In the year 767, Takemikazuchi (the chief deity of Kashima Shrine) was ceremonially enshrined at Kasuga Shrine in Nara, in order to protect the Heijokyo capital. At the time, it was said that the God of Thunder came to Nara riding on a white deer. Ever since, the deer in Nara have been regarded as divine messengers, and are protected.

More than 1200 years have passed, and while the ancient capital’s cityscape has changed completely, the activities of deer remain the same. As of July 17, 2018, 1360 deer live in Nara. Driven by instinct, deer come out from the forest of Kasuga early in the morning, roam the empty city, and go to work near the deer cracker shop when tourists arrive. In the evening, the deer go back to the forest together.

Detached from human concerns, the free deer in Nara walk around like one owns the world as if they are saying, “The streets are ours.”

—Yoko Ishii

Editor’s Note: This series by Yoko Ishii was selected as a Juror’s Pick in this year’s LensCulture Street Photography Awards. You can learn more about Ishii’s work (as well as the work of all the other winners, juror’s picks and finalists) here.