Nara, Where Deer and Humans Coexist: History and Words of Caution About the Deer
Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and other cultural properties at the level of National Treasures line up in the area surrounding Nara Park in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. And this is the area where deer and humans coexist. As many as 1200 deer are living not only in woods but also inside the property of temples or shrines, and they are registered as natural treasures. What is more amazing is the fact that the deer are not managed by humans; they are all wild animals.
The deer have been carefully protected from ancient times as messengers of god. It is said that the act of killing deer met a death penalty in the past, and hurting deer is still subject to penalties today. Having been hunted as food for humans sometime between the Meiji Period and the middle of the World War II, the number of deer had once decreased; however, it recovered and has continued to flourish to date.
This is an elegant view beyond words, which you can only see in Nara.
Be Aware: Deer Jumps out
This road sign calls for drivers’ attention to watch out for deer jumping out, and it is one of the evidences to give you a glimpse of the dense deer population in the area. Tragic accidents have been taking place several dozens to over 100 times a year in which deer jumps into the road and bumps into vehicles, and it continues to be a problem.
Contact with Deer
The deer are all accustomed to humans and you can easily touch them. Deer are strongly vigilant animals by nature, but as they had been protected and coexisted with humans, the deer in the Nara Park apparently ceased to fear humans. They approach people in a friendly manner and sometimes even put their noses into tourists’ bags, perhaps because they are looking for something they can eat.
However they are wild animals after all. You must keep in mind that sometimes they can suddenly kick you or lunge at you. In addition, May through July and September through November are their breeding seasons and their temper is rough. It is best not to go near them unnecessarily.
You can feed the deer “Shika senbei (Deer cracker)”, which is sold at 150 yen in stores. Surprisingly this “Shika senbei” has a long history and venerable origin, having been sold since the 17th century.
The deer absolutely love this senbei. The deer will approach humans once they find a person with the senbei, as if they demand for it. And they are quite observant, too. When you are spotted by the deer as having the senbei without realizing there are many deer around you, the deer will come at you in droves, unmindful of human shock, and you end up feeling you are robbed by bandits.
This author recommends that you feed deer away from the herd.
By the way, the crackers are not delicious for humans as they are not seasoned.