This October, over the three-day long weekend, I was told about the antler cutting ceremony near Nara Park and I decided to take a look.
Having been to Nara more times than I can count with one hands now (living in Kansai has its perks, after all), I always wondered when and how the antlers of the deers get removed. Since there are times when I visit the park, I would see that the antlers are gone. So I knew there had to be some event or ceremony, it's just that I didn't know when.
Turns out this process is done dating back years. It was discontinued for some time during the early Meiji period, but eventually it was taken up again by the nearby Kasuga Taisha and now has a designated areas just outside of the approaches to the shrine.
You may have come across this area during your walk up to the shrine. And if you ever have a chance to see it yourself, this is the way you want to be heading.
The ceremony happens a few times a day in the span of the weekend. When I went, I was able to get line up and get tickets there very easily without making any reservations. But I did overhear some Japanese family ask about their online reservation. However, I'm not sure if the online reservation would have opted you out of lining up, as the line and waiting began after you purchase your tickets.
At the time I went, the first show started at 11:45. We got there at 11:55, just missing the first show by 10 minutes. Their next viewing was set at 12:40, I believe.
At around 12, they allowed us to start purchasing tickets and lining up to enter.
Tickets are 1000 yen per person.
I do recommend queuing early, as you can get the front viewing spot which makes it better to see. But you might want to stop by the Bus Terminal nearby to get a Starbucks or use the toilets first before heading there. I highly recommend this spot because the restrooms are clean & there's usually no queue for the stalls unlike at the train station.
We were eventually let in to the viewing area around 12:30. Unfortunately for us, it started raining a bit. So while waiting in the front, I did use my umbrella but during the viewing, we didn't want to obstruct the view of the people in the back - so I couldn't use it. Standing in the back row would allow you to use umbrellas though.
All of the viewing area spots are standing only!
There were three deer (deers?) that were in this particular ceremony. Since the arena was quite long, they performed the cutting three times - the left side, center and the right side. So there's really no bad viewing spot if it's not too crowded.
I personally thought it was an interesting experience. I know some animal lovers will disagree to manhandling animals like such, but it's sort of a necessary evil. And if you are against this type of thing, I would advise against watching this ceremony altogether.
The ceremony and viewing lasts about 40 minutes or so.
I hope this helps someone looking to go to this ceremony in the future. If you come across it on your travels, do note that it only happens once or twice a year - so it might be a special event to add to your plans!