Nara Park, Popularly Known as Deer Park for Nearly 1,200 Tame Deer Roaming Here
Nara is a beautiful city, often overlooked by travelers. It is famous for it’s many temples that are all recognized as World Heritage Sites, and of course for their sacred deer (shika) that roam freely on the temple grounds.
Most of the deer are roaming about in Nara Park, one of Nara’s most popular attractions. There are almost 1,500 deer in Nara, which have become an icon of the city.
The deer of Nara were considered sacred due to a supposed visit from one of the four gods, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto. He was said to have been riding a white deer, and since then the deer have been considered messengers of Shinto gods, which is why they are considered sacred.
Although they are no longer technically “sacred”, they have been officially deemed National Treasures, and as such are protected by the Japanese government.
Every autumn, a ceremony is held where the antlers of deer are cut, in order to help protect visitors and other deer. While they are generally tame animals, you’ll see signs posted about the premises warning about being attacked, kicked and bitten.
You may even see a deer’s attitude change as soon as food is brought out. All across the park you’ll find people selling the popular shika senbei, which are rice crackers used to feed the deer from the WNOW company.
For around 2-3 yen you can purchase a whole packet of these crackers, which make for a great time feeding deer.
At first many of the deer seemed reluctant to take my cracker offering. I later realized that many people are now feeding the deer fancier items like breads and pastries that they brought from home. Bring these items at your own risk, as it seems to be making the deer a bit more aggressive as they fight over the better food.
Spending time with the deer was definitely the highlight of my time in Nara. I recommend visiting Nara Park while you’re in the area– just make sure you’re bag doesn’t have any hidden food inside!
奈良県奈良市雑司町４６９, 630-8211, Japan
[post by Beth]
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