Perfect Nara Day Trip Itinerary (map + hidden gems!)

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Known for bowing deer that visitors can feed, Nara makes a great place to visit in Japan. We’re sharing the perfect Nara day trip itinerary, complete with can’t-miss attractions, where to see the famed deer, and hidden gems most tourists miss.

Nara Japan

The city of Nara, Japan is known around the world for the deer that roam freely about the town’s parks.

While these famous bowing deer are certainly worth seeing, there is a lot more to Nara than its cutest inhabitants.

Established in the year 710, Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital. Nara is home to not just deer, but some of Japan’s largest and oldest temples.

Come for the deer (that’s what initially drew us, too!), but don’t miss Nara’s rich culture and history. 

Did you know: Nara is also a prefecture in Japan of which Nara city is the capital.

Being that Nara is less than 1 hour away from both Kyoto and Osaka by train, taking a day trip to Nara is a great addition to any Japan adventure.

We’ve visited Nara as a day trip twice, and have created what we think is the perfect itinerary.

We’re sharing the best (and least crowded!) spots to feed the famed deer, iconic landmarks you can’t miss, hidden gems that most tourists miss, and the best places to eat while you’re there.

Remember, there’s more to Nara than deer!

Before you go: You will be walking a lot in Nara, so we’d recommend wearing comfortable shoes on your day trip.

Nara Day Trip Guide

Quick note on crowds: Between the two times we visited Nara, we noticed that it has become significantly more crowded. In 2019, it didn’t feel overwhelming. But in 2023, there were far more people. Keep this in mind as you are planning your trip. 

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Nara day trip map

Nara Japan day trip map

You can easily visit Nara as a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto. Click on the map above for a closer look at our perfect Nara day trip route.

Looking for more nature-inspired day trips? We think you’ll love Minoo Park!

Nara day trip itinerary

Nara Deer Park Japan

We’re going to start this itinerary at the Kintetsu-Nara train station, as this is likely where you will arrive in Nara.

Insider Tip: There is a public restroom located just outside the gate. If you need to use the facilities, this is a good opportunity before you start walking.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to fit in everything on this list. Depending on what time of year you’re visiting, there may be lines and larger crowds which will make things take longer. Alternatively, if you’re visiting during off season, you may find you fly through some of these places.

We’d recommend looking through this route and highlighting any of the activities and places that are musts for you, while cutting those that don’t interest you.

Okay, let’s get started…

1. Get your caffeine fix

aka tombo coffee Nara Japan

If you need a pick-me-up, Rokumei Coffee is located just outside the train station and has very good coffee, friendly staff, and an English menu.

If you’re feeling peckish, they are known for having excellent croissants.

Our advice: We’d recommend ordering your coffee to go so you can enjoy it on the roughly 15-20-minute walk ahead of you.

  • Google Maps Location
  • Good to know: They don’t open until 9 a.m., so if you’re in Nara before then and need a coffee, you can find one in the train station or at this coffee shop (AKA Tombo Coffee), which opens at 7 a.m. We personally went there because we were too early for Rokumei, but the coffee at AKA Tombo Coffee was just okay in our opinion.

Directions: Follow the main walking street for about 20 minutes, toward the “Grand South Gate”.

2. Find zen in Yoshikien Japanese Garden

Nara Japan Japanese Gardens

This small but beautiful Japanese garden is a tranquil oasis away from the crowds in Nara and makes a nice quick detour.

While smaller and not as popular as its more famous neighbor, Isuien Garden, it is free for foreign visitors to enter and is well worth a quick stop on your walk toward Nara Park.

We discovered this by accident on our second trip to Japan and returned on our next visit. If you’re not looking for this place, it can be easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.

  • Time: 15-30 minutes
  • Cost: Free for foreigners (you must show your passport)
  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Google Maps Location

Alternative: Isuien Garden and Neiraku Museum is located just beside Yoshikien Garden, and it is more famous (and larger). However, it tends to be more crowded and it costs a small fee to enter. 

