Feeding Deer at Nara Park 奈良公園
If I had to go back to one place during my trip to the Kansai region, it would be Nara. It’s not only because of the city’s unique laid back vibe, but I wanted to spend more time feeding the deer. As Nara’s national treasure and sacred animals, getting along with them is a once in a lifetime experience that you can enjoy. It’s not everyday that we get to be stewards of God’s creation. (Well, other than dogs and cats, that is.)
In Japan, the deer symbolizes long life and prosperity, and is therefore respected by locals. Within Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple 東大寺 and the Nara Museum are often flocked by herd of deer who await on visitors to feed them with biscuits. Killing deer was once penalized by capital punishment, but today it is no longer practiced. After World War II, the deer are officially stripped off their sacred or divine status.
You might be wondering why they don’t have antlers. During mid-October, male deer are known to be more aggressive during mating season and could hurt people. The traditional ceremony Shika no Tsukomori is held in Kokufu-ji Temple every year carried by the Kasuga Shrine to cut the antlers of the deer. It does sound very brutal, but it has been approved by the Foundation for the Protection of Deer in Nara Park.
I was really hesitant to pat them on the head. I felt that it would be painful for some of them.
You can absolutely try feeding them, but be careful as some are really aggressive. The older ones are kinder and appear to be wiser, so they are easier to feed. Oddly enough, fawns shy away from the old ones, and I feel a bit sympathetic towards them. Each pack of biscuits cost 150 yen, a small amount of money to spend to be intimate with a deer. I tend to feed the old ones though. They’re very friendly.
They don’t have sharp teeth, and their tongue naturally graze your hand to eat the biscuit. When alone, they are respectful and have learned how to bow so they can be fed.
I could probably spend an entire day watching them and feeding them.
Be careful on whatever you’re holding on your hand. They literally grab anything within reach. That’s my itinerary on the grass. One deer snatched it from my hands.
And best to keep matcha ice cream out of their reach. They might eat it!
Navigation and Map: How to Get to Nara Park
Location: Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan
Admission Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 24/7
To get to Nara Park from Osaka Namba Station, take the Kintetsu-Nara Line towards Kintetsu-Nara Station. Nara Park is accessible by riding the Nara Bus Route 5 and getting off at Nara Park. Seeing deer on the road is a sign you’re near. Alternatively you may ride the JR Line towards Kyoto if you have the JR Rail Pass.