In Nara, Japan, deer roam the streets. Sika Deer in Nara have been considered sacred since the 1600’s. The deer have learned to bow to people, offering a greeting in exchange for deer snacks.
In Nara, Japan, deer roam the streets. Sika Deer in Nara have been considered sacred since the 1600's. The deer have learned to bow to people, offering a greeting in exchange for deer snacks.
Posted by Legend of Micah on Tuesday, January 9, 2018
The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame, although they can be aggressive if they think you will feed them.
Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed.
Sika deer have had a long history of cultural importance in Nara Park, beginning in the eighth century with a legend that a god rode into the park on the back of a white deer.
With protection for religious reasons, the population built up and became tame because of its frequent interaction with people visiting the religious shrines at the park.
The interface of sika and humans at such close proximity over the years inevitably led to harmony or conflict depending on the goals and motivations of people.
Nara Park in its modern form was established in 1880, and these conflicting values of sika deer in the park have continued into modern times.
However, the long history of known numbers, and approachable tame deer, have yielded an unusually long and detailed record of population dynamics, ecology, and behavior.
It has also led to high populations of deer with consequent impacts on their habitat. In this chapter we review and summarize this unique record of cultural and biological interrelations between sika deer and humans.
Nara Park is located adjacent to the urban area of Nara city, which is one of the most
beautiful old cities in Japan and contains many historical places and much cultural heritage
that attract two million tourists from abroad every year.
Nara Park covers approximately 6.6 km2 including flat areas where tourists visit temples and other attractions
and the adjacent mountains, such as Mt. Kasuga that, thanks to their long
history of protection, contain unique ecosystems.
Sika deer have lived in Nara Park through the ages and have shaped the specific ecosystem and scenery of the park.
Sika deer are symbols of Nara Park. They are widely accepted as essential to the
park, and in 1957, they were designated a national natural treasure, the “Deer of Nara.”
The deer, as main subjects in many historical artworks, have long been tamed to human
presence, but basically they are free-ranging. They continue to be a major source of
attraction to tourists, and this has not motivated people to control the population of deer.
In Japan where forests are very dense, sika deer are difficult to observe for more than a
fleeting moment. This has made the tame deer at Nara good subjects for long-term
population censuses and behavioral studies by direct observation at close rang