A forty-five minute train ride out of Kyoto will take you to a park where the squirrels have been replaced with friendly deer who bow for treats. I promise!
As much as I adore all animals, I normally don’t like to see them locked up in places like the zoo. I once visited the zoo in Seoul, and 10 minutes in, I was already looking for the exit. The polar bear’s skin and fur hung off him like an oversized t-shirt. His pool was just that, a pool with white paint to make it “feel” like the north pole. It was all wrong. The eyeless monkey topiary made from what appeared to be plastic brown twigs (I guess it was more like a “fauxpiary”) that hung by the entrance should have been a warning of what was to come. After I left, I couldn’t bring myself back to another zoo.
I did have a Japanese roommate once who showed a great deal of affection to animals. Maybe Japan was a little different.
The 1,200 sika deer that roam around the park freely seemed happy. I mean, after all, these guys are considered sacred.
The deer knew where to wait for the goods, but the treat vendors shooed away the beggars with fans and rolled up paper. These peanut butter-scented wafer disks were sold for 150 Yen and could almost guarantee five minutes of popularity amongst the deer.
I held tight to my handful of treats as a herd of deer gathered around, pulling at my shorts and bowing for attention. Overwhelmed, I ran up the hill, away from my new friends. I decided I’d find a more patient group of deer to share the rest of my wafers with.
Instead, I found a bunch of uninterested deer hidden away from the main walkway. I held my hand out, but only one of the seven or so deer accepted the treat. These were obviously the organic eaters of the bunch. I imagined the guy who took my wafer probably had to deal with a lot of crap after that, so I felt bad afterwards.
Dejected, I broke the remaining treats into several small pieces and gave them to the same eager group who tried to depants me and made my way back to the train station.
I appreciated the fact that the park wasn’t flooded with tourists. It felt like any other park, but instead of little squirrels running around, this one had deer.