Before we traveled to Japan I read plenty of blog posts about happy visits to snow monkey pools, rabbit islands and bowing deer parks. They all involved up close encounters with wild animals in a gorgeous setting. Naturally, I was excited to have my own brush with these critters. We had our first chance at the Nara Deer Park when we took a day trip from Kyoto. The over 1200 deer are considered national treasures and are semi-domesticated. You can also see the Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Shrine, both UNESCO World Heritage monuments. The visit turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, but for goodness sake, don’t do these 3 things:
Don’t Get Lost
This turns out to be my most common mistake on nearly every outing we take. GPS, Google maps, paper maps and helpful strangers don’t seem to be enough to keep us from losing our way. In this case the train was packed with Japanese school children on a day outing. We hopped off the train from Kyoto at Nara assuming the park would be close by. The children stayed on the train. As it turns out we needed to get off at Kintetsu Nara Station. Follow the school children!
Don’t Immediately Feed the Deer
After a bit of wandering we got back on the train and made it to the correct stop.We’d learned our lesson and followed the children from the station to the park where you can’t miss the deer. They’re everywhere, in the street, on the sidewalk and all over the park. They are cute and smaller than we’re used to seeing with sweet fuzzy horns. I couldn’t wait to give them treats (deer biscuit) and watch them gently nibbling from my hand. I purchased three packs of cookies pronto. One pack for each of us, although my children had drifted off, holding back just observing the deer. Sillies! We were there to have the full experience, feeding deer included. I began to unwrap the biscuits and look for a hungry deer when all hell broke loose. Within seconds, I was surrounded by 8 to 10 hungry, very assertive deer. There was a lot of gobbling and snuffling. Before I knew it one large guy had flanked me and then it got ugly. He bit me on the back! By this time my children were laughing hysterically and I had thrown all three packs of biscuits in the air. School children were snickering and pointing and the back of my shirt was soaked in deer spit. Anyway, just hold off on the feeding until you’ve got the lay of the land and are near only one or two deer.
Watch Your Step
Don’t step in deer poop. It’s everywhere. This seems like obvious advice, but I can’t stress enough how much poop there is on the grass, street and sidewalks.
If you heed these three bits of advice, you should have a marvelous time in Nara. The deer are amazing and unlike any we see in America. You can pat their downy horns and take photos with your arm around them. They aren’t out to get you. They just really like their snacks!