On my last full day in Kyoto, I decided to head south and take a day trip to Nara, a small city famous for it’s temples. But I wasn’t really there for the temples. In fact, I didn’t really see them at all.
Instead, I went to see Nara’s other attraction: deer. Throughout the city there are over a 1200 wild deer that roam around and seem to eat anything they can. For the last thousand years, the deer have been considered sacred and up until 1637 killing one was punishable by death. The deer have been declared national treasures and are treated extremely well by the locals and visitors.
If you want to feed the deer the best place to visit is Nara Park. You can buy a package of 10 crackers from various stands for 150 yen. I paid with a 10000 yen note and the woman warned me to put away the change in paper bills quickly because the deer will eat them.
There were also lots of school children in the park on what looked like a field trip. I love their matching outfits and color-coded hats used to keep track of them.
There was also an older group who talked to me as part of an English assignment. They were shy at first, but then asked me a few questions like where I was from and what’s my favorite Japanese food. When I would answer, they’d write it down in their notebooks.
Okay, back to the deer. 90% of the time they are calm. You can go up and pet them or rub their fuzzy antlers. But they sure love those crackers and will mildly harass you to get some. I had six deer literally chasing me at one point.
I spent a good hour feeding the deer and watching them chase people. Adorable little things.
On more than one occasion I talked to the deer, telling them to stop biting my clothes – as if they could understand. Even if they could, it would be Japanese, not English.
I started to get creative and made the deer work for their crackers. It took some time to teach them, but they finally caught on.
The deer in Nara are smart. Bowing is a sign of respect in Japan and over time some of the deer have learned this. They will come up to you and bow their heads in order to get a cracker.
Between the deer and monkeys, I probably spent $40 buying food for them. But there’s no way something like this would exist in the United States, so it was money well spent.