Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara
Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara

The Deer of Nara Park

This week, we have a feature of the surreal environs of Nara Park where you will can get up close and personal to its inhabitants - the famous deer of Nara. 

Petting one of the incredibly tame deer in Nara Park

Petting one of the incredibly tame deer in Nara Park

This summer I spent two weeks travelling around beautiful Japan. One of the highlights of my trip was Nara Park. I had heard of the deer in Nara Park, but what I encountered was beyond my wildest imagination. There are thousands of deer roaming around Nara. Not only do they cover the grass, they walk through the temples, down the streets, sidewalks, and even the stores. Even more surprising was how docile they were. They will walk aside you and let you pet them. They are certainly unlike any deer I have ever encountered.

Nara's deer are the symbols of the city and are famous across Japan.

Nara Park covers a broad area, and in fact a portion of it is made of by the grounds of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The deity enshrined therein is Takemi Kajichi no Mikoto, said to have ridden to Nara upon a sacred deer from Kashima Shrine (also written with a character for "deer") in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because of this legend, deer were thought of as sacred animals--the helpers of gods--and have been carefully protected for many years. Even today, Nara's deer are carefully protected as "natural monuments.

Nara is known for its "deer crackers," or "shika senbei". This can be bought or typical 1 yen at booths along the park.  Deer crackers are made of wheat flour and rice bran.  These treats are made without any sugar for the health of the deer, making them completely safe for visitors to offer the animals. Deer crackers are a registered trademark of the Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara, and a portion of their profits goes to efforts to protect the deer.

There are yearly events that involve Nara's deer

There are yearly events that involve Nara's deer

Deer Calling

Deer Calling

Deer calling

The sound of a horn blowing in Nara marks the sound of the season, for this particular horn is associated with the Deer Call, in which the deer are called and herded together with the sound of a horn. This tradition was begun in 1862 with the opening of the deer park, which is said to have been marked with the blowing of a horn. The practice has been passed on since then, and is now an event held several times a year at Tobihino, to the south of the road leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. With a sounding of the natural horn, the deer of Nara emerge from within the forest to cluster around the blower. It is said this is a sight than can only be seen in Nara. Come and enjoy the natural peace of this morning scene for yourself.

Antler-cutting

The grand tradition of the antler-cutting ceremony is a highlight of the ancient city's events. It was begun in the Edo Period (1603-1868) for safety reasons, and in an effort to protect the trees of Nara Park. A buck's antlers are an important symbol for the animal, and while it is a shame to remove them, this antler-cutting event is born of tradition, that the people and deer of Nara may better live together peacefully.

Our Japan Lite tour will take you to visit the enchanting Nara Parka and encounter Japan’s beloved deer.

Antler cutting

Antler cutting


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The Deer of Nara Park was published on December 3 2018