TRAVELOG

Nara Park In Japan

Founded in 1880, Nara Park is one of the oldest parks in Japan. As you wander the lawns and playgrounds of the park, you quickly discover what Nara Park is so famous for—the tame deer that come to visit you.

The deer are associated with the nearby Kasuga Shrine. Legend has it that the thunder god, Takemikazuchi, moved to the shrine in the 700s. When he arrived, it is said that he was seen riding on a white deer.

Because of this, the deer around the shrine were seen as sacred animals. At some point, local nobles began bowing to the deer as they were also seen as a lucky sign. The deer eventually learned how to bow back, beginning a beautiful relationship that continues to this day. Deer artwork and signs are everywhere, paying homage to the deer that make Nara their home.

At one point, killing a Nara deer was punishable by death. Although no one has been sentenced to death for killing a deer since the 1500s, a man and woman were sentenced to six months of jail time after they killed a pregnant doe in the park. The death of the ten-year-old deer shocked the people of Nara, who protect and love their deer.

The result of this kindred relationship is a unique park that draws visitors from all across the world. Every day hundreds of visitors flock to the park to buy special deer rice crackers from local vendors and to feed the 1,200 deer that occupy the park.

Don’t be fooled by their lack of antlers; these deer are wild animals. The antlers are removed during an annual ceremony, done every year to protect visitors from deer that can sometimes be aggressive. If you tease the deer with food or behave inappropriately around them, they have been known to bite or behave aggressively.

Proper deer behavior is mostly common sense. Waving bye-bye to the deer let them know you are out of food. Avoid getting cornered by deer if you are low or out of food. Do not withhold food, especially if the deer has offered a good bow. Some deer are particularly offended if they have offered a bow and not received anything!

The Nara Park deer are friendly, and many of them like to be petted, or even to pose for Instagram photos. Just remember when you visit to buy lots of rice crackers for them, and when you’ve given out the last cracker, be prepared to wave “Bye-bye” and make your exit.

There are plenty of signs surrounding the deer cracker vendors to help explain appropriate behavior around the deer and to limit the number of bites delivered for poor behavior (in the eyes of the deer.)

If you want to experience nature in a unique way, make Nara a stop when you visit Japan. The deer will be happy to meet you, exchange greetings, and best of all, eat your rice crackers.

Reference

Readers Bureau, Contributor

Edited by Jesus Chan

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