Japan Today
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Nara asks visitors to stop feeding the deer

By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

One of the most popular tourist sites in all of Japan is Nara Park in Nara Prefecture, where people can walk among free-roaming deer that cross at pedestrian crossings and bow to tourists in return for senbei rice crackers.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, tourist numbers have plummeted, and with international travel restrictions leaving the park emptier than it’s ever been, the deer have been hungry for rice crackers usually fed to them by visitors.

▼ Sold by vendors on the park grounds, Shika Senbei (“Deer Rice Crackers”) are a popular way for tourists to interact with the animals.



With a large number of deer seen wandering far from the park in search of food and others looking gaunt, concerned locals have recently been spotted giving the animals scraps of food. However, the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, who helps to care for the animals, says the deer are perfectly fine without handouts from strangers, and have installed signs around the park asking visitors not to feed the deer any food other than rice crackers.

According to the foundation, a number of visitors have been giving the deer sweets and vegetable scraps to supplement the animals’ diets following the drop in tourists. This can do them more harm than good, though, and the foundation is looking to put an end to the practice by implementing a “Feeding Prohibition Campaign” from Feb 1-28, patrolling the grounds at night to ensure there is no improper feeding and setting up signs at 16 places in and around the park to prohibit people from feeding the deer anything other than rice crackers.

▼ The news quickly spread online, with photos showing the signs being put in place.

Screen Shot 2021-02-04 at 10.11.12.png

The foundation also shared the signs on their official Twitter account, showing what types of food are prohibited: vegetables, bread, bentos, and snacks like potato chips.

Screen Shot 2021-02-04 at 9.24.10.png

They also shared information about the deer to put everyone’s minds at ease, saying the animals have been living wild at Nara for over 1,300 years. The deer can safely survive on grass, leaves and acorns found inside the park, and food like bread and snacks are not part of their natural diet.

According to the foundation, deer crackers have been used by tourists in the park since the Edo Period (1603-1868), and are fine for the animals as a supplement to their natural diet.


Hiroyasu Takeda, director of the Nara Park Administration Office, reinforced the importance of keeping the animals on their usual diet, saying: “Deer are wild animals and will not starve even if the number of tourists decreases. We’d like people to stop giving the deer food that isn’t deer senbei.”

Given that a number of deer have been showing signs of dependence on rice crackers, with some eating up to 200 a day, the absence of tourists actually presents a good opportunity for the animals to return to a more healthy natural diet. There are already promising signs that their health is improving, as a recent study showed deer droppings have become firmer and darker compared to before the pandemic, which indicates they’re eating more grass than usual.

So next time you’re in Nara and wanting to give the deer a bit of your lunch in return for a bow, don’t forget that the deer have been surviving without handouts from humans for centuries.

Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun via Goo News via Otakomu

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Shikayose: The Calling of the Deer in Nara with acorns and a French horn

-- Nara deer leave park, head to station for food as tourist numbers tumble due to coronavirus

-- Nara deer dies with four kilos of plastic in its stomach, tourists cautioned to feed animals properly

© Japan Today

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Obviously it is to keep the osenbei crackers sellers happy rich, or maybe its organisation ?

Does someone know where the money goes ?

Can anyone sell crackers ?

10 ( +12 / -2 )

No foreign tourists to blame it on this time....

7 ( +10 / -3 )

4 people to hammer down a sign???

10 ( +12 / -2 )

@Jonathan Prin

some part of the money goes to the making of the cracker, another part goes to the foundation that care and monitor the deer. as it says on the wrap of the crackers

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Nice , they don’t have any other problems there. Have all school kids in that prefecture three healthy meals a day, one of them warm and cooked? Yes? Only asked....

2 ( +2 / -0 )

4 people to hammer down a sign???

Your hard-earned tax money at work**

Here's to more deer-related education campaigns~

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Somehow I don't think sembei crackers are a natural food source for any animal.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Those deer can eaten entire Todaiji try-fold glossy brochure in one mouthful.

Or so I've heard.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

They are bold little SOBs. No qualms about getting into a purse or backpack to forage for food, paper, valuables, etc. Naturally deer have a fairly large range they'll travel. In Ireland the deer will gladly swim across lakes and rivers to forage on islands. (Same breed of deer by the way. They were a gift from Japan and Japanese Sika are the most common deer in Ireland.) They aren't really a problem in the West because they steer clear of humans.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What visitors?

(Sorry couldn't resist)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Release the predators! Deer should act like deer.

Here's to more deer-related education campaigns~

Sending deer to school seems like a waste of money.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

ZackFeb. 4  05:21 pm JST

4 people to hammer down a sign???

I think you meant to say ONLY 4 people: This is Japan, you know.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Let's hope the deer can be retrained to act naturally, shredding the bark around small trees, destroying plants, eating rose bushes, eating everyone's gardens, and running in front of cars. Eat better, naturally.

Deer should be afraid of predators. Humans are predators. We are the problem and have done a disservice to the deer by not acting like predators.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Interesting that in the caption right under the sign erection photo the Yomiuri report seems to have used a Chinese Kanji and not a Japanese one for the 'go' in Gokai 誤解.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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