops with adorable deer-themed merchandise as the sun was setting. The good food, friendship, and ancient atmosphere leaving us with a glow of our own.