If you’re wondering how it is possible to be bitten by a deer, you’ve come to the right place. I mean seriously, how many people do you know that have been bitten by a deer?! Read on to discover my sheer joy at Kristen’s expense as she finds out how the cute animals of Nara deer park actually aren’t so cute after all!
Nara is a fantastic city to visit to learn about Japanese history. There are many culturally important temples and shrines. However, it is also famous for something totally unexpected.
Nara deer park is home to almost 1,500 freely roaming wild deer. But wild deer with a difference. These wild deer now find themselves firmly on almost all Japan itineraries. Why?
They interact with humans.
This sign pretty much says it all…
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Sika Deer at Nara Deer Park
Let’s put things into perspective. The average deer we know is afraid of humans. Deer typically tend to run away as fast as possible, right? Oh no. Not these deer. These are Sika deer of the Nara deer park. And they are bad ass!
Local folklore suggests that the Sika deer became sacred after a visit from one of the four Gods of the Kasuga Shrine. Therefore, these sacred animals in Nara deer park are considered messengers of the Gods. These deer can approach humans and wander the city at their will.
It is not uncommon to see a deer chilling in the middle of the road while cars simply wait for them to move on. Like I said, bad ass.
How Did Nara Deer Park Become A Feeding Ground?!
Nara deer park itself covers a large area where the deer sleep and roam as they wish. Completely open to the public with no gates, they would be perfectly free to escape into the wilderness, but that notion is highly unlikely.
Why wouldn’t they escape? And why would they approach humans? There is of course, only one plausible explanation. Food.
There are several small kiosks selling ‘deer crackers’ or Shike-senbei in packs of 10 for 150 yen in the park. Tourists in their droves are buying these packs of crackers and feeding the deer all day, every day. Why would the deer want to leave this paradise?!
Feeding 1,500 deer a day might sound a big task, but don’t underestimate the determination of tourists like Kristen, who want to feed every single one of them so that none are left out.
For some tourists visiting Nara, it’s all about the deer. Forget one of the largest wooden structures in the world with a huge bronze Buddha, we’re going to feed deer! Unfortunately, I saw this with my own eyes!
Quick Stats on Visitors To Nara Deer Park
In 2012, there were 285,000 visitors to Nara. In 2016, the number had rocketed to 1.65 million … #surge!
Breaking it down by country in 2016: 42% of visitors were Chinese; 18% Taiwanese; 10% South Korean. That’s 70% of all visitors to Nara!
Japan is evidently a hugely popular destination for other countries in the Far East region. It’s no surprise to us, we LOVED Japan. I found these stats when researching to see if anyone else had been bitten by a deer. It seems they have!
Kristen’s Close Encounter of the Chomp Kind
I will begin by saying that in Kristen’s defense, temples and shrines were definitely our primary focus, the came deer secondary… and food was tertiary (for once!).
However, it was raining SO heavily all day when we visited. So maybe the deluge may have disorientated her? … hmm, no, no way, there’s no excuses!
A Little Background
Kristen is, at risk of understatement of the year, an animal lover. Perhaps not quite on the scale of the world’s greatest pet detective, Ace Ventura, but she’s definitely up there.
I’m expecting our house (in life after traveling) to resemble a zoo. At the time of writing this post we’re sat in a café in Puerto Natales, Chile and Kristen wants to adopt every homeless dog on the streets, and let me tell you – there are a lot of them!
Our Arrival in Nara
Our train arrives from Osaka at 4pm. The second the wheels stop turning on the tracks in Nara, Kristen is struggling to contain her excitement at finding the deer. Conversely, at the same time, I’m more skeptical about the whole deer feeding concept. Probably because I value my fingers.
After checking in at Onyado Nono Nara Onsen Ryokan – which you should consider if staying in Nara for a night – we hotfoot it through the city’s main street, to the deer park.
We arrive just in time for a gorgeous sunset over some of the temples in the West of Nara deer park. We also spot our first deer eating grass around the lake. This one must have had enough of crackers for the day and needed some greens for a balanced diet.
