The Deer of Nara Park Are Wild Animals

This is how I initially tried to sell the city of Nara to Jared:

“It was the first permanent capital of Japan and one of the temples is home to the world’s largest seated indoor Buddha. Or something like that. Plus, it’s only 30 minutes away from Osaka.”

This is why I really wanted to go to Nara:

There are 1200 miniature deer that roam freely in the parks, and you can feed them by hand if you wish. Plus, that Buddha sounded kind of interesting, I guess.

When I travel, I am primarily motivated by animals and food. There’s other stuff, too, of course, but those two things never fail to light a fire under my feet.

“I’m going to laugh when you don’t see a single deer,” Jared said, as we walked up from the train station.

Within minutes, I was vindicated.

“Deer,” I shouted.

Deer converge on a woman in Nara, Japan
Seagulls of the land.

“Quick, take a picture of me and the deer.” I slowly sidled up to the deer, not wanting to alarm it. They are wild animals, you know.

Approaching the deer of Nara
Here, kitty, kitty.

As it was, the deer hardly noticed me.

Scratching deer of Nara
Don’t worry about putting on a fake smile and posing for the camera, deer. I’ve got that covered.

But it was a good thing I took precautions, because we soon came across a warning sign that outlined precisely how dangerous these Bambis could be. Take note: when being kicked by a deer, assume the fetal position.

Evidently, they have a proclivity for little girls and old women.

After the initial antler-fueled excitement, we set off to see what else Nara had to offer. Almost immediately, we found a botanical garden, free for foreigners ONLY.

It was lovely (at least if you were a privileged foreigner), covered in moss and sprinkled with peaceful trees.

But then, when crossing a moss-covered stone – disaster struck.

Busted thong in Nara, Japan
It only takes a split second for your world to come crashing down.

I flashed back to the moment when, while packing, I decided to leave my Havianas at home and travel with only one pair of shoes.

Massive, massive fail.

For a while, I shuffled around on one sandal, walking on the painted lines to avoid melting my flesh on the tarmac of the roads.

I was momentarily distracted by things like this:

Weird badger thing in Japan
What is that? And why were there so many of them in Japan? Please, enlighten me.

But eventually Jared got tired of me limping and shuffling, yet denying his offers of help, so he insisted that I take his thongs.

Barefoot Jared in Nara, Japan
My barefoot hero.

Our journey continued. Along the way, we discovered that Giant Buddha was undergoing a facelift, and was not available to the public. This was actually a relief, as I felt more of an obligation than a desire to pay the entry fee to his temple. Instead, we approached the gate and I took a photo through the slats.

Horned temple of Nara, Japan
I call it “The Great Horned Temple,” but I’m sure its official name is slightly different.

Anyway, I didn’t feel like we missed anything because after I took the photo I turned and saw THIS, the guardian of the gate:

Warrior statue in Nara, Japan
That’s a statue, not a painting. I cower in fear. The deer was considerably less intimidated.

I feel like we’re one of the few people who actually noticed it was there, because most everyone else was preoccupied by the deer.

Like this guy, for example, who actually tapped the deer on the hindquarters. I don’t know what kind of result he was expecting, but what he got was a lesson in how fast deer can run (fast).

Tourist chasing deer for a photo - Japan
I feel that a justified knock down was not far off.

There were plenty of other things to take pictures of besides deer, so I did that, too.

Wooden gate Nara, Japan
That’s not a welcome gate. THIS is a welcome gate.


Pagoda in Nara, Japan
Who doesn’t like a good pagoda? No one, that’s who.


Roller coaster in Nara, Japan
An unexpected roller coaster? Nara just got even better.

Just when I was really getting going with my photographs of Japanese Cultural Artifacts (and roller coasters), I saw it.

If you took a toothless old man, punched him in the eye, and turned him into a deer, this is what you’d have:

Busted-up deer in Nara, Japan
Now that is one busted deer.

Right across from that mafia boss of the deer world were what I assume to be his posse, crowding around a deer food stand and pretty much demanding that we buy them some biscuits.

Deer waiting for food in Nara, Japan
This does not make me want to buy deer food. It makes me want to get the heck away from there.

Which we didn’t. It was high time for me to resolve the issue of the thongs, and to eat lunch.

If you’re going to blow out your flip flop, try not to do it anywhere in Asia, especially if you’re a female of above-average foot size.

In Korea, women’s shoe sizes stop at 250mm, which is the equivalent of a US size 8. As a woman with a size-10 foot (it’s proportional to my height! I swear!), I don’t buy shoes in Korea. Japan isn’t hugely different, but luckily, there was a Daiso (think: Dollar Store) where I found a pair of unisex shower flip-flops.

Two days later, I had run them to the ground and had to hunt for another pair. In Kyoto, I found some excellent ones with alpacas on them.

Alpaca flip flops
Sunshine, rainbows, and alpacas – the perfect shoe.

But I digress.

The point is, we were both shod, fed, and had just about reached our fill of deer for the day, so Jared and I returned to the train station for our trip back to Osaka.

That’s where we discovered that we may have satisfied our deer quota, but our contact with giant plastic antlered baby-men had been seriously deficient.

Jared and friend in Nara train station
Friends forever.

And that reminded me of one of my favorite Jack Handy quotes from college, which I will leave you with today.

“Most people don’t realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted brown and attached to the skull by common wood screws, can make a child look like a deer.”

Well what do you know? It’s true.


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  1. I’m slightly terrified by that busted deer and his posse hovering around that food stand. I don’t even see a human running the stand – clearly mob owned.

    Also, that temple guardian is terrifying and I’m pretty surprised the deer just didn’t kick the guy who was prowling behind him! That’s what I’d have done if I were a deer. I’d probably be in with the mafia posse, too.

    p.s. I think the most terrifying thing of the entire post is actually that child-deer hybrid in the last photo. It creeps me out.

    1. There was a tiny old lady running the stand, if I remember correctly. Too small to be seen over the top, but either way, we know who was really in charge.

      And the child-deer thing has a purpose! See Madeline’s comment for a link to an article about Sento-kun, a mascot who was developed in 2010 to some controversy, but who proved to be so winsome that they kept him on permanently. I guess it’s not that strange, especially considering the mascots for the London Olympics. They really grew on me, too.

    1. What?! A BUDDHA-deer? So weird, but makes sense in a strange kind of way. That article cleared up SO MUCH for me and now I can accept his existence.

  2. Oh no! You and Jared seem to be having a tough time with those flip flop deaths. I see yours went the same way his did. My thoughts are with you.

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