Nara Deer Park, Japan

I want to plow through these next three blog posts, because when I wrap up Japan I am going to jump forward to present day and tell you all about our current stay in Italy. We’re here for a month and I want to start logging in real time, sharing our daily adventures and the simple things that are now occupying our days.

That said, how could I breeze past our trip to Nara Deer Park without a mention?!Nara Park is a public park located in the city of Nara, Japan. It was established in 1880 it is one of the oldest parks in Japan. I had seen a friend post photos from Nara on Instagram a few years back, and thought ‘Wow, that looks amazing!!’ Roaming through the forest alongside deer, enjoying their company like Snow White while visiting ancient shrines and temples?! Sign me up!It turned out to be the classic case of Instagram expectation vs reality.Nara is easily accessible from Kyoto, so we added it on to that portion of our trip. Fairly familiar with the small Kyoto at this point, we roamed map-free over to Kyoto Station, hopped on to Miyakoji Rapid Service, and in 45 minutes later we were in Nara. We used our Japan Rail Passes for the ride, and walked to from Nara Station to the park which took around 10 minutes. In all it should have been an easy journey, although the train we had to take was diverted a few times, so we wound up waiting for almost an hour on the platform in Kyoto. Boo! While impatiently waiting, we actually bought tickets for another train line (that we thought was coming sooner and wasn’t included in the cost of our Japan Rail Pass), only to end up taking the Miyakoji Rapid Service which was the original train we were meant to take, which appeared off schedule and out of no where!! Ohh well!In Nara you will find two stunning temples (one of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a jaw dropping shrine, and a museum featuring treasures, such as religious art and sculptures, from the temples. We bookmarked the Kofuku-ji Temple, the Himuro Shrine, and the Tōdai-ji Temple in our Japan Google Map, and then strolled around aimlessly between each attraction.Because although we would surely enjoy the art and the culture, we were really there for the free roaming deer! According to local folklore, Sika deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine. He appeared riding a white deer, and from that point on, the deer were considered divine and sacred. Killing one of Nara’s deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until the mid 1600’s. After WWII, the deer were stripped of their sacred status, but were instead designated as national treasures. Today they are still protected as such and more than 1,500 roam the park.

Our visit with the deer started out friendly and fun (as you can see from my photos thus far), but took a turn for the uncomfortable when we bought ‘deer crackers’ being sold for a couple of yen. We thought, ‘Ohh, how much fun would it be to feed the deer!!’ But in reality we should have thought, ‘Ohh, how much fun would it be to be stalked and aggressively head butted by large wild animals?!’The second the deer crackers were in our pockets, these guys were on to us . . .  And we started getting hounded by hoards. I kept mine deep in my breast pocket, but Amie decided to try and be nice and feed the harassive deer following her. Which honestly did nothing to help the situation. We found some deer who were caged in, and decided these were probably the safest guys to feed our crackers to since they couldn’t shove us around. So we did a bit of tame deer feeding which was honestly much more our style.I have to say, it was odd to walk by the museum, and have deer casually strolling down the footpath alongside visitors.Experiencing the shrines were the same – they were gorgeous, but it was hard to shake the odd feeling of admiring architecture alongside large wild animals begging for crackers.So Amie and I started playing a new game – look for the skinny deer and give THEM the cookies. Because some of the bigger bucks definitely didn’t need any extra treats! Which turned out to be a more difficult game than we had anticipated, because the second a cracker came out of my pocket, about five deer would be by my side within seconds! I’d had enough of feeding deer, and had to take a mini break to feed myself!! This matcha mochi was delicious, stuffed with chocolate and a large ripe strawberry.At that point, we made a new friend – a deer who followed us around, throughout the park for the remainder of the afternoon.Maybe it was because he was lonely, maybe it was because he knew I had two more crackers in my pocket.But even after he ate one, he continued to roam alongside us.Literally begging for cute little deer pats!
Which were easy to dole out, but hard to take a photo of!Maybe he wanted more cookies . . . . but he stuck around despite the fact that we were mostly empty handed.

Turns out, last year more than 120 people were injured by the deer in Nara! So sometimes those beautiful Instagram photos aren’t all they’re cracked up to be!
But are usually still worth the adventure ;)

xo Ali

3 Replies to “Nara Deer Park, Japan”

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