As you may have gathered, I often seek out cultural and historic locations when travelling. Nara was no exception. When I read that it was established in 710 as the first permanent capital of Japan, I was sold. (The fact that its historic monuments are also UNESCO listed didn’t hurt either!)
Often plans don’t turn out as you expect, though. After Kyoto both Ben and I were suffering a heavy bout of “temple fatigue”. We didn’t feel like devoting much time to historic/religious sites. Instead, in a bit of a throwback to Miyajima, all we wanted to do was wander around and meet Nara’s lovely wild deer…
So, with only a tinge of regret that we missed the enormous Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple, here’s a post devoted entirely to Nara’s most famous inhabitants!
Fantastic deer and where to find them
The main haunt for the deer is Nara Park, a large green area only a short walk from the JR station. It’s brimful of gnarled and moss-covered trees and monuments, which make a wonderfully magical backdrop for encounters with the messengers of the gods (which the deer are, according to the Shinto religion).
Not only are they sacred, they also symbolise Nara itself and cute cartoon deer adorn posters and souvenirs around the city.
They are also interminably hungry!
Unlike on Miyajima, visitors can feed them. Only special deer crackers, though, which are sold along Nara Park’s walkways for 150 yen or so.
Feeding Nara deer
As soon as you get those wafers in hand, you become a beacon to almost all nearby deer. Many will surround you, nipping your pockets and other parts of your clothing. They’ll even follow you in an attempt to claim the food that is (it would seem) rightfully theirs.
Folks, the intimidation is real.
And it works. I watched other people being hounded and was surprised when they rewarded the deer’s behaviour by handing over a wad of crackers. Much better not to cave to the pressure, I thought. I’m going to reward the deer who aren’t acting so aggressively…
Turns out that’s a lot easier said than done.
It can quickly become scary to receive that much attention from a wild animal and…I ended up doing the same as everyone else and feeding them just to escape!
Once I was savvy to how they operated I was able to hide the crackers in my pocket and only pull out a fragment at a time, which was much more effective at keeping the aggressive ones at bay.
Some Nara deer have learnt a more civilised way of persuading you to feed them…
They bow in expectation of food!
It’s a bizarre thing to behold and makes it hard not to anthropomorphise the deer. I found myself admiring how polite they were!
Aren’t they the most beautiful animals? Wandering in Nara Park was a lovely way to spend our last full day in Japan.
The next morning we caught a train to Osaka, spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Housing and Living (I’d recommend it!). Then we were on a flight to Auckland and the next adventure…
Over to you
Have you had a close encounter with deer before? Is it something you’d enjoy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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