神の使い・日本国の天然記念物「鹿」God’s messenger, Japan’s natural monument “deer”


Since I started studying lacquer, I wanted to go to the Shosoin exhibition held at the Nara National Museum every autumn as much as possible, but I didn’t go to Corona for a few years and the short session ended this year as well. I did.


Nara is a familiar “deer”. I was looking forward to seeing the “deer” every year. So, this time, I will write a blog article with the theme of “deer”.


★ The following “deer” refers to “japanese deer”.

日本人と「鹿」 Japanese and “deer”


Even now, when you land in Nara, there are a lot of deer as a matter of course. Personally, I didn’t feel that something was wrong with Nara, and I didn’t think it was unusual. However, from overseas, it seems to be very rare because deer are quite close to nature without hesitation everywhere in the city. There were a lot of tourists in front of Corona.


Since ancient times, the Japanese have found God in the work of nature and considered the blessings of nature to be a gift from God. The Japanese have sacredly regarded animals with abilities that humans do not have, and worshiped them as creatures with special abilities. That is why there are many animals in Japanese shrines. “Deer” is also a kind of animal considered to be a messenger of the mountain god.

「鹿」との関わりの歴史 History of the relationship with “deer”

時代 Prtiod日本人にとっての「鹿」Existence of “deer” for Japanese
Jomon Period
狩猟対象 Hunting target
・肉→食用・ Meat → edible
・毛皮→衣類・ Fur → clothing
・角→装飾品・道具・Deer horn→ ornaments / tools

The custom of offering the “deer” caught in the mountains to the shrine as a god’s grace and then receiving it is established.
Yayoi Period
Decrease in hunting activity due to the start of rice farming
→ Treat “deer” as “spirit beast”

The ancients thought that the “horns” and “rice growth” of male deer, which grow every year, are related.
Symbol of “deer horn” → “regeneration” “sacred power”

銅鐸の文様モチーフ Dotaku pattern motif
→日本最古の文様→ Japan’s oldest pattern
Kofun period
“Deer” was also the motif of Haniwa (sanctification)
Asuka / Nara period
“God’s messenger” The object of sacred vision and worship
Frequently appeared in old songs of “Manyoshu”
Nara “Kasuga Taisha” founded
Symbol of “God’s messenger” and “Auspicious”
Edo period
「鹿」との共存(保護や治療)/ 「角きり」など伝統行事化
Coexistence with “deer” (protection and treatment) / Traditional events such as “deer horn-cut”
Sale of “Shika-senbei” (raising protection costs)

A symbol of “longevity” by multiplying the “roku” and “deer” of the Seven Lucky Gods’ Fukurokuju


The “deer” in Nara Park are “wild animals” although they are used to people. In the park, there are notices saying “Do not touch or approach deer unnecessarily” and signs “Be careful of deer jumping out” on the road. It is also prohibited to feed other than the “Shika-senbei” sold to deer.


“Shika-senbei” has a long history and is a culture for contact and coexistence between deer and human beings that started in the Edo period. Sales of “Shika-senbei” are used for expenses such as deer protection and treatment. There is also a note on littering garbage so that deer do not accidentally eat the garbage that humans have thrown away. Even with the passage of time, Japanese in Nara have historically inherited the creation of a comfortable environment for deer, valuing them.


The “deer” (japanese deer) is considered to be a natural monument of Japan, so it is also an important animal in Japan.

世界文化遺産「春日大社」と「鹿」World cultural heritage “Kasuga Taisha” and “deer”


Kasuga Taisha Shrine, located in Nara, where many deer are located, was built by the order of Emperor Shotoku during the Nara period. It is the head office of Kasuga Shrine, which is said to have more than 3,000 nationwide. There is a myth that when Kasuga Taisha was founded, Takemikazuchi (the god of thunder in Japanese mythology), who was greeted as a deity, came on a white deer. As a result, Kasuga Taisha has always worshiped deer as a “messenger of God.”


“Deer horn-cut” is an event of “deer” that has continued since the Edo period.


It seems that there is a “horn-cut place” in the precincts of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. It is also said that by cutting the deer’s horns before the deer’s estrus in autumn, the deer will not be killed or injured by each other’s horns and will not hurt humans. It is also a guide for observing the health of deer by checking the growth of horns.


By the way, the deer who took pictures in Nara had no horns. It may be after cutting. The cut horns are said to be offered to God. It is said that there are places near the horn-cut place where deer who are physically handicapped due to traffic accidents and deer who are born physically handicapped live. About 1,300 deer live in the area centered around Nara Park.


It is said that Kasuga Taisha still holds more than 2,200 festivals a year to pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation and its people. Like Ise Jingu, Kasuga Taisha conducts a “ceremonial year rebuilding” to make your shrine beautiful once every 20 years. At Kasuga Taisha Shrine, which boasts a history of more than 1200 years, this “ceremonial year rebuilding” has been performed more than 60 times.


“Ceremonial year rebuilding” aims to remember gratitude by beautifully and carefully renewing the place where God is worshiped. In addition, it is said to have various meanings such as inheriting technology to inherit tradition.