3. Begin your journey at Nandaimon (Grand South Gate)

Nandaimon Grand South Gate Nara Japan

Also known as the “Grand South Gate”, Todai-ji Nandaimon was completed in the year 1203, making it one of the oldest original gates still standing in the country. 

It is an impressive example of Japanese architecture and marks the entrance of the iconic Todai-ji Temple as well as the starting point of your exploration in Nara.

You will start to see deer around this spot, and it is worth stopping quickly to get pictures of this iconic structure.

That said, on our second trip to Nara, we found this area to be one of the most crowded in the entire city. So if there are too many people keep moving and don’t worry – you will find less busy areas soon!

4. Wander the famous Tōdai-ji Temple

Tōdai-ji Temple Nara Japan

First built in the mid-700s, this Buddhist temple is perhaps the most popular attraction in Nara. Despite the crowds, it is well worth a visit and holds some surprising records.

Todai-ji Temple is known for its remarkable main hall, Daibutsuden, which is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. And if that’s not enough, Todai-ji is home to a bronze statue of Buddha that towers 15 meters tall and is said to be the largest bronze Buddha in the world.

Our advice: Since this is very popular, we’d recommend getting here as early as possible to avoid crowds. Alternatively, the late afternoon (after 4 p.m.) tends to be less crowded, after most visitors have left Nara for the day.

Tōdai-ji Temple places of interest

Great Buddha Statue Tōdai-ji Temple Nara Japan
Great Buddha Statue Tōdai-ji Temple Nara Japan
  • Daibutsuden: Famed for being the largest wooden structure in the world, the main hall of this temple can’t be missed. Construction of this great hall began in the year 752, but it has been rebuilt twice after being destroyed by fires (in 1180 and again in 1567).
  • Great Buddha statue: Whether you’re religious or not, the 15-meter-tall statue of Buddha is incredibly impressive.
  • Hole in the Pillar: The wooden pillar behind Buddha’s right side has a large hole near the bottom. It is said to be the same size as the nostrils of the Great Buddha statue. Legend has it that if you crawl through the pillar, you will be rewarded. I’ve read you will have good health, and I’ve also read you will reach enlightenment. You may see people lined up to try to crawl through it, but be warned, it is small*!
    • *30 cm wide x 37 cm tall / less than 1 foot wide by just over 1 foot tall
  • Binzuru: As you’re entering the main hall, you will see a small wooden statue to your right. It is said that your ailments will be healed if you rub a body part on the Binzuru statue that is bothering you, then rub the same spot on your own body.

Good to know: If you’re visiting midday during the week, there’s a good chance you’ll see children on a school trip.

  • Time: 30-45 minutes (you could certainly spend longer here, but keep an eye on the time if you want to be able to see many more parts of the city)
  • Cost: ¥600
  • Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (April – October); 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (November – March)
  • Google Maps Location

5. See a giant bell at Todai-ji Shoro (Bell Tower)

Todai-ji Shoro Bell Tower Nara Japan

As you’re leaving the grounds of Tōdai-ji, make a quick stop at the bell tower, which is said to be one of three famous bells of Japan. (The other two being Kyoto Chion-in and Hoko-ji.) 

Each day at 8 p.m., the bell rings. It is kind of cool knowing that this is the same sound people heard many hundreds of years ago. 

If you’re not in Nara in the evening (like us), you will just have to imagine the sound and marvel at the bell’s size.

6. Step back in time on a historic street (Todai-ji Urasando)

Todai-ji Urasando historic street Nara Japan
Todai-ji Urasando historic street Nara Japan

As you’re walking from the bell tower, take Todai-ji Urasando – a street that’s sometimes called the “back approach road”.

This beautifully-preserved historic street is a perfect opportunity to take some photos and imagine that you’ve stepped back in time.

7. Get views of Nara at Todaiji Nigatsudo Temple (“February Hall”)

Todaiji Nigatsudo Temple (February Hall) Nara Japan
Todaiji Nigatsudo Temple (February Hall) Nara Japan

Also called “February Hall”, this temple is far less crowded than the main hall of Todai-ji but it has a beautiful view over Nara.

I really liked this temple and would recommend trying to get here if you have time.

