Five places to see deer in Japan 鹿に出会える５スポット
A magnificent deer in Nara Park
Deer in the morning light in Nara
Deer lounging in Nara Park.
A deer on Miyajima
Deer on Miyajima
A deer in the autumn landscape of Nara.
Meet the messengers of the gods
In the Shinto religion, some animals are considered divine messengers, and the deer is one of them! Take the time to go and visit some.
Deer in Japan are considered sacred animals, sometimes classified as national treasures... Here is a list of five places where you can admire them!
Let's began at Kashima shrine (鹿島神宮, kashima-jingu) in Ibaraki prefecture. Its founding date is unknown, but the shrine is considered very old because it is mentioned in historical documents dating from before the eighth century. According to Japanese mythology, the great kami (goddess) Amaterasu sent a messenger in the form of a deer to Takemikazuchi, the kami of the region, to relay a message.
Since then, the shrine has been called Kashima shrine (deer island shrine), and the deer considered sacred animals - 'messengers of the gods' - in Japan. Today twenty deer live in the temple complex. You can feed them with carrots sold there.
Access: 10 minute walk from JR Kashima-Jingu station. From JR Tokyo Station, take the Sobu Kaisoku line to Chiba, change to the Narita line and go to Sawara Station, then take the Kashima line to get to Kashima-Jingu station. It takes 2.5 hours from Tokyo.
In the Nara period (710- 794), at the founding of the Kasuga Taisha in 768, the kami Takemikazuchi was asked to visit the new temple coming from Kashima-jingu, which he did on back of a white deer. He then became one of four kami of Kasuga Taisha, and deer became full-fledged residents of Nara Park. They are considered national treasures to this day!
1,300 deer live in this park and are very friendly. Special crackers for the deer (made with rice bran and flour) are sold all over the park, so please do not give anything else to the deer to eat!
Every October a traditional event takes place: the of cutting of the large antlers of male deer during the mating season, in order to avoid potential problems with each other and visitors. It's an impressive ceremony that is fascinating to watch.
Access: From Kintetsu Nara Station it's a 5 minute walk, or from JR Nara Station it's a 20 minute walk.
This is the Shinto shrine associated with Minamoto no Yoritomo, that protects the Izu Peninsula. It is known for its sacred tree, a fragrant olive tree 1,200 years old! In 1919, deer from Kasuga Taisha were given as an offering to Mishima Taisha (三嶋大社) in Shizuoka prefecture. A dozen deer are now protected in an enclosure there.
Access: from Mishima Shinkansen station it's a 7 minute walk.
Kinkasan (金華山) is a small sacred island in Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan in the Pacific Ocean, 700m from the Oshika Peninsula. The Koganeyama Shrine here is one of the major Tohoku shrines, along with the three mountains of Dewa (Yamagata) and Mount Osore (Aomori).
Having suffered extensive damage after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, this temple, located inside a national park, is part of the Sanriku reconstruction project. Again the deer are messengers of the kami, and 450 deer currently roam freely in the area. Here too, the ceremony of cutting their antlers takes place in October.
Access: From Sendai Shinkansen station, take the Senseki Line to its terminus, Ishinomaki. Take the Miyako bus to the port of Ayukawa. 20 minutes by boat (around 2,500円, please check schedules).
On the island of Miyajima (宮島) in Hiroshima prefecture, again, around 500 deer roam freely. In this region there were wild deer long before Miyajima became a sacred (and inhabited) island 6,000 years ago. For a long time they lived in the mountains, but with the development of tourism, the deer ventured down to the coast where they are still found today. They have become extremely tame, and tourists have been forbidden to feed the deer since 2008, as it disrupted their dietary balance and they grew too used to humans and our food. A project to return the wild deer to the mountains is under consideration for the future.
Access: From JR Hiroshima Station, take the Sanyo Honsen line to Miyajimaguchi station, then take the ferry, a 10 minute ride.
Many deer in these places interact with humans every day, the people have grown used to them, and they to us. Unfortunately, some problems have arisen because of the influx of tourists in places like Nara and Miyajima.
The deer can suffer from nutritional problems (which can cause death) because they eat the food remains human leave, even in the bins, and can swallow plastic packaging. It is therefore very important not to leave anything lying around, much less on the ground.
From September to November, mating season, males are often aggressive. From May to July is when babies are born, and females are not always friendly. The deer are wild animals, so avoid approaching them during these periods and treat them with the utmost respect throughout the year. The Japanese have coexisted with animals for centuries. Follow their lead, and help show humans and animals can still live in harmony.