The Sacred Deer of Miyajima Island, Japan

The island of Miyajima is home to more than a thousand Sika deer that freely roam the streets. In the Shinto religion, deer are considered to be messengers of gods and, in ancient times, locals would put food out for them in the temples. Until 1637, killing one of these deer was punishable by death.

Today they are still protected by Japanese law and are bold, curious creatures that will root through tourists’ backpacks looking for food. The antlers of mature bucks are trimmed before the Autumn mating season as part of an annual Shinto ceremony, which dates back to the 1600s. Even then locals saw the danger posed by aggressive, mating deer with long, sharp antlers roaming the streets.

Over the years the deer have moved into more residential areas and parts of the island frequented by tourists This, along with an overpopulation of deer, has resulted in injury to tourists, to the natural environment and to the deer. The deer eat rubbish, often ingesting plastic trays and containers that smell of food, as well as foods that could do them harm. Hatsukaichi City is now trying to maintain a distance between humans and the deer, in order to encourage the deer back to their natural habitat.

Deer are herbivores and their stomachs are not designed to ingest human food, such as bread or leftovers. Naturally they would eat grass, bark, twigs, berries and nuts, adapting their diets over the year to meet their changing nutritional requirements and what is easily accessible.

Visitors are requested not to tease, touch or feed the deer and to ensure that they do not drop any litter on the island.

SOURCES: 

  • http://www.thisisinsider.com/japanese-deer-island-deer-miyajima-nara-park-shinto-2016-7#takemikazuchi-a-shinto-deity-is-said-to-have-traveled-from-nara-riding-on-a-white-deer-because-of-that-story-the-deer-of-nara-and-miyajima-were-given-a-special-status-from-the-local-authorities-around-768-4
  • http://visit-miyajima-japan.com/en/savoir-et-connaissances/fauna-and-flora/des-animaux-en-liberte.html
  • http://sciencing.com/feed-wild-deer-5495043.html
  • https://www.wired.com/2015/02/yoko-ishii-beyond-the-border/

8 thoughts on “The Sacred Deer of Miyajima Island, Japan

  • September 23, 2017 at 12:54 pm
    Permalink

    What beautiful animals. I suppose if they wander about freely and are semi-tame to a certain extent it’s very tempting for visitors to want to touch and feed them but ultimately it does more harm than good in many ways. I hope they can be encouraged to return to their natural habitat 🙂

    • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
      September 24, 2017 at 8:52 am
      Permalink

      So do we! It is a problem when wild animals become too accustomed to humans and when humans don’t actually think about the impact of giving Bambi a bit of their sandwich while on a day trip!

  • September 24, 2017 at 4:39 am
    Permalink

    I have seen accounts of visits to this island, before, and the people have gushed about how cute the animals are. Wild animals, no matter how docile, should not be handled by humans. We may inadvertently harm them, and vice versa.

    • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
      September 24, 2017 at 8:50 am
      Permalink

      Agreed! We saw some people trying to feed them bread and other things – both are likely to end up getting hurt as a result.

    • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
      October 7, 2017 at 10:43 am
      Permalink

      Yes, you definitely should – it is wonderful! We only went for the day and were able to see quite a lot. Hope you enjoy Japan!

Comments are closed.

The Sacred Deer of Miyajima Island, Japan

by Uncover Travel time to read: 1 min
8
Skip to toolbar