Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nara's Sacred, Sassy, and Spoiled Deer

Nara is famous for its sacred shika (deer) -- and this fact is apparent as soon as you step foot off the train. Shika adorn everything in the city, from posters to buses to Fujifilm advertisements. There's even a new mascot for Nara, marking the ancient city's 1300-year anniversary: Sento-kun, a Buddha-type figure with antlers on his head. The shika are everywhere and are so abundant that deer crossing signs -- the ones we're quite used to seeing in Michigan -- are posted right in the city.

The shika found in Nara are sika deer, a relative of the elk. They're considerably smaller, though, and are even a bit smaller than white-tailed deer. The shika we saw were in various stages of shedding their winter coats, and most of the bucks had bulbous, velvet-covered antlers.

Sleepy Shika

Scattered throughout Todai-ji and the park area were vendors selling shika senbai, or deer crackers. The shika will bow their heads when presented with food... then gobble it up!

Steph Feeds the Shika

Ever since we heard about this study abroad course, I was hoping that seeing the deer at Nara would be part of the itinerary. Yesterday was quite amazing, and having the chance to feed, pet, and be harassed by the sacred shika was definitely one of the highlights of the day. Enough commentary from me, though, and here are just a few parting shots of these lovely animals:

Shika Knows Where to Be

Shika Grooming

Shika Amongst Japanese Students

Shika Glance


  1. That fits in so well with your lifelong deer fascination!

  2. The sad thing is you won't be able to meet the nice deer down on Miyajima.