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Nara deer leave park; head to station for food as tourist numbers tumble

By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

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!”

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 12.24.03.png

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

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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

-- Nara, Japanese city famous for its streets of tame deer, begins culling program within city

-- Why deer are drawn to train tracks, and how Japan is solving the problem with this simple block

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Best article of the week. Thanks so much for bringing a smile to my face on a Sunday morning.

-4 ( +12 / -16 )

This isn't a happy situation, how are they fed? Are they at risk?

16 ( +16 / -0 )

As the park’s deer population is deliberately kept in ecological overshoot by the senbei feeding, which in turn was designed that way as it largely feeds the Nara tourism industry, it should the city’s responsibility to keep an adequate supply of supplementary food in lean tourism times.

32 ( +32 / -0 )

Agree with kiwi07

It's the city and the Senbei shop-owners' responsibility.

Time to give back a little to the deer, a portion of what businesses got from them all these years - by giving them free Senbei treats or other food, instead of waiting for tourists

23 ( +23 / -0 )

Is not the city feeding them anyway ? I think they are so used to see many humans near them that they go to places with more of them just for the atmosphere.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Have the locals and the local government feed them, after all they will benefit when things get back to normal hopefully soon.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Since the deer are obviously hungry and that's why they come into public areas eating whatever can be eaten, and even plastic (!), this is becoming a problem that is not going away until the tourists return, the city of Nara should organize regular feedings by local students who have no school anyway, where the deer food is is provided (by the city of Nara). It should not be that much of an extra expense.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

I hate to think what the situation is like on rabbit island.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's cruel that these 'wild' animals have been allowed to become so dependant on tourists.

12 ( +16 / -4 )

Yep, its a myth the deer rely mostly on crackers from tourists all of the time. Saw program a few weeks on this. Sure, during winter deer do get much of their calories from crackers, but as the grass comes back, they will be fine. And it's not so uncommon for deer to roam the city, especially during colder months. The photo of the deer in the station is a product of our social media age.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

It's cruel that these 'wild' animals have been allowed to become so dependant (sic) on tourists.

There is an easy answer, hunting licenses.

Deer overpopulation is bad for the deer, bad for the land, bad for tourism.

Tame deer is not a good thing. Deer are meant to be wild.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

If I saw a deer attack a little girl like that, I would definitely end up breaking the law regarding leaving the deer alone.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Yup, time for a cull. And I'm not saying that as a stranger to Nara, or as a venison lover (the latter doesn't count1)

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Nows the perfect time to go

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The city should be feeding them.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Oh deer, this could become a serious problem.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

We're considering taking advantage of this lull to visit some outdoor sights/sites. But, we plan on driving. No public transport for now.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Oh deer, this could become a serious problem.


1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wasn't the pack of shika sembe 150yens ?

They should perhaps try to attract some of the deer back to the mountain ; plant grass and leave the cutting to the deer ; discount significantly the sembe so that people will buy more (for example selling these at production price in the shop around the area and having a few seller continue working for a monthly salary paid by the municipality, transportation and tourism sector).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

These deer should not be in that park in the first place. They should be out in the wild.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

That's the environment they are used to. But, I'm willing to adopt one or two, as long as they don't demand that we watch rom-coms.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's cruel that these 'wild' animals have been allowed to become so dependant on tourists.

You're talking about the deer, right?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This might sound like a stupid question, but is it natural for deer to eat sembei?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Why does this reming me of the movie.. I am Legend.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

That’s my question as well. Are rice cookies good for deer?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I think they are enjoying their newfound freedom. They can roam freely right now.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It was inevitable

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ DNALeri

The deer were there first, the city sprang up around them. Also they are considered holy so there should not be a cull, as some people suggested.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

These deer are absolutely filthy. They crap all over the place in the park and walk and lay in it, eat an unnatural diet and live an unnatural lifestyle. They probably carry some kind of disease or virus. They should be culled.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Deer nuts are under a buck ;)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I put a question mark, but my point is the shikas can go to sheds where they are fed and given all sorts of care by the city (and the volunteer group mentionned in the video checks that).

These deer should not be in that park in the first place. They should be out in the wild.

These are not wild at all, have not been for 1000 years. (the town where I grew up is also regularly 'invaded' by deers. The difference is striking, no cuddles and sembei sharing like with Nara's, toward humans they are always fearful or aggressive...)

The shikas are as free to go 'in the wild' as your street's cats. As long as they will find idiot humans entertaining, they'll stay in town.

They should be restricted from wandering anywhere and stay within a park area.

Yes, ideally, they should stay "inside" the park, it's wide enough. They have protected some areas to prevent the deers from barging on the big road. But fencing that huge land is not possible... and people in Nara want to keep the park wide open to the city. Maybe some volunteers should get a training at doing the shepherds...

Are rice cookies good for deer?

Those sold for the purpose, yes. Deers eat grains like rice. The others, not great due to added salt, sugar... The biggest problem is they eat all sort of garbage tourists drop on the way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I guess nobody in Nara knows of the basic common sense reason why "don't feed the ducks" signs originated?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thats why u don't bite the hand that feeds you lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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