Easily accessible as a day-trip from the big tourist hubs of Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan.
What makes the city so popular is the fact that it’s home to the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha, known in Japanese as Daibutsu, housed in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Todaiji Temple…and it’s also home to thousands of free-roaming deer.
The deer can be found all across Nara Park, and while they’re occasionally spotted on streets in the nearby vicinity, they prefer to stay inside the park, where they can graze on grass and feast on specially sold rice crackers fed to them by hordes of tourists.
On a good day, when tourist numbers are high, the deer have been known to sit around in the park with satisfyingly full bellies. However, tourist numbers have dropped to dramatic lows due to the coronavirus, and the deer are now leaving the park in search of food.
Reports of deer sightings in places where they’re not usually seen have been making television news recently, and it’s not just one or two deer that are being spotted at a time, as they’re leaving the park in herds.
Reporters spoke to local residents who said despite having lived in the area for decades they’d never seen deer devouring shrubs and flowers on sidewalks in the city centre like this before.
Nara Station is located a 20-minute walk from the park, but the deer are now being spotted on the station grounds, to the surprise of locals.
The tweet below reads:
“On the morning of 2 March, for the first time in my 30 years of living here, there are deer at Nara Station, two kilometers away from Nara Park. There are no tourists to feed them rice crackers so they’ve ventured far away for breakfast. Please come to Nara and feed rice crackers to the deer!”
The deer aren’t just sticking to the sidewalks around the station, as they’ve been spotted walking in the middle of the road into oncoming traffic in herds of over a dozen.
This news report shows deer galloping down streets without any concern for the cars on the road, and the reporter who visits Nara Park says there are hardly any tourists around. She stands at a spot that’s usually bustling with rice cracker vendors, but now there’s not even one, as tourist numbers have dropped by 80 percent.
As a number of annual winter festivals take place in Nara from March 1-14, including the calling of the deer and the Shunie festival, it’s usually a busy time for tourism, which means the deer would normally be fully fed on rice crackers at this time of year.
While locals are concerned about the number of deer they’re seeing in unusual places, the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation is attempting to alleviate concerns by saying it’s not the first time that deer have roamed out as far as the station. However, the foundation says they have no data to confirm that there’s been an increase in deer in the town area this year, and whether it has anything to do with the drop in tourist numbers due to the coronavirus.
For locals who’ve lived in the area for decades, though, there’s no doubt in their minds that what they’re seeing is due to the sudden lack of tourists. With deer always on the lookout for food, even eating posters and plastic, and chasing people down for crackers to satiate their appetite, here’s hoping they’ll get off the busy streets and return to the safety of the park soon.
And hopefully the tourists will return during Golden Week in May, when the rice crackers are so bountiful the deer wear them as hats.
Source: Livedoor News/Tele Asa News
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