Lonely Planet Writer

First deer summoning ceremony of the summer takes place in ancient Japanese capital

In a tradition dating back 100 years, herds of deer have been called out from the forest by the sound of a ceremonial horn in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara for the first time this summer season.

The deer of Nara.
The deer of Nara. Image by Justin Otto / CC BY 2.0

The ceremony took place on Sunday, Japan’s NHK World reported, with about 80 deer running from the woods after the horn was blown. Awaiting the deer was a crowd that had gathered to welcome them with acorns.  

Nara is famous for its deer and about 1200 of them live in and around Nara Park (Nara-kōen), where they roam freely and enjoy National Treasure status (they were once considered messengers of the gods). The large park is also the location of several major tourist attractions, including World Heritage temple Tōdai-ji  and its Daibutsu (Great Buddha), one of the largest bronze statues in the world.

Nara’s deer have been mingling with tourists in the city for decades, and are not shy about getting food from visitors – it’s not uncommon for deer to surround or chase people for food handouts. Local authorities warn not to get too taken in by their cuteness.

Nara deer.
Nara deer. Image by hslo / CC BY-SA 2.0

The deer call ceremony will be repeated on weekends and holidays during August.