Now Kristen has a dilemma on her hands. Do we go down the cultural route and enjoy the remaining minutes of light skies watching the sunset over the ancient temples including a five story pagoda? Or, does she try to find some crackers to feed the deer before it’s too dark?
We try to do both but can’t find anyone selling the crackers. Turns out we’re in the wrong place to buy them. So, reluctantly Kristen gives up and opts for a third option instead – eat dinner (there are some awesome restaurants in Nara, Japan by the way!). We will have to come back the next morning for a full feeding frenzy of a day.
The Wait is Over
Next morning comes and it’s high time for Kristen to feed some deer. I try to voice my concerns to Kristen. I tell her they seem too cocky and to be careful. She tells me to man up but I remain unconvinced and on the defensive. It is now also my job to take over camera duties throughout the feeding process.
We more or less sprint through the area we were at the night before and continue into the park. We eventually slowed down to pass a few deer, but surprisingly only a few.
And then BOOM! Out of nowhere, there are like 3 million deer staring at us. Okay, that may possibly be a gross over exaggeration, but my fingers were twitching. Kristen’s eyes light up. My body clenches up. Unfortunately, I know we’re in for an incident here. I can just feel it!
Kristen eyes the first cracker selling stand while I observe all the other tourists feeding the deer. I carefully watch the interactions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see immediately that these deer are pushy little buggers. They will no doubt approach over zealously to get their share of the crackers on offer.
Before I have time to share my observations and warn Kristen, she’s already at the cracker vendor stand.
Now, these deer are crafty little devils. They know through experience that their best bet of being fed the crackers is by positioning themselves right next to the stalls selling them. Solid logic, deer.
Kristen enthusiastically buys her first pack of crackers. The 3 ladies selling instantly gesture her away emphatically. They are not subtle with their shooing motion by waving their hands.
I’ve assessed the situation and my situation report confirms me to steer clear of this one. However, at this point, I’m sensibly standing well clear of the cracker stall (read: scared of the deer). I am watching from afar in blissful anticipation at what I know is soon to follow.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Instantly, three big hairy males in a herd of about 15 others turn on Kristen. They approach and box her in against the stall. This came as a surprise to Kristen. It took her a moment to regain her composure to work out an escape!
She tried to walk through them. At that very second, a cheeky little fella pops up from the side and munches on Kristen’s hip! She froze solid. She was suddenly terrified with shock. In her fragile and panic-stricken state, Kristen was no longer so enthusiastic about feeding the sika deer of Nara deer park!
Brandishing a brightly flushed face and leaving her dignity at the door, Kristen managed to find a gap and charged her way through like a blocker to the end zone. Meanwhile, I’m wetting myself with laughter and smugly giving myself a big pat on the back for avoiding such a scene.
Kristen recovered moments later and we then continue to visit the amazing temples and shrines of Nara. Later that day, having adopted a more cautious approach, Kristen fed some more deer but only once we’d identified solo females (notice how most of the pics in this post are solo females). Even I fed one or two, albeit very tentatively!
And Here are Our Tips on How NOT to Get Bitten by a Deer at Nara Deer Park!!
- Assess and observe the interactions between deer and people first
- Wait until there aren’t many deer around to buy crackers from the stalls
- Feed just the doe known as ‘hinds’ (female sika deer) or fawns (young)
- Do not tease the deer with food, they don’t appreciate it and will barge you
- Do not try to pose and take selfies with them (please, please, please)!
- Put your hands up after you feed them so they know you have no more food
- Remember these are still wild deer, not pets, no matter how tame they seem
- Feed the deer ONLY deer crackers and finish any other food you may have before entering the park
Quiz Question: Which traditional annual ceremony takes place during the Autumn breeding season in Nara?
Shika no Tsunokiri.
The Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony takes place every October and lasts 5 days. It is for the safety of the public as the deer can become aggressive during the breeding season, as well as damaging trees and buildings.
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