Picture it: Coming down from the high of a resplendent Nara autumn morning, at a gorgeous waterfall flanked by fiery maple leaves just before sunset.
Then imagine how the Shinkansen would sound if its wheels hadn’t been oiled since its inauguration in 1964, and imagine that blaring from the mouth of a woman who appears to have been alive since the reign of the Meiji Emperor.
I’ll explain the particulars of this incident in a few paragraphs—we need to get back to Nara Deer Park, after all—but I’ll spoil one thing: I used the phrase “Cash me outside” this afternoon in a totally organic way.
The Color of Candy Apples
My Nara autumn day was fantastic long before I laid eyes on my first deer, and not just because the stop I made en route from Kyoto—Uji, a city famous among other things for its matcha—was practically deserted when I got there.
If anything, today began splendidly in spite of the fact that it started in Uji.
Though local attractions like Kisen-bashi bridge and Byodo-in temple are charming in their own way, they manage to feel slightly deserving of their unpopularity, whether because the “13-tiered pagoda” the bridge leads to is really more of an obelisk, or the fact that Byodo-in’s small size makes it feel more crowded than it actually is.
I spent around an hour in Uji before getting on another Kyoto to Nara train and riding to its terminal station. As the bus made its way eastward through the city center, nostalgia crept into my consciousness like the splindly branch of a kuromatsu pine: I hadn’t been here since my very first trip to Japan, and I felt a similar sense of possibility today as I did way back then.
(I should add that this was before I saw no less than a dozen deer, including one seemingly newborn fawn, beneath a canopy of maple trees the color of candy apples.)
I mean, I was walking on sunshine as I made my way toward Todai-ji, one of the longest-surviving wooden structures in the world.
Every moment of my Nara autumn morning put a pep in my step, just as my trip here four sakura seasons ago had done. Hordes of Chinese girls dressed as geishas, which in Kyoto’s Higashiyama ward are little more than human road blocks, suddenly added color and texture to all of my shots, whether they were feeding deer or juxtaposed with the mahogany hue of Kofuku-ji’s five tiers.
Hordes of visitors crowded around the bronze Buddha inside Todai-ji, but managed to cluster such that they appeared neatly arranged at the bottom of my frame, contrasting perfectly with the massive statue so as to precisely reflect its size. Outside, I saw a girl whose tripod selfie game was nearly on par with mine, which was both impressive in its own right, and reflective of Nara being more liberal than Kyoto when it comes to camera stands.
Of course, there are drawbacks to being blissful in a world as miserable as ours can sometimes be. Leveraging my newfound tripod freedom, I posed for a portrait with a seemingly docile doe in front of some gorgeous ginkgo foliage. Were my reflexes not as quick as they are, I’d have learned of her aggressiveness approximately four seconds too late.
You’re not imagining things: The deer’s attitude was not entirely different from Danielle Bregoli during the exchange that catapulted her to infamy. But it was not during my Nara day trip, at least not technically, that I evoked the catchphrase of the talkshow guest now known as Bhad Barbie.
No, this took place in Minoh, which most people also know due to a viral video, even if A Great Big Story is slightly less shameless than The Dr. Phil Show.
Although the foliage here was probably the most stunning of my entire trip thus far (a perfect send-off— today is my last day), I got strange vibes from many people I encountered. Notably, at least half of the sellers of momoji fried tempura style (half of whom, no doubt, went into business only after that slutty video spread around the web) banned photography altogether, and were downright vicious to anyone who defied their rules, even accidentally.
The energy of Minoh couldn’t have been more different from my Nara autumn experience, even though the latter should’ve been less enjoyable, what with the throngs of tourists and entry fees and long lines and angry deer.
However, I got all the way to the Minoh Falls without incident, and felt a similar sense of satisfaction come over me as I had arriving in Japan’s proverbial deer city earlier in the day. The scene was almost beatific—this is always a warning that shit is coming down the pipeline, though I didn’t know precisely what it would be in this instance.
Having noticed several Japanese couples picnicking on the rocks of the small stream the waterfall feeds, I followed their lead and climbed down into the ravine, then set up my tripod for what would likely be the final selfies of my trip. That was when the shrieking started—and when the phrase escaped my lips, like a 13 year-old jailbird from a minimum-security correctional facility.
The Bottom Line
Enjoying the Nara autumn with throngs of deer had put me in a blissful mood, but I couldn’t bear being told to put my tripod away yet again. Let alone by a random old lady, who had no obvious authority, and in the middle of fucking nowhere. No joke, I’m going to have to reach out to my contact at JNTO for clarity about the tsunami of anti-photographer regulations washing over the Kansai region—and to have them fetch Bhad Barbie’s grandma a chill pill.
Other FAQ About Nara Autumn Travel
What is there to do in Nara in October?
Although October is too early for autumn leaves in Nara to begin turning, this warm and sunny month is a great time to visit the city. Some travelers will stay in the city, and visit historical Kofuku-ji temple, or make new friends in Nara Deep Park. Otherwise will head outside of town, traveling to Mt. Yoshino or to the ancient capital of Asuka.
Where is there to do in Nara in November?
The activities in Nara are mostly the same in November as they are in October, but during the second half of the month are geared toward koyo, or autumn leaf viewing. In particularly, Nara Park (which is home to the city’s famous deer) is colorful during the last couple weeks of November).
Where can I see autumn leaves in Nara?
Nara Park is one of my favorite places to see autumn leaves in Nara, but it’s not the only game in town. Todai-ji, the Hall of the Great Buddha, is another stunning place to see them. Outside of the city, Mt. Yoshino (which is famous, in spring, for its cherry blossoms) becomes awash in crimson during the autumn season.