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Photo By: PIXTA/wifineko
Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Nara
Population
1,442,862

Nara Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony

This ceremony held every October ensures that deer and people in Nara can reside together peacefully.

By Whitney Hubbell

The historic capital of Nara has long been known for its friendly deer residents, but keeping the harmony between deer and people takes some work. During the breeding season in autumn, the bucks of Nara Park can become rather aggressive and their fully-grown antlers can harm visitors and other deer. Measures need to be taken to trim those antlers, which is where this 350-year-old ceremony comes in.

History

Nara Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony

Photo by: PIXTA/ ジャンゴ This practice dates back to 1672.

One of Nara’s most important cultural properties is the Shinto shrine, Kasuga Taisha. The deity of this shrine is said to have ridden a sacred white deer from Kashima Shrine in present-day Ibaraki prefecture to Mount Mikasa in Nara, so deer have long been carefully protected in Nara as sacred animals. Even today with their population flourishing, the deer of Nara are considered a natural monument.

The Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony, or Shika no Tsunokiri, has been held since 1672 when the Nara Magistrate introduced the event. It began in order to protect the townspeople from being injured as well as to prevent damage deer can cause to cultural property and trees when bucks rub their antlers against them. Cutting their antlers also protects other deer from injury during fights.

Until the end of the 19th century, the ceremony was held at various sites around Nara. Since then the ceremony has, rather appropriately, been held in the vicinity of Kasiga Taisha. Today it is held near the shrine at a small, grassy arena called Rokuen, which was built in 1929 specifically to host the event.

Ceremony

Nara Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony

Photo by: PIXTA/wifineko Snip, snip.

The ceremony is held every year at Rokuen during the three-day Sports holiday weekend in October. Each day the ceremony is held five times, the first beginning at noon. Spectators watch from the stands as a group of men called seko, or deer herders, bring three or four bucks into the arena.

The seko then attempt to lasso a deer by the antlers with a rope. Once a deer has been captured, it is held down. A Shinto priest gives the deer some water to help calm it, and then its antlers are sawed off. After this, the deer is released back into the park, and the ceremony continues the same way until all the deer in the arena have been de-antlered and released. At the end of the ceremony, the antlers are presented as an offering to the deity of Kasuga Taisha.

Some may fear that this ritual causes harm to the deer, but fear not: cutting a buck’s antlers is not painful for the deer. This ritual protects people and other deer from injury, and the deer do not suffer.

Things To Know

FESTIVAL DATES AND FEES

Date and Time: October 7 – 9, 2023, 11:45 A.M. – 3 P.M. (Admission from 11:15 A.M. – 2:30 P.M.)

Admission: ¥1,000 for adults, ¥500 for children

Visit the official website (in Japanese) for more details.

How To Get There

Address

By train

From JR Nara station or Kintetsu Nara station, take the Nara City Loop line to the bus stop Kasuga Taisha Omote Sando. The bus ride will take about 12 minutes from JR and 5 minutes from Kintetsu. It is then a 7-minute walk to Rokuen. 

By bus

There is no designated parking lot for the event, but paid parking is available nearby.

Where To Stay

Fufu Nara
  • 1184-1 Takabatakecho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8301 Japan
  • ¥102,900 - ¥190,400
  • 4.67/5 (64 reviews)
  • 0.5 km
Nara Tsukihitei
  • 158 Kasuganocho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8212 Japan
  • ¥70,400 - ¥267,520
  • 5/5 (83 reviews)
  • 0.9 km
Shisui Luxury Collection Hotel Nara
  • 62 Noboriojicho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8213 Japan
  • ¥62,618 - ¥347,243
  • 0.9 km
Sarusawaike Yoshidaya
  • 246 Takabatakecho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8301 Japan
  • ¥18,700 - ¥18,700
  • 4.32/5 (370 reviews)
  • 1.1 km
Hotel Obana
  • 1110 Takabatakecho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8301 Japan
  • ¥9,130 - ¥33,660
  • 4.47/5 (625 reviews)
  • 1.1 km

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