Oh, deer

Hi blog.

The Bureau of Meteorology has just announced the official start of rainy season in the Kanto area.  ‘Tis the season for washing not to dry.

The loquats at work have started to ripen, and I’ve managed to help myself to half a dozen.


On the geological front, Kuchierabujima in Kagoshima has been evacuated due to volcanic activity, and the some of the popular tourist hiking areas around Mt. Hakone have been closed for the same reason.  Plus, we’ve have a couple of quite noticeable tremors.  (Yes, the earth did move for me)


Not much else has happened on the wildlife front for a while, although there was an incident involving a male deer that had strayed into the area around the local railway line and airbase on a Friday morning.  It wandered onto the railway line and forced a train driver to make an emergency stop.

Efforts to capture the deer were unsucessful, and it was last seen on that day running into a wooded area.

Photo of the deer near Iruma Airbase, supplied by the city council, published in the Tokyo Shimbun.

The sika deer (Cervus nippon) is one of the few deer species that retain its spots through maturity, although the spots may be indistinguishable on some individuals, or depending on the season.  Despite its scientific name and local name – nihonjika (日本鹿), literally “Japan deer” – it is not endemic to Japan.  Its natural range extends up the Korean peninsula, China, parts of Russia, northern Vietnam, and Taiwan.

It is worth noting that the English name “sika” is a corruption of the Japanese “shika”, a generic term for deer.

Other names include simply ka, kanoshishi, or shishi.  The last one originally meant simply “beast” or “animal for hunting” and still exists in the names of the shrine deer dances (shishimai) and in the shishi-odoshi in Japanese gardens.


Reaching a length of 170 cm or so, the sika deer is one of the largest animals in mainland Japan, although the seven subspecies show a huge range in size.  Bergmann’s rule applies to the sika deer.  The subspecies in Hokkaido reaches weights of up to 140 kg, whereas the Ryukyu sika deer grows to just 40 kg.

Diorama at an Ainu centre near Lake Shikaribetsu, Hokkaido, 1989.

They feed on grass (especially sasa bamboo), fruit and bark.  They mate in autumn, and fawns are born between May and July.  With the extinction of the Japanese wolf, they have few natural enemies.

Their relationship with humans is a mixed bag.  Deer were long considered agricultural pests, but also held status as messengers of the gods, leading to various temples and shrines acting as sanctuaries.  Whilst deer have been hunted since ancient times, venison is now an unusual dish.

I remember a news story from a few years back in which members of the Japanese Self-Defence Force assisted hunters in culling deer in Hokkaido.  (Apparently they used their vehicles to drive the deer to where the hunters were, they didn’t actually shoot the deer themselves)

Deer leather was an important material for samurai armour in old times and is still used in kendo armour today.


Deer are typically forest animals, but most people’s contact with deer is at temple or shrine parks.  Most school trips in eastern Japan include Nara, and the (essentially domesticated) deer around the Todaiji Temple feature largely in schoolkids’ minds.  Deer also wander the streets on Miyajima.


“Domesticated in Japan”, anyone?


I admit that one of my first experiences of (live) sika deer was in the parks of Nara – complete with the buying of shika-senbei (“deer crackers”) to feed them with –  but I have also seen them – wild, I should add – on my hikes in the Chichibu-Okutama area.

A deer in Nara, October 1989.


Unfortunately, the deer I mentioned at the beginning of this post was hit by a train the following Sunday…

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3 Responses to Oh, deer

  1. njmagas says:

    There’s a doe and a fawn living on the Takano River near my house right now. I’m glad she found him again after abandoning him a couple weeks ago. 😛

  2. Camper Star says:

    So sad to hear about the deer.

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