This event has been held annually In Nara for almost 330 years, dating back to 1671. Originally started to protect the townspeople from injury, it also protects the deer themselves from hurting each other.
In Shinto religion, Deer are considered messengers to the gods, it’s a common sight in Nara to see them roaming around shrines, they also feature on lanterns and other statues in the area.
Tickets for the event cost 1000 yen, groups were let into the arena in roughly 45 minute intervals. The weather was really warm, no shade though 🙁
At about 1.30pm, we made our way into the arena area and got a good spot at the front of the railings.
Not long after, the ceremony began with 4 bucks(male deer) being released into the arena to run around. They stayed in a group and their movements almost looked choreographed as they weaved between the posts(there was the occasional antler scuffle too).
I was glad they didn’t seem too fazed by the huge group of people, and after a while they were looking around – presumably for deer cookies!
After a few minutes alone, the handlers and priest arrived in the arena. Using bamboo frames attached to rope, the handlers attempted to snare the bucks antlers to catch them, this resulted in a few amusing failures with one handler losing his rope and chasing after the deer, and another fell flat on his face doing the same thing.
Eventually, one was snared and subdued. The handlers rested it on a tatami mat with a pillow for comfort, the priest then blessed the deer and fed it water before using a saw to quickly remove the antlers. Once both antlers were removed, the priest presents them to the gods and watching crowd, then the deer is released, jumping up and trotting off. Video below:
As we were leaving, we noticed the sanctuary behind the stalls where a number of injured or sick deer were being looked after. The bucks who’d just participated in the ceremony were in a separate area, seemingly none the worse for what they’d just been through.
This was a really interesting ceremony to see, and I’m glad I went. I appreciate it may look cruel and it’s a shame for the bucks to lose their most recognisable symbol, but the freedom deer enjoy in Nara is quite unprecedented, where they literally live alongside humans daily. It’d be much more of a shame to have to fence them off or remove them from the city entirely.