Now! After a couple of months of architecture lets have some animals... I came across Yoko Ishii's deer photography on the great online resource L'Oeil de la Photographie (you can sign up for the daily newspaper here). Ishii's photographs were shown at the Angkor Photo Festival from November to December 6, 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“Early in the morning, the Sika deer can be found walking in the street" says photographer Yoko Ishii "not bound by man's borders and laws, yet inhabiting a man-made city. It is a fascinating and inspiring scene for me"
Yoko Ishii has been photographing the wild Sika deer of Nara since March 2011. Nara is a modern city (the capital of the Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region) and commercial hub, but also known for its historic monuments such as shrines, temples and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. According to the legends surrounding one particular shrine, the Kasuga Shrine important in the Shinto faith, some of the religion’s key gods was delivered to Nara on deer back. The animals, therefore, have been considered as sacred messengers of the gods ever since. The deer live, predominantly, in Nara Park but the parks boundaries are not clearly defined and the deer so unafraid of humans or traffic that they frequently cross over into the down town streets and claim the city as their own.
“The Skia deer in Nara are considered a divine servant of the Kasuga shrine and are protected as a special national treasure” says Ishii “On Miyajima Island, as well as in Nara, the deer are iconic and draw crowds of tourists”
Incredible videos can be found all over youtube and show how tame the deer are, it is possible to pet them and tourist areas sell special ‘deer senbei’ (deer cookies or biscuits) which the deer appear to bow and nod their head for hungrily. In other videos, the deer appear to be more populous than the humans in Nara, lining the streets and roads. Japan seems to have a few of these highly youtubeable animal islands, you might already be aware of Cat Island (Tashirojima) which has a large stray cat population (outnumbering their human counterparts) due to belief that feeding and taking care of cats will bring wealth and good fortune. Then there is Rabbit Island (Ōkunoshima) where it is illegal to hunt or kill the feral but tame rabbits.
The deer, although celebrated in Nara, are not so lucky elsewhere in Japan…
“In various other regions of Japan the deer’s feeding habits are damaging and are causing serious problems for farmers and the local governments” says Ishii “As such, the governments in these affected areas encourage the citizens to practice population management. Every year, more than 360,000 deer are killed in Japan. Inside these arbitrary boundaries created by man, the deer are beloved and treated as if they were domesticated animals. Outside of these boundaries, they are killed as destructive animals and unknowingly go beyond the borders with a spring in their step.”
Ishii has a romantic vision for the future of the Nara deer, perhaps projecting a time when tourists will tire of the Disneyfied spectacle and decide that these deer are in fact city-dwelling pests.
“By taking photographs of the free Sika deer in Nara and in Miyajima” the photographer says “I dream one day they will occupy an abandoned town”. Perhaps, in the end, this town will be Nara. The human population realising that the town belongs to the animals after all, and not to themselves.