Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Sacred Deer of Nara
Once upon a time, as the story goes, deer were the sacred messengers of gods of the Kasuga shrine which is located here in Nara. The descendents of these deer live in the Nara Park and occasionally wander around the city streets. Because they are sacred, they are protected by law.
The deer aren’t exactly tame, but they aren’t exactly wild either. You can buy special “shika sembei” or deer crackers to feed the animals. But as anyone who has done this will tell you, years of sacredness can sometimes make the deer behave in a slightly overentitled fashion.
In the summer, for example, the bucks still have their antlers, and they may prod you from behind to ask that you hurry up and start feeding them.
Clusters of deer may crowd around you and nibble on your buttons or sleeves to demand attention and thus food.
Some deer may not differentiate between the special “deer crackers” and your own food, as this group of students discovered.
An overwhelmed tourist might therefore feel compelled to actually escape from the deer, and it is not uncommon to see people yelp, or run away with deer in hot pursuit.
One final note; these trash cans have been wrapped with a rubber band to prevent deer from getting at the food inside. Even special sacred deer need to be protected from themselves.