Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: The Tame Deer of Nara, Japan

In December 2003, I traveled across Japan and stopped in the city of Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 (in 2010, Nara celebrated the 1,300th anniversary of its ascension as Japan's imperial capital). Nara is one of the prettiest and most interesting cities in Japan, home to many historic monuments and parks, two of which are UNESCO Heritage Sites: the Kasuga Shrine and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. It is also home to numerous significant temples, including: Todai-ji, the world's largest wooden building; Kōfuku-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple built in the Chinese pagoda style; and Yakushi-ji, which houses one of the finest collection of Buddhist art objects in the world.

The city is also filled with 1,200 tame Sika deer, who roam the streets and parks (and often the shops and temples) at will and are protected by national law. Visitors and locals buy shika-senbei (deer cookies) from local vendors to feed to the deer, who have no fear of humans and can be hand-fed. The deer were originally considered sacred, and killing a deer was punishable by death until 1637. Today they are still protected but officially designated as National Treasures.  

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