The prefecture of Nara is famous for the many ancient monuments and temples and is also home to one of the largest statues of Buddha and the largest wooden building in the world. However most tourists also come for the visitors from the nearby forest. The sacred deer of Nara are almost as famous as the statue of Buddha.
Each day more than 1000 Sika deer travel from the forest they live in down the mountain to the temple of Buddha. And they are welcome there. A 1300 year old legend says that a god once visited the shrine on the back of a deer, and they are regarded as sacred ever since. (After WOII the deer were regarded as national treasures instead of sacred deities). The people of Nara will not harm them and they can walk or stand wherever they want to, even if it is on the side (or in the middle) of the road.
Sacred deer of Nara
The deer became a tourist attraction, and the deer know how to use that to their advantage. For 150 yen you can buy special deer biscuits from the street vendors near the temple and the park. If you have those biscuits the deer will come flocking around you, trying to get a bite.
Bowing deer of Nara
Since deer are usually quite shy and don’t like to be around humans a lot, it’s surprising to see them in large amounts walking through the streets like they own them. For most people this is the closest they can get to these beautiful animals. And polite animals. Yes, they also know how to show some grattitude. Because the people of Japan use bowing as a way to be polite and show respect to one another, the deer somehow adopted that tradition to show that they want biscuits. So whenever you have the biscuits, the deer will come to you and start bowing, expecting you to give more. See the video below for a cool example.
Deer in Nara
As you can see in de video of cheeriesnoopy above, the deer can become a bit aggressive if they know you have the deer biscuits, so be prepared for that (or run like she did). A herd of deer may look nice from a distance, but if you want to feed one you’re better off with a small group or just one deer (although it’s quite funny to look at). Also, I heard people say the deer on Miyajima Island behave better, so if you’re planning a round trip it might be worth going to Miyajima for the deer, and skip the deer biscuits when you’re in Nara.