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In the Japanese city of Nara, the deer are commonplace -- and hungry

April 6, 2010 |  7:47 pm

What's more charming than a deer emulating a human's polite bow? We're hard-pressed to think of a thing -- and a bowing deer almost seems too adorable to be true. But it's just what visitors to Nara, Japan, are likely to see when encountering the city's large and storied sika deer population.

Nara, according to travel writer James Dorsey, is a place where "there seem to be as many deer as people, and they have the complete right of way. Deer, by the way, are grazers, which means they eat around the clock. The deer of Nara live to eat and are not fussy about what that may be."

Dorsey, who recently visited Nara with his wife, explains that the animals have become a major part of the city's commerce, with many vendors selling deer treats called shika senbei to residents and tourists. Vending machines offer shika senbei as well.

Even a visit to a local sushi restaurant didn't mean distance from the deer, who go where they please in Nara. Fortunately, the restaurant staff are prepared for four-legged dinner guests; they've provided "a stack of biscuits on every table to be used as an offering to buy a moment's peace for people trying to eat," Dorsey writes. "I became adept at handling chopsticks with one hand and feeding the marauding deer with the other."

The deer gobbled up everything in their path, Dorsey continues -- whether or not the items they chose to snack on were, technically, edible. A purse, a camera and a set of keys are among the things the deer tried to steal from the couple. While they picnicked in a park, deer descended, making off with sandwiches and sodas.

Replacing sandwiches and sodas stolen by a swarm of hungry deer: $12. Having those thieving deer bow to you as they depart: Priceless.

Learn more about traveling to Nara and visiting with the city's army of animal panhandlers in Dorsey's recent story in The Times' Travel section.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: sbake608 via YouTube

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