Making Friends with the Deer at Nara Park, Japan
Though our most recent trip to Japan started in Kyoto (post to come), I had to share this peculiar and wonderful experience with the deer in Nara Park first! Nara is a bit out of the way—most visitors seem to make it a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka—but we knew we had to fit it into our short, three-day weekend schedule. Conveniently, there’s a (quite comfortable) limited express train from Kyoto Station to Kintetsu Nara Station, so we decided to make a stop with our backpacks in tow on our way down to Osaka.
Did you know deer shed their antlers once a year? We didn’t and were worried when we saw photos of the deer online that we might be supporting something awful by visiting the park, but Nara deer were once considered sacred messengers of the gods and have become a symbol of the city, even considered national treasures. There are supposedly over a thousand deer in the park and they are free to roam as they please—we saw a deer warning sign not far from the station and were surprised to already spot ten or so deer outside of the park, laying along the sidewalks, ambling past pedestrians and carts, and even crossing the street!
If you bow to the deer, they may bow to you, but they may also expect a treat afterwards! You may want to be prepared with packages of crackers, sold throughout the park for a few hundred yen, which have been nutritionally balanced for the deer. We wanted to admire the deer from a distance so we didn’t purchase any, but the deer had plenty of other hands feeding them. If the deer suspected you were going to feed them, they even became a little aggressive—there was no dearth of squealing visitors quickly tossing all their crackers to and running away from the hordes of deer trotting around and after them. To be fair to the deer, I don’t think the visitors knew what they were getting themselves into, and it would seem like teasing.
I was cooing the whole time, but mostly coexisting with the deer in the park and enjoying the beautiful early morning weather. I didn’t notice a buck had quietly crept up behind me until it nudged my leg with its head! (Andrew had noticed and captured some hysterical photos!)
Thankfully, he didn’t have any antlers on him!
Me, in awe of this moment.
If you’re a cat owner and/or lover, you’ll understand this, but it reminded me of our kitty Luna and how she would smush her head against me as a sign of affection. I would have doubted that the buck was showing me affection if it wasn’t for him proceeding to plop down beside me and curl around my feet, often rubbing the side of his face and the top of his snout on my leg. If I tried to move, he would gently follow, and then remain sat there beside my feet, fully aware that I had no crackers to offer him.
When I was in Krabi, Thailand with a friend two winters ago, a baby monkey jumped onto my shoulders as we were trekking up to the summit of Tiger Cave Temple (and then an adult monkey did the same on our way down, which was not as cute), and I thought that was wild. But this might take the cake (or the deer cracker). One of our sweet followers on Instagram said I must be a Disney Princess, and it did feel like a fairytale, Snow White sort of moment!