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Visitors to Nara Park in Japan are encouraged to feed the animals

Nearly 1,000 free-roaming deer wander Nara Park in Nara, Japan.

CHRISTINA YATES/STARS AND STRIPES

By ERICA EARL | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 10, 2020

If you have ever fantasized about having a woodland princess moment straight out of a fairy tale, a visit to Nara Park in the south-central portion of Japan’s main island may be in order.

The park is home to more than 1,000 free-roaming deer, considered to be messengers of the gods in Japanese culture. Locals have considered Nara Park sacred since its establishment in 1880.

In a gorgeous setting of shrines and temples, guests can purchase rice crackers at the park to hand-feed the deer. It’s a sweet moment that makes for great photos and videos.

Be warned, the deer get quite ravenous. When I went, the deer started following me in hordes as soon as I bought the crackers. While that was adorable, it was also a little intense to have more than a dozen deer licking me, crawling around my feet and chomping at me in competition with one another to get fed. A smallish deer even took a bite at my backside.

One of the deer snack stalls had a pamphlet suggesting that a dip in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the deer being exceptionally eager to nibble.

Prices vary from stall to stall, but on average a small packet costs $1 and a larger packet costs about $3. Both go very fast as the deer do not patiently wait for you to break and scatter the treats and will nab the entire stack right out of your hand if you aren’t careful.

In addition to hand-feeding the deer like Snow White, at your own risk, there is more to Nara Park that makes it a worthy destination, such as the Todai-ji Temple.

Until 1998, the massive structure was the world’s largest wooden building. It features a beautiful bronze Buddha statue, but the most memorable feature is Buddha’s Nostril.

The “nostril” isn’t actually in the statue’s nose, but a hole in one of the temple’s large wooden pillars. It is said that guests who crawl through the pillar will be granted enlightenment and atonement in their next life.

Nara Park is a public park, and admission is free, although there is no free parking on the property so guests will need to find a paid lot. Entrance to the temple is about $5.

earl.erica@stripes.com
Twitter: @ThisEarlGirl


DIRECTIONS: About six hours by car or three hours by bullet train from central Tokyo. Google Plus code: MRPV+26 Nara

TIMES: The public park is open 24/7, although daylight hours are the best time to see the deer. Todai-ji is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

COSTS: Admission to the park is free. Rice crackers for the deer cost $1-$3, depending on size. Entrance to Todai-ji is about $5. Entrance to the Nara National Museum is about $7 for adults and free for high school students and below.

FOOD: The park offers snacks inside some of its gift shops, and immediately outside the park is a row of cafes.


 

Deer get up close and personal at Nara Park in Nara, Japan.
ERICA EARL/ STARS AND STRIPES