You know in Disney movies where the princess sings and a swarm of woodland creatures come flock lovingly around her? That’s how I felt at Nara, except the woodland creatures were exclusively deer, and I lured them with rice crackers instead of a beautiful singing voice. This town in Japan is home to a herd of deer who have learned that if they bow to humans, they will be rewarded with a special rice cracker. It’s crazy and crazy adorable and a must-visit if you’re in the Osaka area. Every deer looks like Bambi and his mom, with perfectly dappled coats, fuzz-covered antlers, and round black eyes.
How to get there
Take the JR Nara line from Kyoto or Osaka. It takes about an hour and is a straight shot to Nara station. The park is but a short walk away.
All about the deer
At one point or another, the deers observed humans bowing and realized that if they bowed they would be rewarded. They have since taught their children to bow, and the result is an adorable tourist hit. When they’re not eating rice crackers, they form nap piles and wander around the park.
You can buy the special rice crackers at a stand in the park for a few hundred yen. I took a little bite to see what the deer were so crazy about – it’s basically a bland, flavorless rice cracker. Nothing extraordinary but the deer love them. As soon as they get a whiff, they will be after you in droves, bowing frenetically. That’s where it gets a little less adorable – be aware that the deer will not refrain from giving you a good chomp if you do not serve up rice crackers quickly enough. I got two nips to my thighs and they definitely hurt.
At times, the deers can be overfed and they will refuse to take rice crackers. This only happens in tourist heavy times, such as Golden Week where the deers were plied with so many crackers they simply did not want any more.
Another thing to note is that the deer are voracious and will eat things they see lying around – this includes plastic trash! So please do not litter and be responsible for your garbage. My friend and I saw a deer gnawing on a plastic bag and we had the pleasure of dragging the slobbery bag from its mouth. Recently, a deer was found dead with 9 pounds of plastic in its stomach.
Other things to do in Nara
While the park is the main attraction, the surrounding town is filled with shops to buy deer trinkets. And while I’m not a huge fan of tourist trinkets, the deer cookies, socks, and stuffed animals are truly adorable. There are also hiking options and hot springs available as day trips outside of the town.
Nara was one of my favorite stops in my recent 2 week trip in Japan. It’s truly a unique experience, and the deer appear healthy and happy despite their frequent interactions with humans.