Photo Album – Divine Deer of Nara

Erwin Bälz, a German doctor, was invited by the Japanese government and stayed in Japan from 1876 to 1905. He contributed to establish the medical department of Tokyo University. He is also known for having deep understanding of Japanese culture. In spring 1904, he had holidays in Nara, and wrote his impression in his diary as follows.

Most charming is the view up the long street into the park with these timid beasts all over the place, and the ancient temples and pagodas glorious in red and white. It would be hard to imagine a more peaceful spot when one walks through the quiet woods on a fine spring morning with the gentle deer eyeing one inquisitively whenever one goes, nightingales singing in the trees, the cherry trees in bloom, and the blue wistarias peeping forth on all hands (Nara, April 17, 1904).

— Erwin Baelz, Awakening Japan, edited by his son Toku Baelz and translated by Eden and Cedar Paul (1931) p.262.

Here is the original German text.

Es ist ein zauberhafter Blick die lange Straße entlang in den feierlichen Park, allüberall mit den zahmen Tieren und den jahrtausendalten Tempeln und Pagoden mit ihrer roten und weißen Pracht und ihren malerischen Formen, die dazwischen schimmern. Es ist ganz unmöglich, ein idealeres Bild vom Frieden auf Erden zu haben, als bei einem Gang durch die stillen Wälder an einem schönen Frühlingsmorgen, wenn die Hirsche aus nächster Nähe zutraulich einen anlugen, ringsum ein Nachtigallenchor ertönt und die üppigen Kirschblüten und die blauen Glyzinen überall niederwinken (Nara 17. April 1904).

— Erwin Bälz, Das Leben eines deutschen Arztes im erwachenden Japan, herausgegeben von Toku Bälz (1930) s.293-4.

Sacredness of deer inhabiting the vicinity of Kasuga Shrine is usually explained by the theory that Japanese Shinto faith originated in awe of nature. Elements of nature such as mountains, forests and wildlife were venerated, and hence the ancient Japanese government banned hunting and tree felling in the sacred Kasuga Hills in 841. Thereafter the deer of Nara have been protected strictly for over a millennium. They are so tame that even citizens of Nara sometimes erroneously take them to be domestic. But I would like to show you here their wild aspects too.

Messengers from the Gods
The Cherry Trees in Bloom...
Good Friends
Frosty Morning
My Dad is Great
Spirits of the Forest
Guarding the Gate of a Temple

Photographed by Noboru Ogata

Noboru Ogata's Home Page at Kyoto University

Since May 7, 2000
Updated January 20, 2010