Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, and is home to Nara Park, where over a thousand semi-wild sika deer roam.
Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country. Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offence punishable by death up until 1637.
After World War II, the deer were stripped of their sacred/divine status, and were designated as National Treasures and are protected as such.
In the park, snack vendors sell “shika sembei” (deer biscuits) to visitors so they can feed the deer when they see them. Some of the deer have learnt to bow in response to tourists’ bows. However, they nudge, jostle, and even bite for food!
- Official Website of Nara Park (in Japanese)
- Nara Park on Wikipedia
- Nara Deer on Nara’s Wikipedia page
- Nara Park at Japan-Guide.com