JAPAN: The Sacred Deer of Nara Park
The main attraction of the city of Nara is Nara Park, which is home to several historic shrines and over 1,200 wild sika deer. These deer have existed in Nara since prehistoric times, and had been believed to be divine and sacred. Until several centuries ago the deer were so strictly protected that to kill a deer was punishable by death. Following WWII the deer were demoted from divine and sacred status to instead protected as “national treasures”.
Since the year 1671 an antler-cutting ceremony called “Shika no tsunokiri” takes place in which the male deers’ antlers are cut in order to prevent the harm that they cause people and one another during mating season when the bucks run wild and… horny. This is why none of the bucks have antlers.
On our first visit to Nara (by JR train from Osaka) we had planned to visit the park after exploring the abandoned amusement park Nara Dreamland, but our urban exploration of Dreamland ran past dark and I was very sad that we had gone all the way to Nara without seeing the deer and shrines. Later in our trip we went out of our way to make a return trip to Nara (this time by JR train from Kyoto and a short JR bus ride to the park), and spent a (very cold) rainy afternoon exploring the shrines and feeding deer crackers to the friendly, cracker-sneaking deer.