Nara and Hakone

For travels over a week long, I like to schedule rest days about halfway through the trip. My goal is always to find a relaxing quiet town with not much going on after sunset.
Nara is just an hour train ride outside of Kyoto. You can easily schedule this as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka if you like, but we decided to book a hostel near the park and stay overnight.

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front gate of our hostel

Aside from being the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara is famous for it’s expansive park and the inhabitants therein.

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Thousands of wild Sika deer call this town home and are considered one of Japan’s national treasure.
150 yen will buy you a pack of 10 deer crackers. But beware, once these treats are in your hand, you are going to have at least 8 deer doing whatever they can to steal them away.

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You cannot outrun them…

Also look out for the bigger shaggier guys. These are the bucks and Autumn is mating season, meaning they can be aggressive.

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The best way I found to avoid encounter is to casually extend your empty hands and let the deer sniff them. Once they realize you are not a source of food, they will wander on their way.
While the deer are certainly the main attraction, be sure not to miss the shrines and temples in the area.

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World’s largest bronze Buddha at Todai-ji

There really are some beautiful sights to take in.

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Todai-ji Temple
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Pagoda at Kofuku-ji

Restaurants are not as plentiful (or as cheap) as some of the larger cities we have visited. But there is a good selection closer to Nara station. I had a craving for curry and low and behold, we found a nice spot with all types of curry, katsu, and noodles.

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Yummy and cheap!

Typically I don’t spend too much time talking about the places we stay, but Nara Guesthouse Backpackers is a gem!

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Common room

Just a 10 minute walk from the station and a block away from the park.
This hostel is actually 100 year old traditional Japanese home complete with tatami mats and a beautiful courtyard garden.

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Our host, Ryuu, greeted us warmly, sat and talked with us and other guests, and recommended some good spots for dinner.
We wound up choosing a small place called Kamoju specializing in grilled duck. It’s a little more expensive than some of the surrounding restaurants, but if you want local Nara duck, this is the place!


We also stopped in a sake bar in the train station at Ryuu’s recommendation. Great place. Huge cups of sake. Really 1 or 2 is more than enough!


On to our next destination: Hakone.
We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) past Mt Fuji to Odawara Station. From there, our hotel was an hour bus ride up a winding mountain road. We arrived a little past 2:00pm and did not leave the hotel until we checked out. Extreme rest day!
What was there to do in the meantime?
I purposefully booked this hotel because of two things. 1. Views of Mt Fuji from the room

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and 2. The bath downstairs.

natural hot spring fed

Bonuses include complimentary dinner and breakfast.

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Just the appetizer course!
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No french toast or waffles here!

Check out the room too!
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Working for a popular tourist destination has taught me that rest days are not only a good idea but a necessity if you value your health and relationships. Don’t be the family having the meltdown in front of the ice cream stand. Take time for yourself.

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