Experience Nara Time in Japan

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Experience Nara Time in Japan

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Feature065 Facts About the Deer of Nara

Nara's deer are the symbols of the city, and are famous across Japan. Still, there are many things about this celebrity deer that many people don't know.Once you've read this list, you'll be perfectly prepared to make your trip to Nara armed with all the facts about Nara's deer you may need.

1. Why are there so many deer in Nara Park?

Nara Park covers a broad area, and in fact a portion of it is made of by the grounds of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The deity enshrined therein is Takemi Kajichi no Mikoto, said to have ridden to Nara upon a sacred deer from Kashima Shrine (also written with a character for "deer") in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because of this legend, deer were thought of as sacred animals--the helpers of gods--and have been carefully protected for many years. Even today, Nara's deer are carefully protected as "natural monuments.

2. What do the deer in Nara eat?

Nara is known for its "deer crackers," or "shika senbei" but in fact the deer within Nara Park are wild animals, and are perfectly capable of finding their own food. Throughout the year, a deer will typically eat several varieties of plant, including grass, silver pampass grass, and other varieties of land grasses. Nara's deer are actually divided into two types based on their diet: "park deer," who reside in the flat lands of Nara Park, and "Mount Wakakusa deer." For both, however, grass makes up the majority of their meals. This great dependence on grass makes Nara deer very different from other species of deer in Japan.

The "Deer Line

The so-called "deer line" refers to the height of 190-195 cm at which the deer typically graze on plants and low branches. Because of this, this part of the forest is typically cleared, and provides a far-reaching line of sight.

3. What are "deer crackers (shika senbei)"?

For the deer in Nara Park, grass is obviously the most important component of their diet. So what's in a "deer cracker"? The answer is wheat flour and rice bran. These treats are made without any sugar for the health of the deer, making them completely safe for visitors to offer the animals. Deer crackers are a registered trademark of the Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara, and a portion of their profits goes to efforts to protect the deer.

4. Yearly events involved Nara's deer

Deer Calling

The sound of a horn blowing in Nara marks the sound of the season, for this particular horn is associated with the Deer Call, in which the deer are called and herded together with the sound of a horn. This tradition was begun in 1862 with the opening of the deer park, which is said to have been marked with the blowing of a horn. The practice has been passed on since then, and is now an event held several times a year at Tobihino, to the south of the road leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. With a sounding of the natural horn, the deer of Nara emerge from within the forest to cluster around the blower. It is said this is a sight than can only be seen in Nara. Come and enjoy the natural peace of this morning scene for yourself.

Antler-cutting

The grand tradition of the antler-cutting ceremony is a highlight of the ancient city's events. It was begun in the Edo Period (1603-1868) for safety reasons, and in an effort to protect the trees of Nara Park. A buck's antlers are an important symbol for the animal, and while it is a shame to remove them, this antler-cutting event is born of tradition, that the people and deer of Nara may better live together peacefully.

Roku-en

Those who would like to learn more about Nara's deer are encouraged to visit Roku-en. Roku-en is an enclosure for the deer, located to the south of the stone lantern-lined path leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Every April, the pregnant does of the herd (approximately 200) are placed within the enclosure to safely birth their young. In mid-July, once the fawns are able to keep up with their mothers, the public is able to view the cute youngsters in a special event called "Kojika Koukai" (Presentation of the Fawns). An area with detailed information about the deer will be available, and a special program (targeted mainly towards school groups) will be held to teach visitors about these special animals.

Roku-en

Protecting Nara's Deer

Unlike most deer in Japan, Nara's deer live unusually close to humans. Because of this, it is necessary for us to exercise great caution in how we interact with the deer, in order to continue to coexisting peacefully with the deer of Nara Park. Please keep the following in mind as you make your visit to Nara.

Traffic Safety

Please exercise great caution when driving in the vicinity of Nara Park, as the deer are known to jump out suddenly.

Food

The deer cannot digest human food: please do not give it to them. Please be especially careful not to leaving behind plastic bags or other trash, as they may endanger the lives of deer upon accidental ingestion. To prevent this, trash cans are located throughout Nara Park. Please dispose of your trash properly in the bins, or carry it home with you.

For more information about Nara's deerFoundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara