Home » Nara Deer Park: The City of Wild Deer

Nara Deer Park: The City of Wild Deer

Nara deer

The baby deer was so close that it almost touched my camera’s lens.

Without any fear, it stood still for the strange metal object that was firing madly.

Around us, Kasugayama Primeval Forest swayed. The sun broke through the trees and cloaked the deer in autumn light.

Nara deer

I pressed the shutter and got the photo I wanted. For wild animals, the Nara deer were awfully obliging.

Nara Deer Park

Nara Deer Park is located in the city of Nara, Japan’s ancient capital. Crammed with temples, shrines and ruins, Nara’s the Japanese version of Gyeonju.

Todai-ji temple

Some of Nara’s sights include the incredible Tōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple that until recently was the world’s largest wooden building. Pretty impressive considering it was originally built in 752.

Todai-ji temple

I was astonished by Tōdai-ji’s size, and even paid the expensive entrance price to get a closer look. It was lucky I did, because Tōdai-ji is also home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. This behemoth towered above the schoolkids clamouring for a look.

Todai-ji temple

But the deer stole the show. More than 1,200 wild deer live in Nara. In medieval Japan the deer were considered sacred messengers of the Shinto gods and killing one was punishable by death. After World War 2 the deer were reclassified as national treasures and still hold a special position.

Nara deer

The deer wander freely, from the fields of Nara Deer Park to Nara’s city streets. I found one sitting in a gutter, only its head visible above the road. I wondered how it would escape, but the deer seemed relaxed by its predicament.

Although appearing tame, the deer are wild animals and will attack humans. Many tourists buy special crackers to feed the deer. The deer know this and will bow to humans to encourage this exchange.

Nara deer

Nara deer

I left the deer on Nara’s streets and escaped into Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Logging was banned here in 841 so the forest has a wild feeling. It’s especially atmospheric on the path to the ancient Kasuga Shrine, which is lined with over 3,000 stone lanterns.

Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Kasugayama Primeval Forest

As I walked, a deer emerged from the trees and then weaved through the stone lanterns like its ancestors had done for the past 1,000 years. It paused for a moment, before dashing away. In this magical forest, it became easy to see why the ancient Japanese believed the Nara deer were divine.

Nara deer

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