  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Cost: Entry is covered when you pay for the Todai-ji complex (¥600)
  • Google Maps Location

8. Feed deer in Nara Park

Nara Deer Park Japan

This is what you came for!

By now, you’ve likely spotted lots of deer roaming about the temple, but take some time to wander the park, befriend some speckled cuties, and feed them crackers.

Even though the main path might get crowded, I promise you’ll find some solitude if you walk off the path a bit.

Nara deer park

We’ve got an entire guide to feeding the deer (including what NOT to do!) as well as our favorite, less crowded places to see the deer.

Check that out so you’re totally prepared!

Gotta go?! There are a couple of public restrooms in the center of Nara park (right here and here).

9. Get the best view in Nara by hiking Mount Wakakusa 

Mount Wakakusa Nara Japan
There are even deer at the top of the “mountain” you can feed.

If you’re a fan of good views (I mean, who isn’t?!), you’ll want to make sure you save some time to hike Mount Wakakusa.

Now, before you fret, let’s get something clear – this is more of a walk to the top of a hill than summiting a mountain. 

If you plan to do the entire hike, you’ll want to allot about 1.5 hours. However, the best view is midway through the climb, so you could do what we did and turn around there. This should take roughly 40-50 minutes in total.

Mount Wakakusa Nara Japan
Mount Wakakusa Nara Japan

There are a handful of straggler deer that seem to reside on this hilltop, so it’s a fun place to see the famous Nara deer with sweeping views over the city.

  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Cost: ¥150
  • Google Maps Location (coordinates of the entry booth where you will pay and start the hike)

10. Enjoy lunch in a charming teahouse 

Mizuya Chaya Nara Japan

By this point, you should be working up quite the appetite. 

Lucky for you, there’s the cutest little thatched roof teahouse nestled on the river near where you’ll finish the Mount Wakakusa hike.

Mizuya Chaya is known for serving excellent bowls of udon soup. There’s a variety of topping choices, like tofu, tempura prawn, wild vegetables, and chicken. They also serve tea and, in the summer, shaved ice.

Udon Japan

Our recommendation: We got one order of udon with tempura prawn and one with chicken so we could try each, and they were both great. 

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: ¥550 – ¥800
  • Hours: 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (closed Wednesdays)
  • Google Maps Location

Looking for an alternative? Maybe they’re closed or you’re not craving soup… We’ve got a list of other great options to choose from.

11. Wander Kasuga Taisha Shrine 

Kasuga Taisha Shrine (Official website)
Image source: Kasuga Taisha Shrine

I think it’s really interesting to visit both temples and shrines in Japan and note the similarities and differences. 

This Shinto shrine is more than 1,300 years old and is a sight to behold. 

With a brightly-painted exterior, torii gates, and forested walkways, this can be a very peaceful spot to visit in Nara (if you wander around a bit).

Insider Tip: This tree is just outside the temple and is stunning. 

12. Visit the Ukimido wooden gazebo (& rent a boat)

This wooden gazebo is perched over a tranquil pond. Take the bridge that leads to this little pavilion for beautiful views.

If you have time, rent a boat for a leisurely 30-minute ride on the water (¥1,000)

The pond is small, so there’s not far to go, but the views are breathtaking. Especially in autumn and during cherry blossoms (though these are the times that are most busy).

13. Enjoy matcha in a teahouse with a view

foods to eat in Japan | matcha

Tekisui is a breathtaking spot to enjoy matcha and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) with panoramic views of the garden outside.

Lunch is usually fully booked (and requires a reservation by phone), but if you come between 2-4 p.m., you’ll have an easier time getting a seat in this teahouse.

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: ¥1,100 for a tea set (total will be more or less depending on what you order)
  • Google Maps Location

Alternative: Salon Naramachi is located at the edge of town and is another excellent place to enjoy matcha. We’ve heard the tea here is excellent. You can order different thicknesses. Shiro is a good one for drinking, but the “thick” matcha can be enjoyed poured over vanilla ice cream.

14. Visit Kofuku-ji, the 5-story pagoda

Kofuku-ji Pagoda Nara Japan

This complex of Buddhist temple halls and pagodas is a good final cultural stop as you walk back toward the city.

The most spectacular view is of the 5-story pagoda.

There’s also an onsite museum if you have the time and interest to explore.

  • Time: 5 minutes if you just want a photo spot, 30 minutes to explore
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Google Maps Location

15. Do a sake tasting at Harushika Sake Brewery


This internationally-recognized sake shop and brewery are housed in a 140-year-old building that was originally the residence of a prominent monk. 

For ¥500, you can try 5 types of sake (and keep your tasting glass as a souvenir!).

Tours of the brewery itself are only available on weekends in February, during a low period in production. But for a small fee, you can tour the house and garden.

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: ¥500 for a sake tasting
  • Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Google Maps Location

Alternative: Not a fan of sake? Just a few blocks from this place is a craft brewery (Nara Machi Craft Beer) that has some seriously good brews, including IPAs, ales, saison, and even a stout.  

Directions: Make your way north, and aim to walk along the Sarusawa-Ike Pond for a nice stroll on your way to your next destination.

16. Wander past the historic buildings of Naramachi

Naramachi Japan (Nara Prefecture Tourism)
Image source: Nara Prefecture Tourism

Machi translates to “city” in Japanese, so this is really just referring to the old city in Nara.

Walking north from the “Lattice House” to this historic building should give you a taste of some of the traditional architecture. That said, the historic center of Nara is no competition to what you’ll find in other cities, like Kyoto or Takayama. 

17. Walk past Sarusawa-Ike Pond

Sarusawa-Ike Pond Nara Japan

While there’s nothing too special about this pond, it is a nice route to take to your next stop.

18. Watch mochi being made at the famous Nakatanidou

Mochi Nakatanidou Nara Japan 2023

This is one of the most famous mochi shops in Japan and is worth a visit on your Nara day trip. It is very close to the train station, so you can simply pass by on your way out of town. 

Not only are these traditional Japanese rice cakes authentic and fresh, but you can also watch a mochi-making demonstration. They happen every 10-20 minutes and draw a (big) crowd!

There’s usually a line to get the famed mochi here, but it moves very quickly.

Our (honest) experience

Mochi Nakatanidou Nara Japan 2019
2019: We had the place to ourselves
Nakatanidou mochi Nara Japan 2023
2023: Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds

We first visited this shop back in 2019 and there were not many other people around. Since then, I’ve seen it all over social media and when we returned in 2023 I could not believe how many people were there. You could hardly see the mochi pounding show because of how crowded it was. 

I’m torn because on one hand, it is a historic shop and the mochi is authentic and fresh. On the other hand, it is incredibly crowded now. Also, I’m personally not the biggest fan of this type of mochi (filled with red bean), so I personally didn’t find it to be a “must”. 

That said, they deal with crowds really well and the line moves surprisingly fast, so it can be worth checking out if you have realistic expectations. Even though we visited during a very busy time, I think we only waited 5 minutes to get our mochi.

Insider tip: Craving something savory? The takoyaki stand just beside Nakatanidou (Takoyaki Omatsu) is great.

19. Treat yourself to an Insta-worthy cone 

Ice cream Nara Japan

If you like cute foods (me!) or are an ice cream fan (also me!), make a stop at Cafe Etranger Narad before heading back to the train station.

Now, the food here seems to be mediocre, so we’d only recommend stopping for a cone.

But the ice cream is great, and perched atop the fluffy matcha (or vanilla) soft serve is a deer cookie, making the perfect photo op to end your time in Nara.

20. Walk through Higashimuki Shopping Street

Higashimuki Shopping Street Nara Japan

On your way back to the train station, switch up your route and walk through Higashimuki Shopping Street

This is a covered shopping market, sort of reminiscent of Kyoto’s much more famous (and better!) Nishiki Market

While not as fun to explore as its neighbor, it is still a good place to get any last minute souvenirs on your way back to the train station.

Insider Tip: Search for deer designs everywhere throughout town. Even the manhole covers in Nara have deer on them!

