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Entering into the heart of Nara Park we are greeted by a small, friendly deer wandering freely throughout the grounds. Approaching us, the deer bows its head down, as if to say hello.
“Oh, so cute! Look how she’s bowing her head,” I enthusiastically announced to Mike. “I think she’s politely asking for some deer crackers.”
Mike extends his hand out and the deer quickly, yet gently, takes the cracker from his hand.
Feeding the deer in Nara was quite the contrast to our first experience with deer in Japan, a few days earlier. In Miyajima, the deer that wander the island were much more aggressive, munching on backpacks in an attempt to wrangle away any food or loose pieces of paper.
Luckily, this was not so in Nara. The deer in Nara Park are far better behaved, even demonstrating some manners when asking to be fed. Surprisingly tame, I can see why Nara’s deer are greatly beloved. They are so darn cute!
In actuality, the reverence for Nara’s deer probably stems more from Shinto religion, rather than their adorable appearance. In Shinto, deer are considered to be messengers of the gods. At one point, way back in ancient times, killing a deer in Nara was considered a terrible crime, punishable by death.
Although they are no longer considered sacred, the deer in Nara Park are so special that they have been protected as a national treasure.
Feeding Deer in Nara Park- Our Experience With the Bowing Deer of Nara
After buying a package of special deer crackers from one of the vendors in the park, we walked around looking for some deer to feed. We didn’t have to go very far because the deer like to hang out near the paths and main attractions in the park.
There was one deer I fed for quite a while, under the shade of a blossoming cherry tree. Raising my hand up to put the cracker over my head, the deer would bow its head down, politely asking to be fed. This deer, my little Japanese Bambi as I liked to call it, eventually trusted me enough to let me pet it. It was such a sweetheart!
Admittedly, not all of the deer were so polite as to bow their heads when asking for a cracker, or allow you to pet them. Yet, even when I was surrounded by a small group of hungry deer, none of them got aggressive. Maybe the key is to be relaxed and not tease them with the crackers.
I don’t even want to know how much money we shelled out for deer crackers, but as an animal lover, it was money well spent. I probably would have fed each of the 1,200 deer in the park, if it were possible!
Final Thoughts About Feeding Deer in Nara Park
Feeding the deer in Nara Park turned out to be one of the most fun things we did during our 2 weeks in Japan. I could not get enough of their cute little faces and how they would bow their heads for crackers. National treasures indeed!
I’m glad the experience didn’t disappoint, since I’ve wanted to see the bowing deer in Nara since I was six years old, after hearing about them when my parents returned from their trip to Japan. Getting to feed deer in Nara was just as enjoyable as I expected it would be, based on those stories I heard so many years ago.
Tips for Feeding Deer in Nara Park
- The deer can be found freely roaming through most parts of Nara Park, so you never have to go far to find them.
- Special crackers (shika senbei) that contain ingredients safe for deer to eat are for sale in packs of about 10 for 150 yen. Just look for the carts/kiosks scattered throughout the park. Do not feed the deer any food meant for human consumption.
- To ask the deer to bow its head, hold the cracker slightly overhead. They sometimes would also bow when we’d put it behind our back. Be sure to immediately reward their good manners with a cracker, as teasing can make them mad.
- When you run out of crackers, show the deer your empty hands so they know the food is gone.
- Even though we didn’t experience or witness any aggressive behaviour from the Nara deer, it can and does happen. The best way to avoid injury is to not tease or withhold food from the deer, or try to take a selfie while feeding them. Also, keep your paper maps tucked away and don’t panic if a deer nips at your clothing.
Accommodations in Nara
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