Nara Park and the Sacred Deer

For my last day in Kyoto, I decided to take a day trip to visit Nara Park to meet the sacred deer. It is said they are closely connected to the gods, and at one time, if you were to kill one, it was punishable by death. Now, around 1,400 of them living in the park, are protected as Natural Monuments, and are the holy animals of Nara. They are known to be very polite, and if you bow to them, they will bow back in exchange for a “shika senbei”, their special crackers you can buy all around the park.

I’m not a fan of feeding wild animals, but in this sacred space, I wanted to take part in the ritual, so I bought one package. Upon entering the park (which by the way is totally open, no deer are trapped inside, and they may wander about freely), I was greeted by a kind family, who seemed well deserving of a treat. Much to my surprise, as I unwrapped the package and started to bow, offering the crackers, another deer came up from behind and bit me right on the butt, leaving a big bruise…..what?? This is not polite! I also learned that because the male deer can become aggressive, they have their antlers painlessly (they say??) cut every autumn in a ritual that has been unchanged since the Edo period (1603 – 1867). Apparently you can watch this up close every October.

The sweet family that waited patiently for their shika senbei. Now that I look at the photo again, I’m wondering if it was Dad that bit me?

After this incident, I put the rest of the crackers away, and headed up the hill into the open area where there were many cherry blossoms and more deer roaming around. I found a nice spot to stop, and offered up the rest of the snacks to some more kind deer in exchange for a little photo shoot. The trees had protective fences around them, so prior to taking the shika senbai out, I attached my camera to one of the fences to document the process and catch any biters who might try to attack from behind. Ha!

Once the crackers were gone, I said my goodbyes and moved on to visit the temples. They were all unique, and like everything here, were well maintained, and had lots of stairs!

Reaching the top, I noticed more stairs leading up the mountain. As I most often do, if I see stairs, I go up to see what’s there and if I can get a better view. When I got to the top, I was alone in a beautiful forest. There was a small hiking trail with several little shrines along the way. It was amazing! It seems there are so many of these unmarked treasures here.

On my way back down, I caught a glimpse of one of the temples from a different angle off the main walking path and the reflection in the pond was beautiful.

Feeling excited about my finds, I headed out of the park to see what else the town had to offer. On my way out, I passed by some shops, and it was pretty funny. These dang deer are smart and know exactly what’s up. This girl was trying to lead a shopper to buy her some shika senbai. The lady walked away and she turned and looked at me rubbing her head on the corner of the tray. It was really cute, but I didn’t cave!

I followed a few different roads, before finding a sign for the Botanical Gardens. I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, there was hardly anything in bloom and everything looked dead. Oh well, can’t win them all! However, I passed by Takabatakecho Park along the way and it looked worth checking out, so I went back. So much better than the gardens and free!

After a cherry blossom ice cream cone, I wanted to see the Koriyama Castle Ruins across town. I looked up the bus schedule and made a plan to get to the train station that would get me there. I ran, but missed the first bus. Finally, I made quick tracks to another stop and caught a different bus and the train. The castle ruins were not super exciting, but the Sakura celebration was local and full of energy. The surrounding buildings and gardens were great too! I had a couple different snacks and really wanted one of these special bananas, but stopped myself knowing it was too much sugar for me!

And with that, the sun began to go down and the temperature was dropping, so I made my way back to Kyoto. I had a beautiful walk around a lake to a train station for a line I didn’t have a pass for, but I bought a ticket and it all worked out. I made it back to Kyoto just before it got dark. What a beautiful day!

Hugs and Love, Michelle

5 Replies to “Nara Park and the Sacred Deer”

  1. When I was there it was a cooler season, and several of the deer nipped and tugged at the hem of my jacket as if to demand some cookies! Your essay didn’t mention the massive bronze Buddha inside the wooden temple. Did you see it? Looks like you’re well!


  2. Aw! Your poor butt! Silly deer! Your pictures are beautiful. It sounds lovely there. You look very peaceful and serene. Glad to see you are having so many wonderful adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

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