A deer is drawn on the lantern of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The technique of drawing deer is also an inheritance of traditional technology culture. There is also an actual deer, and it is truly a heartwarming sacred place for deer.

工芸品の中の「鹿」”Deer” in crafts


“Deer pattern” has been deeply related to Japanese people since the Jomon period, and is considered to be the oldest pattern in Japan. It is drawn and loved in various places such as folding screens and crafts from the Shosoin Imperial Treasure. There is also a “deer” in the pattern called “Arisugawa Nishiki”, a textile of the Arisugawa family, a Japanese royal family.


“Deer pattern” often appears in national treasures and cultural properties.

  • (国宝)『群鹿蒔絵笛筒』(大和文華館 所蔵)
  • 本阿弥光悦『鹿下絵和歌(新古今和歌集)』(石川県立美術館 所蔵)
  • (重要文化財)尾形光琳『蒔絵鹿に萩図硯箱』(石川県立美術館 所蔵)
  • (National Treasure) “Gunka Makie Flute Tube” (Yamato Bunkakan Collection)
  • Honami Koetsu “Shika shitae waka (Shin Kokin Wakashū)” (Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art)
  • (Important Cultural Property) Korin Ogata “Maki-e Deer and Hagi writing-box” (Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art)
竹内久一『神鹿』1929 (東京国立博物館蔵)HisakazuTakeuchi “God Deer” 1929 (Tokyo National Museum Collection)


Many of the works have “deer pattern” and there are many lacquering products. Of course, there are many deer patterns among the cultural assets of Kasuga Taisha Shrines and Nara Shrines and Temples. The deer horns are well-proportioned to the left and right and have a beautiful shape, so they are said to have been particularly favored by samurai, such as helmet patterns and flag sashimono.

漆芸材料「角粉」(つのこ)Lacquering material “Horn powder” (Tsunoko)


Actually, there is “Tsunoko” in the lacquering material, but it seems that it was made from “deer horn”. It was used as a scouring powder for the final polishing of Roiro. Nowadays, artificially made synthetic powder such as titanium powder is used as a substitute powder, so I rarely see it.


I haven’t actually done it, but the recipe described in the bibliography is as follows.

  1. 鹿の角を密閉した土器に入れて焼く
  2. さらに火鉢や炉の灰に埋めて焼く
  3. 白色になったら砕く
  4. 「角粉盤」というカシなどの硬い材質でできた台の上で、陶磁器かヤギの角のすり鉢で摩擦してすりつぶす。
  1. Put the deer horns in a sealed earthenware and bake.
  2. Furthermore, it is buried in the ashes of a brazier or a furnace and baked.
  3. Crush when it turns white
  4. Rub and grind with a pottery or goat’s mortar on a table made of a hard material such as kashi called “Tsunokoban”.


I think it is necessary to sift the mashed powder to make the powder uniform. It is clear that it was difficult to prepare lacquering materials.

蒔絵の「鹿」Maki-e “deer”


My favorite “deer” work is the lacquer work I saw at the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum. Of course it was not possible to shoot the real thing, but it was a poster and it was a highlight work, so I would like to introduce it. The creator is unknown.


It is a high lacquer work that even the flesh of the deer muscle is well understood and is drawn in a beautiful shape and orientation. The horns of the deer are also mysterious. By properly using silver powder and gold powder, the deer’s coat is skillfully expressed. It’s a wonderful lacquer work, and it looks like the deer is divinely reflected in the light. Actually, I put this lacquer work poster in my work room and watch it every day.

あとは、最近明治神宮の鎮座百年祭で催された現代アート作品の中にもお気に入りの「鹿」さんがあります。名和晃平さんの「White Deer」という作品です。空を見上げる力強い鹿で、美しい形に魅了されるのは、昔も今も同じのようです。美しい造形から自然光が想像できる作品は素晴らしいなと思っています。

Also, I have a favorite “deer” in the contemporary art works recently held at the Meiji Jingu Centennial Festival. It is a work called “White Deer” by Kohei Nawa. It is the same as before and now that a powerful deer looking up at the sky is fascinated by its beautiful shape. I think the work that you can imagine natural light from beautiful modeling is wonderful.


By the way, Shishigami-sama of the Ghibli anime “Princess Mononoke”, whose background was the Muromachi period in Japan, was also a god like a “deer”. Coexistence with wild animals is coexistence with nature, and it is an eternal task even in modern times to prevent animals from robbing the place where animals live and nature with human ego.

参考文献 References

  • 茂木貞純『神社のどうぶつ図鑑』.二見書房,2018
  • 青人社編『日本の文様』.PIE,2013
  • 海野弘『日本の装飾と文様』.PIE,2018
  • 筧菜奈子『日本の文様解剖図鑑』.(株)エクスナレッジ.2019
  • 泡坂妻夫 日竎貞夫『日本の伝統デザイン①動物』.学研,2002
  • 光芸出版編『うるし工芸辞典』.光芸出版,1978
  • 奈良国立博物館図録『創建1250年記念特別展 春日大社のすべて』,2018


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