Okay, I’ve saved the best for last yet again. Our favorite part of our Osaka trip wasn’t even in Osaka, but a 40 minute train ride away, in a special little place called Nara…
Nara is a small town with a few shops and a lot of temples. The temples are all huge and majestic, and the landscape is beautiful and serene, but what makes Nara most special is its huge population of tiny deer.
The deer in Nara are regarded as divine Shinto messengers, so they’re allowed to roam around as they please. Obviously people don’t really want them to go into their shops and chew on their merchandise, but there’s not much they can really do about it, aside from kindly asking them to leave.
Everyone basically leaves the deer alone and lets them do what they want, where they want; most shops put bowls of water and snacks out for them, too.
You’d think all this freedom would make the deer a bit spoiled and temperamental, but they’re actually all very well-behaved, and just want to carry on with their everyday lives, the same as the human inhabitants of Nara.
There are elderly people in Nara who sit by the road and sell ‘deer cookies’, which are like rice wafers. We saw a few clusters of deer sitting around the cookie-vendors, but none of them got pushy enough to steal anything from the old people. If an old person feels like a deer is getting too nosy, they just hold up their hands and the deer backs off.
The deer aren’t as reverent towards the unsuspecting tourists who actually buy the deer cookies, though.
Having grown up in Virginia, where white-tailed deer are a common sight, I was under the same impression as most Americans that deer are pretty dumb, skittish, mangy animals who commonly lunge into the headlights of oncoming automobiles. Our day at Nara made me see deer in a completely different way. They are incredibly social, vocal, caring animals who are definitely capable of learning rules, much like dogs.
Even though cars are required to stop for deer in Nara, they all seemed to prefer to use pedestrian crosswalks, and if they needed to cross the busier, main roads, they actually waited for a crossing guard to safely wave them across. It was unbelievable!
Unlike the herds of females and fawns, and the lone bucks, you see in Virginia, the deer in Nara live in family units. This doe was cleaning her fawn when a young buck approached her; as soon as he got near her, the buck in this photo came racing up and chased him away, then began affectionately snuffling his fawn, and actually kissed the doe. It was kind of gross, two long deer tongues slapping around, but it was a genuinely affectionate gesture.
The mature bucks all have their antlers cut off, to protect the public, and to prevent the bucks from doing too much injury to each other, and they really love having their antler stubs scratched. We gave head scratches to every buck we walked past, and they’d press their heads into our hands, and move around to get the really itchy spots; one even flopped down onto his side, like he was ready to roll over for a tummy rub, too!
The deer are literally everywhere in Nara; it made our temple-trekking experience nicer, knowing that we’d be able to find furry friends to pat at each step along the way.
There was even a deer hanging out on this little island!
The entrance to the main temple.
One of two massive temple guardians.
We walked up into the hills of Nara, still finding four-legged friends at every turn.
We came across this tiny fawn, just outside the entrance to our favorite temple.
This place was so serene and beautiful, nestled right up into the woods.
The view from the temple.
Beautiful paintings on the outer walls.
An entrance to one of the houses surrounding the temple.
We seriously didn’t want to leave! I mean, just look at that face; how could you leave that face?!
Nara, you changed my life.