By Stacey Leasca
November 29, 2020
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Credit: The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation

Update Dec. 1, 2020: Due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation has canceled the daily livestream of the deer gathering. However, the foundation will be uploading a new video of the deer gathering on their Youtube channel.

The following story is almost too delightful to be true. 

Just 45 minutes south of Kyoto sits the city of Nara, Japan. While it may be home to some 350,000 people, it’s also home to more than 1,000 tame deer that are now classified as a national treasure

According to CNN, humans and deer have long enjoyed a peaceful existence together in Nara. It noted, the relationship dates back to at least 1177, when Kujo Kanezane, a nobleman, visited Nara with his family. When the group came across a herd, a young boy got out of his carriage and bowed to the animals, who exchanged a bow back.

Some, however, take the relationship even further through history. As Culture Trip explained, legend has it that Takemikazuchi, the god of thunder, traveled from Ibaraki prefecture to Nara in the 700s, where he appeared on the top of a mountain riding a white deer. Takemikazuchi thus became one of the deities enshrined at Nara’s Kasuga shrine, found in Nara Park. His presence is said to be felt even today through the deer, who were deemed messengers of the gods. Up until the 1600s, it was punishable by death to harm one of the deer. Now, the punishment is no longer death, but hurting or killing the deer still comes with a potentially hefty prison sentence

Even with the harsh punishments, the deer had and still have little to worry about. Over the years, the deer have been well taken care of by the people of Nara, and have even become quite the tourist attraction. And, for more than a century, the city has put on a yearly fairytale-like tradition that’s simply for the deer to enjoy and the humans to observe. 

Known as the “Deer Gathering” (called Shikayose in Japanese), a french horn player stands in the center of Nara Park and plays the animal’s favorite tune — Beethoven’s 6th Symphony Pastoral. 

The animals come from every corner, beckoned by the song, knowing that once they arrive they’ll be treated with acorns. This tradition, Nara Traveler’s Guide explained, began in 1862 at the opening of Nara Park, which itself was apparently opened with the sound of a horn.

Credit: The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation

This year’s event will again take place from Dec. 1 to 14. Though you may not be able to attend in person, you will be able to livestream it anywhere on earth. Each day of the event, (except Dec. 13th), the Japan National Tourism Organization will stream the event at 10 a.m. local time (8pm EST) for about 15 minutes.

But, if you miss these events that’s OK as the park will also be hosting more gatherings via livestream on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from Jan. 8 through March 6. Stay tuned to the Nara Deer website for livestream information and bookmark it for your future travel inspirations. 

Stacey Leasca is a journalist, photographer, and media professor. Send tips and follow her on Instagram