If only the animals had coins to buy them.

In the Japanese city of Nara, you’ll find Nara Park, which is home to two temples, Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji, a shrine called Kasuga Taisha, and over 1,000 free-roaming deer.

The deer are protected as national treasures, due to their sacred association with one of the deities at Kasuga Shrine, and although they feed mainly on the grass around the park, their diet is supplemented by rice crackers, which are made from rice bran, wheat, and water.

These deer crackers, or “shika senbei” as they’re known in Japanese, are considered a healthy snack for the animals, and are sold by sellers at stalls and souvenir shops within the park. While tourists delight in feeding the crackers to the deer, the treats can only be purchased during the day, as the shops close in the evening.

So what is a visitor to do if they’re approached by a hungry deer when the sun sets? Well, now there’s a way for visitors to grab some crackers at any time of the day or night, thanks to the introduction of a couple of new DyDo-operated vending machines in the area.

▼ This news report shows the grand unveiling of one of the machines when they opened for business on 22 October.

▼ The “I love deer vending machines” were installed at Rokuen and Kasuga Taisha National Treasure Hall inside Nara Park.

Unlike the crackers sold by vendors in the park, which come in plain white paper bags, the ones inside the machine are packaged in adorable boxes, featuring a design by an elementary school student.

▼ The design was the winning entry in a competition run by the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, which helps to care for the deer.

The attention to detail in the packaging extends to the material used for the box itself, as it’s made with a special paper called “kome-kami” (literally “rice-paper“). As the name suggests, this material is a blend of rice and paper, using rice that would otherwise be discarded, and it’s a new take on the old Japanese tradition of mixing rice with paper, which was popular up until the Edo period (1603-1867).

In the past, some of the deer in the park have died from eating things they shouldn’t, with one dead animal found to have 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds) of plastic in its stomach. This new paper packaging is friendly to both the animals and the environment, and people who purchase the boxes are encouraged to reuse them at home as a memento of their visit to Nara.

In addition, the makers of kome-kami will donate a portion of sales to the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation to help support the animals and foster an environment where deer and humans can peacefully co-exist.

By making it possible to purchase deer crackers even when vendors have closed up for the day, the new vending machines help to prevent tourists from feeding the animals with foodstuffs they shouldn’t.

So next time you visit Nara Park, be sure to keep an eye out for the new machines. Priced at 500 yen (US$3.40) for a box of 10, they’re a little more expensive than a regular bundle of 10 senbei, sold at vendors for 200 yen, but that’s the price you pay for convenience, with the bonus of a boxed souvenir.

Source: Food Loss Paper via Net Lab
Photos © SoraNews24
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