Oh, deer! Treasured animals wander Nara streets

NARA, JAPAN (AP) — Tours are cancelled. Restaurants are empty. And centuries-old temples are quieter than usual in the ancient capital city of Japan, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

All of Nara is suffering with its UNESCO World Heritage Site listed temples shuttered as Japan fights the virus.

All except the deer. The daily life of the town’s treasured animal remains virtually unchanged.

While most deer stay within the boundaries of their grassy park, some wander off to gift shops and restaurants across the street from the park. The deer have the right of way, and drivers honour it.

Fewer tourists only means a bit more competition for the sugar-free treats or “deer crackers”, which are mostly made of wheat flour.

A stack of crackers runs out fast when a dozen deer swarm around a generous feeder, nodding their heads as if they are giving a Japanese-style bow. When done feeding, simply hold up your empty hands toward the deer. They will magically disperse.

A tourist photographs a deer at Kofukuji temple in Nara, Japan. PHOTO: AP