Although it’s often overshadowed by Kyoto, the city of Nara can also count itself among the pre-Tokyo capitals of Japan. As a matter of fact, Nara was to be the country’s first permanent capital, challenging the beliefs of the day that the death of an emperor contaminated the area and necessitated moving the base of power.
Nara no longer represents the same lofty political authority it once did, but the city is still the site of several important temples, as well as the impressive Nara Daibutsu, a bronze Buddha statue nearly 15 meters (49 feet) tall.
And yet, the first thing most people think of when they hear Nara is deer, since over 1,000 of the animals live inside Nara Park. But even with roughly 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of space to run around in, sometimes the deer like to stray outside the park’s boundaries, such as they do each July when they occupy this sidewalk and stretch of road.
Although they’re technically wild animals, Nara’s deer are remarkably calm. Held to be messengers of the gods under Shinto belief, the animals are neither caged nor penned, but instead allowed to roam free around the sprawling expanses of Nara Park. As the park is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city, travelers often stop to pose for pictures with them, as well as feed them special deer treats sold by vendors inside the park.
On July 22, though, Twitter user Mojizuri was startled to see a herd of deer occupying a sidewalk, as well as spilling out into the road itself.
“I’ve lived here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen them do this sort of thing before!” Mojizuri tweeted.
Like most of the world, we’re not used to seeing deer chilling in the middle of the street, and had we been in Mojizuri’s shoes, we’d probably have reacted in the same way. However, it looks like it’s possible that even in his decade as a Nara resident, he just never happened to walk down this exact street at this particular time of year, as evidenced by this 2013 YouTube video taken in the same location as Mojizuri’s photos.
The uploader, who goes by the screen name Blue Bells 9999, says that this is a regular occurrence in late July, with the deer strolling out of the park to “enjoy the coolness of the street.” Given that the concrete sidewalk and asphalt road surface would ordinarily retain heat during the summertime, we’re guessing that the surrounding cityscape and topography creates either a cooling wind tunnel or an inviting patch of shade.
Whatever the reason, motorists seem to be used to the phenomena, as we don’t see a single car swerving or horn honking in the video. A sign cautions drivers about deer crossing, and most seem to have extended that courtesy to keeping an eye out for deer sitting as well.