Nara: Where the sacred deer roam free

There’s something odd about the Japanese city of Nara.

There’s a certain magic in the air, for between the ancient temples, storefronts, and chaos of urban society, deer roam freely, unphased by the humans living among them.

Now the deer that I’ve come to know won’t let humans get near them, so what is going on here?

Over 1,300 years ago legend has it that a god appeared on the mountain overlooking the city riding a white deer. From this moment on, the deer were considered sacred and divine, believed to be messengers of the Shinto gods that inhabit the city’s shrines and surrounding mountains.

Harming the deer was deemed a capital offense and up to present day they are still protected animals.

So the result of not hunting deer for 1,300 years? The deer have absolutely no fear of humans. They can be seen casually strolling in the city, the parks, and the surrounding mountains. Of course, the local economy has jumped on the opportunity to sell deer snacks that I am sure keep the level of deer in the city artificially high, but even the deer that I saw while hiking in the mountains were equally as friendly.

The deer truly give this city a unique, magical feeling, as I am not sure you can experience something quite like it anywhere else in the world.

It’s beautiful to see the humans and deer coexisting and goes to show the relationship that man can have with animals when they are treated as equals.

So, on my last day in Japan, I went to Nara to experience the enchanting deer for myself.

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Visitors are immediately greeted by deer after stepping off the train.
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No different than petting a dog.
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Definitely quite different from the deer that we have in North America. They almost look a little more like goats.
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This deer is taking orders.
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Most of the male deer were muddy for some reason and therefore a little less attractive to pet. Poor guy.
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One of the many temples of Nara Park.
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Deer shrines.
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Slangin’ deer snacks for $1.50 each.
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The deer enjoyed human company even without snacks, so I didn’t see the reason to feed them myself.
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Walking up to the top of the mountain where the god riding a deer had appeared 1,300 years ago.
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And yup, there are plenty of deer on top of the mountain as well.
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A nice view of Nara in very humid weather.
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Streets of Nara Park.
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This guy had a nice pair of antlers.

5 thoughts

  1. Really enjoyed reading about your experience in Nara! We were there last year and the deer were rather annoying! They were following us around and looking for food. They aren’t pretty (sorry, little creatures!), and were kind of scary, especially for the little school kids that we saw. On a sweeter note, did you try the yummy sweet potatoes that the street vendors were selling? My favorite!

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  2. Nara is magical indeed, but my 87 yr. old traveling partner will never stop talking about getting her butt nipped by those deer. as neighbors in Eugene we were accustomed to deer wandering though our yards to lay waste to our roses, but those bigger deer were not like those in Nara.

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  3. a friend posted this to my facebook page…a different view….of
    The Emperor’s Deer
    by Kamilah Aisha Moon
    I.
    Their noises make you think
    they are crying or suffering.
    They have learned to bow.
    Even the fawns bow, centuries
    of bowing
    in their blood.
    They are not considered wild.
    Precious pests litter parks
    with dung, take over the roads.
    Sweet nuisance worth
    saving, thinning these herds
    is a last resort — once
    a capital offense to spill
    their endangered blood.
    They are so used to humans, it is scary.
    II.
    Our cries are heard as noise,
    our suffering considered
    natural. Native citizens,
    we are not free
    to roam or deemed sacred
    like Japanese bowing deer protected
    as messengers of the gods.
    Nara, Japan is known for its temples,
    shrines to peace.
    America is known for its churches,
    segregated Sundays.
    This is not Nara, Japan.
    Hunted, it is always
    open season. The sight
    of dark skin brings out the wild
    in certain human breeds.
    Bowing, hands up
    or any other gesture of surrender
    makes no difference.
    They slay our young & leave them
    in the streets, expect us to walk away
    & wonder, after centuries
    why we are not used to this —
    grieving masses treated
    like waste, filthy herds
    thinned at will.
    III.
    To be clear, this is America
    & we are not deer
    We are not deer
    We are not dear
    here
    Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

    5You, Anderson Long and 3 others
    2 Comments
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