“Be careful once you’ve bought the deer crackers. They smell them straight away and get a bit excited. If you encounter an aggressive male, he might head butt you to knock you over and steal the cracker. You might be lucky though and find a well-mannered deer that bows to say thank you.”
I was at Nara Park (Nara Koen) in Japan and keeping my fingers crossed I wouldn’t attract a head-butter.
Nara is Japan’s ancient capital which lies 2 hours away on the bullet train (Shinkansen) away from Tokyo. It’s home to stunning shrines, gardens and temples such as the magnificent Todai-ji Temple – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous structures in Japan.
Being an animal lover, my favourite attraction was Nara Park.
There are approximately 1200 semi-tame roaming wild deer and they’re considered a national treasure. According to legend, in the 8th century, a God from the Kashima Shrine rode into Nara on a white deer, and ever since then they have been considered ‘messengers of God’ in the Shinto religion.
These beautiful creatures are a symbol of the city and are treated with the utmost respect. They’re not scared of people or traffic and happily roam around the park and temple grounds enjoying the attention. I’d never seen anything quite like it!
Scattered around the park, you’ll find stands with vendors selling deer crackers (shika-senbei). I didn’t taste them myself but as soon as I had them in my hand, there was a charge of deer approaching me!
I attempted bowing in the hope of a polite exchange but no luck. I was nibbled, head-butted and chased until I surrendered the crackers – every last morsel! They weren’t violent, just rather overenthusiastic about the heavenly baked goods I was holding.
Top tip: Crumble and throw the crackers! If you hold on to them, prepare to be mobbed!
I’d given up hope of meeting a docile deer – until our eyes met from afar…Bambi. Deer-oh-deer I was in love!
The sweetest, most friendly deer I could have ever hoped to have met. He played to the camera like a true pro and I’m sure he’s experienced in the art of posing for selfies.
He even puckered up to give me a kiss!
Huge thanks to Lonely Planet for inviting me to Japan to work on this special project and discover its many wonders. You can see footage of my deer encounters below as well as more of Japan’s incredible sights and attractions:
Curious about what it’s like in Japan? Check out these 60 things that surprised me about Japan.
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