When visiting Kyoto, a day trip to Nara is highly recommended. It’s just around an hour from Kyoto Station and will cost you about 750 yen one way.
Aside from the temples, beautiful parks, and cultural attractions in Nara, this place is also hugely associated with the free-roaming deer in the area. Yes, the deer are not kept in cages nor are they fenced in. They are allowed to roam free in the huge Nara Park and visitors can interact with them anytime.
The Decision to Visit the Darling Deer of Nara
Crazy little buggers! I’m kidding! For the most part 😀
Even before my friend and I finalized our Kyoto itinerary, we have already decided to check out the adorable, free-roaming deer of Nara Prefecture. (Here’s our Day 01, Day 02, Day 03, and Day 04 adventures by the way).
Them deer are so popular that pictures of them and tourists gushing over them are all over the internet. They are such a huge crowd draw that Nara’s local government made them the city’s symbol and there is even a cute deer mascot sold at every souvenir shop. Seriously, these deer are like celebrities.
So, of course, we wanted to see for ourselves these famous free-roaming deer in Nara Park. Little did I know that feeding them crackers will lead to me getting mobbed by perhaps 6 or 7 deer. I learned important skills that day – how to run away from deer and how to prevent your clothes from getting eaten by deer. 😀
A Little Sidetrip to Kyoani (Kyoto Animation) Shop
On our fifth day in Kyoto, we decided to head to Nara in the afternoon to see the deer. In the morning, we visited the Kyoto Animation shop. This wasn’t part of the itinerary, but more of a random, in-the-moment decision.
My friend and I came up with a complete itinerary for this Kyoto trip but we weren’t anal enough to stick to that haha. We allowed ourselves some flexibility and various moments of unplanned adventures, and that made this trip even more memorable.
Anyway, during our previous train rides from Kyoto station, we spotted the Kyoto Animation sign several times. This is important to us because Kyoto Animation, or KyoAni as it is fondly called by fans, is an animation studio and light novel publisher. They are responsible for popular titles, such as Free!, Clannad, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Full Metal Panic, and more.
None of their titles actually stood out to me at that time. My travel buddy, however, was a huge fan of Free! and she was adamant we check out that shop. I was happy to comply because half of this trip was all about anime anyway.
Besides, we visited the Toei Kyoto Studio Park towards the end of our trip because that animation studio is responsible for One Piece, which I am a huge fan of. I wasn’t leaving Kyoto if we weren’t able to visit that lol.
So, in the spirit of give and take, we headed to KyoAni.
We Invaded the Actual Animation Studio and Not the Shop
Funny story. We got off at Kohata Station, a very small station but the nearest one to KyoAni. We walked our way towards this building with a huge sign at the front saying “Kyoto Animation”.
Take note we were here for the shop and so we were expecting lots of merchandise. We opened that door, got inside, and promptly became very confused. There were several ladies inside, all facing a drawing board. Some of them were busy with their computers.
Omg, we got inside the actual animation studio where the animators animate the animes we watch! (now say that quickly three times 😀 )
We definitely disturbed the animators haha. And they were surprised to see us for sure. Due to the language barrier, we couldn’t quickly explain what we were doing there and had this confused and embarrassed look on our faces the whole time!
Fortunately, one lady took pity on us and talked to us. We somehow made her understand that we were looking for the KyoAni shop. She pointed us in the right direction and we got out of there.
Honestly, I wanted to linger more and watch the animators do their work. I’m sure it’ll be fascinating. But we didn’t want to bother them anymore, so we walked towards the right building. There we found the merchandise we wanted and my friend was super happy to be surrounded by all that Free! stuff haha.
We even passed by a small children’s park on the way back. It was sooo Japanese that we couldn’t help but play there a little bit. We are such kids, I know.
Finding Ourselves in Nara
Finally, after that KyoAni snafu, we got on the train to Nara. It started drizzling when we arrived there but we were not deterred from finding all the deer. To fortify ourselves, we ate a late lunch and then started walking towards Nara Park. If ever you want to visit the Nara deer too, be prepared for a long walk and wear comfortable footwear.
Nara Park is a huge place. There are also temples within the premises but we skipped that due to the long lines of tourists we saw at their entrances. My friend and I just decided to go play with the deer. Uh-huh, innocence is bliss in action right here.
We were aware that you can feed the deer with “shika senbei” or “deer crackers/biscuits”. We bought some. They were not cheap but hey this was an experience we probably won’t be able to do again so we spent money on those crackers. I definitely got more than I bargained for.
The deer were very cute, of course. It was amazing that I was able to interact with them with no barriers. For the most part, they are very friendly and the bucks (male deer) had their antlers cut off for everyone’s safety. The deer look well fed and well cared for as well. There were plenty of does (female deer) and their fawns (baby deer) walking around carefree.
Feeding Time aka Getting Mobbed Time
So I had this vision that I would tantalize the deer with the biscuits and they would follow me around the park, which was beautiful during Autumn. I’d feel like an animal-loving princess and some upbeat song will be playing in my head like I was in some musical. I even joked about this to my friend, saying maybe I could have a hundred deer follow me. This was obviously a bad, bad idea.
Upon smelling those crackers, the deer become more energetic. I could somehow feel that anime glint shine in their eyes hinting utmost interest. Soon enough, around six deer were following me. A couple of them started grabbing my coat with their teeth. Yet another started head butting my back. Good thing they didn’t have antlers or that would’ve seriously hurt!
Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t become super aggressive. I didn’t fall, get hurt, or anything. But still. Initially, they were skittish. They kind of move away when you try to touch them. Most of them just sit there, ignoring the humans walking around. All of these were obviously a trap by these genius deer.
Open a pack of crackers and they’ll hone in on you like a heat-seeking rocket! My gosh, those crackers disappeared from my fingers so quickly! Did I mention they weren’t cheap? And when they’re gone, those deer that weren’t able to eat the treat will look at you as if you’ve wounded their feelings so much that you’re forced to buy them more crackers. I tell you, these deer are sneaky creatures. Adorable but so sneaky. And definitely contributing to the local economy 😀
Obviously, I had so much fun! My friend was laughing her head off as I was mobbed by the deer. It didn’t help that other visitors were looking at me and probably judging me haha. I got rid of those crackers before more than 10 deer could corner me. So much for the vision of 100 haha! But, overall, it was a super memorable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I find it amazing that these deer in Nara, Japan can be this confident in approaching humans. In other places of the world, they’d be hunted down or become roadkill. There, in Nara Park, they have a safe place to roam around.
The local government cares for them. They get spoiled by visitors with shika senbei and they provide people lots of joy. I saw adults and kids alike enjoying their interactions with the deer and I truly appreciated the fact that I, too, was able to be around these lovely creatures.