Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Denizens of Japan #2: Shika

The symbol of Nara, the old capital, deer (or 鹿) can be found throughout Japan. In Shinto, deer were thought to be the messengers of the gods. Graceful and swift, these elegant creatures...nah, I can't do it. My experiences in Japan have soured me on the species. Screw deer.

As you can see in the picture above, everyone always wants to pet and feed the deer. "Ohhh, they're so cute." Yeah, until they bite your friggin hand off, eat it, and then come back for more. Seriously, I've never gotten close enough to a wild deer in America to know if they're any different, but the deer here are mangy, scruffy, perpetually hungry, and often mean. They're like goats with slightly more charm. The people in the picture were all too happy to buy those stupid deer wafers that you find for sale around Nara, but shortly after they ran out of the animal snacks, the deer started trying to get into their bags. I pitied them somewhat as I watched, but serves them right for feeding the damn deer. It's not uncommon to see a deer trying to eat a plastic bag someone is holding, or attempting to lick some poor kid's ice cream cone.

My derision for deer was most fully formed by an experience I had at Miyajima - a beautiful island temple right off of Hiroshima that is, unfortunately, a haven for these animals. When the tide goes out from the island, people go down to the beach to look for clams and oysters. As a friend and I were walking along, we noticed that some careless individual had left his bags unattended at the edge of the beach, and a deer was beginning to riffle through them. Being the thoughtful young men that we were, we ran over and tried to shoo the deer away. Result: we almost got kicked in the face. Not only was the dear not scared of us, but it started stomping its leg in our direction. It may not sound that scary, but a stomping deer is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you've never seen a deer stomp at someone before. I hadn't. We backed off, our chivalry and courage dying just short of driving us to tangle with the cervine island-hobo. Oh, you won that day, deer. But you gained more than my surrender; you won my undying contempt.

There aren't many creatures I outright dislike over here. Deer are one of the few.

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