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On the Scene: The Japanese City Where the Deer Roam Free

In Nara, you can stroll along the streets with a doe.

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(Photo: Yoko Ishii)

The city of Nara, Japan, is notable for several reasons. It was the country’s capital from 710 to 784. It has the abandoned Nara Dreamland amusement park. And the city is also home to around 1,200 freely roaming sika deer.

The presence of deer in Nara is attributed to a legend, in which Takemikazuchi, the God of Thunder, arrived at Mount Mikasa in Nara on a white deer. Explains photographer Yoki Ishii, who captured the above image: “Ever since, the deer at Nara have been regarded as divine messengers, and protected.”

The deer live in Nara Park but roam freely in the town. They’ve been known to stop traffic, and are happy to be hand-fed by tourists. But for Ishii, it was the unexpected sight of the deer early in the morning, without people, that prompted her to create a photo series of the animals . 

“I imagined a scene of the world where human beings disappear and deer occupy the town,” she says. Ishii’s photo project, titled “Beyond the Border,” allowed her to “visualize my imagination by camera.”

Ishii prefers to photograph the deer early in the morning. For this particular image in her series, Ishii had anticipated the moment between the ice-cream cone and the deer licking his lips. Seeing the photograph, she says, she “imagined he was a metamorphosis from a man.”