How to get to Nara

Kyoto to Nara train Japan

If you are renting a car in Japan, it will be pretty straightforward to drive yourself; however, taking the train is also very simple and quick.  

Kyoto to Nara

Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto Japan 2023

There are a couple of ways to get to Nara from Kyoto by train:

  • From Kyoto Station, take the Kintetsu Limited Express line Yamato-Saidaiji Station, then take the Kintetsu-Nara Line to Kintetsu-Nara Station.
    • Time: 34 minutes
    • Cost: ¥1,280
  • From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line to Nara Station.
    • Time: 44 minutes
    • Cost: ¥720

Driving yourself? From Kyoto to Nara, the fastest route is via a toll road. It is approximately 27 miles (43km) and should take roughly 50 minutes. All main routes between these cities have tolls.

Osaka to Nara

Things to Do in Osaka Japan

The quickest way to get from Osaka to Nara is to take the Midosuji Line from Umeda Station to Tennōji Station, then take the Yamatoji Line to Nara Station.

  • Time: 54 minutes
  • Cost: ¥800

Driving yourself? From Osaka to Nara, the fastest route is via a toll road. It is approximately 20 miles (32 km) and should take roughly 45 minutes. All main routes between these cities have tolls.

When to arrive

Nara Japan

We’d recommend starting your day as early as possible so that you have time to see everything on this itinerary and not feel rushed. 

Plus, if you get an early start, you may still be able to do some sightseeing when you get back to Kyoto or Osaka.

Where to eat in Nara

Udon Nara Japan

Like most cities in Japan, there is no shortage of places to eat in Nara.

We’ve selected our personal recommendations that we think make sense with this route and have included them within the itinerary.

However, if you’re looking for more recommendations, we’ve got you covered!

  • Mizuya Chaya: centrally located, cozy spot for udon, line moves quickly (pictured above)
  • Maguro Koya: incredibly fresh tuna at a very reasonable price, cash only, expect a line
    • recommendations: Ootoro Sashimi Teishoku (set meal with rice on the side) and Ootoro Tekka Don (bowl)
  • Azekuraya: noodles or dessert right in Nara Park
  • 衣掛茶屋 Udon: located at the edge of a small pond, this cozy udon shop makes a good lunch stop
  • Kamaiki: udon shop close to train station, they have great tempura and noodles (try spicy miso pork)
  • Genkishin (Nara): shop specializing in chicken ramen
  • Kakinohasushi Hompo Tanaka: sushi spot that has pressed sushi wrapped in lotus leaves, which is a regional specialty (you can order it to go)
Lotus leaf sushi Nara Japan


Where to stay in and around Nara

Nara Japan

Personally, we liked visiting Nara as a day trip and think basing yourself in Osaka or Kyoto makes it a bit easier since you won’t have to move hotels as much. However, there is something to be said for experiencing a city at night when the daytrippers leave town. 

Wherever you choose to base yourself, we’ve got accommodation recommendations:

Where to stay in Nara

Comfy Stay MR2 Nara Japan Airbnb
Image source: Airbnb

Comfy Stay MR2: This well-appointed apartment is close to Nara Park and Kintetsu-Nara Station and boasts a full kitchen as well as a free washer and free parking.

Nara Second House Japan Airbnb
Image source: Airbnb

Nara Second House: This renovated condo near Nara Station has great reviews, a great price, and can accommodate up to 5 people. Just note that it’s on the 3rd floor and there’s no elevator.

Bright House Nara Japan Airbnb
Image source: Airbnb

Bright House: We love the look of this airy home that’s just a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station.

Where to stay in Kyoto

Kyoto Hotel Imagine Japan

Hotel Imagine: This is where we personally stayed and think it’s a great spot especially if you’re traveling with kids as the rooms are incredibly spacious and well-laid-out and is conveniently located very close to the train station.

100 Year old Machiya Guest House
Image source: Airbnb

100 Year old Machiya Guest House: This charming guest house transports you back in time with its tatami interior and traditional Japanese garden onsite. Enjoy peace and stillness while still being close to many shops, stalls, and sites in Kyoto.

Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo
Image source: Booking

Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo: This 3-star hotel is situated in the center of Kyoto and conveniently located next to the train station. Steps away are many popular shopping and dining areas, as well as popular Kyoto attractions.

Where to stay in Osaka

Hotel Cargo Osaka Japan
Image source: Booking

Hotel Cargo: It will be unlike another hotel stay you’ve ever experienced. Capsule hotels are typically gender separated, and some are a cheaper option for women. Hotel Cargo is a little nicer than the common tube hotel and it has an onsen on the top floor.

Kamon Hotel Namba Osaka Japan
Image source: Booking

Kamon Hotel Namba: Great for couples, this hotel has standard rooms with private bathrooms. But once you see the breakfast options, you’ll want to book now. It’s one block from a subway station and steps from Dotonbori.

Private Apartment Airbnb Osaka Japan
Image source: Airbnb

Private Apartment Airbnb: Osaka really surprised us with the number of highly rated and affordable Airbnbs, like this apartment. You can find entire apartments with a small kitchen and private bathroom just a few blocks from Dotonbori.

Nara FAQs

Nara Deer Park Japan

Still have questions about planning your day trip to Nara? We’ve got answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Is Nara worth visiting?

Nara Park Japan autumn

We sure think so! 

We visited Nara on our second trip to Japan, and enjoyed it so much we returned on our 3rd Japan visit.

The answer really comes down to you, your interests, and how much time you have in Japan. But if you will be spending time in either Kyoto or Osaka (or both!), we think taking a day trip to Nara is well worth the time.

Sure, it’s popular and gets crowded, but there’s a reason for this.

Seeing the bowing deer is truly a cool experience. Plus, Nara has a rich history and some of the country’s oldest temples.

How can you avoid crowds in Nara?

Nara Japan

Nara is a popular place and is often very crowded. That said, most tourists stick to the same spots. If you wander off the main path even just a little bit, you will find solitude.

If you follow our Nara day trip itinerary, we think you’ll have a good mix of seeing the top attractions while getting away from the crowds.

Crowded areas (still worth visiting):

  • Tōdai-ji Temple
  • Nara Deer Park

Less busy spots:

  • Yoshikien Japanese Garden
  • Todai-ji Nigatsudo (February Hall)
  • Mount Wakakusa

Where are the best spots for feeding the deer?

Nara deer Japan

We have a guide to feeding the deer in Nara, complete with our favorite (less-crowded) spots.

Is Nara a big city?

With a population of just over 360,000 people, Nara is no small town. It is the largest city in (and capital of) Nara prefecture. 

That said, it is much smaller than Kyoto (population of roughly 1.5 million) and Osaka (2.7 million people).

How much time do you need in Nara?

Nara Deer Park Japan

We think Nara makes a great day trip from Osaka or Kyoto.

Our itinerary will take a good portion of the day. But if you’re pressed for time and only have half of a day, you can still get here and wander the deer park and some main attractions before heading out of the city,

If you have the time, you could certainly extend your stay for a couple of nights, and you could hike in the Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest or explore Nara prefecture (outside the city limits).

Nara Deer

Nara Deer Park Japan

By now you’ve learned that there’s a lot more to Nara than bowing deer, but let’s be honest – these cuties are still the main draw!

Before you pack your bags, be sure to check out our complete Nara Deer Park guide. It has everything you need to know, including fun facts about the Nara deer, tips for feeding (+ what NOT to do), and answers to all your nagging questions!

Nara Deer Park Japan

Nara Deer Park: Fun Facts & Tips for Visiting Japan’s Bowing Deer

Seeing the famous bowing deer of Nara is a highlight of many Japan itineraries. We’re sharing everything you need to know about visiting Nara Deer Park, including insider tips and what not to do.

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We want to hear from you!

Have you been to Nara before? Do you have any questions about planning a day trip or a longer visit? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

Comments (1) on “Perfect Nara Day Trip Itinerary (map + hidden gems!)

  1. Kannan says:

    Thank you for the great info. We are a couple planning for a 14 to 16-day trip to Japan but have never been there. Do you have a iternary for this requirement? I am willing to pay for the service

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