Nara Park

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Pond in Nara Park

Nara Park (奈良公園, Nara Kōen) is a public park located in the city of Nara, Japan, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Established in 1880, it is one of the oldest parks in Japan. Administratively, the park is under the control of Nara Prefecture. The park is one of the "Places of Scenic Beauty" designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Over 1,200 wild sika deer (シカ or 鹿 shika) freely roaming around in the park are also under designation of MEXT, classified as natural treasure. While the official size of the park is about 502 hectares (1,240 acres), the area including the grounds of Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, and Kasuga Shrine, which are either on the edge or surrounded by Nara Park, is as large as 660 hectares (1,600 acres).

While Nara Park is usually associated with the broad areas of the temples and the park proper, previously private gardens are now open to public. These gardens make use of the temple buildings as adjunct features of their landscapes.

The park is home to the Nara National Museum and Todai-ji, where the largest wooden building in the world houses a 15-metre (50 ft) tall statue of Buddha.[1]


Sika deer in Nara Park

According to local folklore, sika deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from Takemikazuchi, one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine.[2] He was said to have been invited from Kashima Shrine in present-day Ibaraki Prefecture,[3] and appeared on Mount Mikasa (also known as Mount Wakakusa) riding a white deer. From that point, the deer were considered divine and sacred by both Kasuga Shrine and Kōfuku-ji.[3] Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of a breach of that law.[3]

Crackers sold for deer feeding

After World War II, the deer were officially stripped of their sacred/divine status,[3] and were instead designated as natural monument (天然記念物 Tennen kinenbutsu) and are protected as such. Today, visitors can purchase "deer-crackers" (鹿煎餅 Shika-senbei) to feed the deer in the park. These crackers are exclusively sold by the WNOW company.[2]

The number of deer grew in the postwar period to around 1,200 in 2008, leading to concerns about environmental and crop damage and discussion of culling.[4] In 2016, a record number of 121 people were injured by deer.[5] In 2016 it was announced that the area around Nara would be designated into four different zones, with the outer zones allowing deer to be captured and killed.[6] In August 2017, traps were set to catch deer on the outskirts of Nara.[7][8] The culling started in 2017, with a limit of 120 deer to be culled during 2017.[9] In July 2017 there were around 1,500 deer living in the park, and at least 164 people had been injured by them from 2017 to 2018. Most of them were tourists feeding the deer.[10]

In April 2018 Nara city set up new signs in English, Chinese and Japanese informing tourists that the deer are wild animals and to not tease them during feeding.[11][12]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Japanese government implemented travel restrictions. The amount of tourists feeding the Nara deer decreased significantly. The deer lost a vital source of food and began to forage outside of the park. There were concerns that the deer could get hit by vehicles or die from eating harmful plastic and other litter.[13]

In 2010 and 2021, deer were killed illegally and suspects were arrested.[14][15]

In popular culture[edit]

Alt-J's 2014 album, This Is All Yours has the track "Nara" which mentions Nara Park in its lyrics.[16]


Nara Park and Mount Wakakusa from Nara prefectural government office.


  1. ^ Frommer's Japan 8th Edition (2006)
  2. ^ a b Fodor's Japan 18th Edition (2007)
  3. ^ a b c d Noburu Ogata. "Soramitsu, history and geography of Nara, Japan".
  4. ^ Bird, Winfred (October 29, 2008). "Nara's cute, destructive deer". Japan Times. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  5. ^ "More foreign tourists injured by deer at Nara Park". Mainichi Shimbun. May 6, 2017. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  6. ^ Otake, Tomoko (March 3, 2016). "Nara to allow some deer to be culled under new management policy". Japan Times. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  7. ^ Sugawara, Yuta (July 31, 2017). "Nara's sacred deer reined in as species is blamed for crop damage". Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Fifield, Anna (August 1, 2017). "Japan's famous Nara deer are being culled". Washington Post. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  9. ^ Baseel, Casey (August 8, 2017). "Nara begins deer culling program". Japan Today. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  10. ^ Aoki, Mizuho (February 8, 2018). "Nara announces record number of deer bites as tourists flood in". Japan Times. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  11. ^ "Oh deer! Nara urges use of 'deer sign language' by tourists after more get bitten by hungry animals". Japan Times. April 3, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  12. ^ "New signs installed in Nara on how to feed deer". Japan Times. April 9, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  13. ^ Roth, Annie (2020-03-16). "Brawling Monkeys. Wandering Deer. Blame Coronavirus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  14. ^ "Nara Park deer shot in belly with crossbow". Japan Times. March 15, 2010. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  15. ^ "Deer killed by man with axe in Nara". SoraNews24 -Japan News-. 2021-03-03. Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  16. ^ Bell, Corey. "Alt-J Album Preview – This Is All Yours". Best New Bands. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°41′06″N 135°51′00″E / 34.685°N 135.85°E / 34.685; 135.85