Nara has a new way to stop its deer from eating plastic bags (Bernice and Shawn)

In light of several deer deaths caused by tourists’ improper disposal of plastic bags and food wrappers at Nara Park, locals have invented the “shika gami”, or deer paper, able to safely pass through the stomachs of deer without harming them. Hidetoshi Matsukawa, the man behind the product, highlights the importance of the deer in Nara and how they must be “preserved and treated with respect”, but also raises the point that “protecting deer means protecting the economy of Nara”. Furthermore, the “hefty price tag” of the shika gami proves to be a barrier to widespread usage of the product.

Ostensibly, the article showcases the conservationist desire of Nara locals to preserve their local wildlife, although fundamentally for the sake of the economy through the continuous attraction of tourists. Japan is showcased in its nature-loving facet, where its deer should be protected from death by ingesting plastic bags and other rubbish. Despite that, the invention of an eco-friendly paper bag suitable for mass human usage shows progress towards a more sustainable form of consumption. By introducing non-harmful bags made from recycled materials like old milk cartons and rice bran, Nara locals have found a new way to reuse their waste. The initiative of the people in Japan to adopt ideas that align with the sustainable development goals set up by the U.N. is shown. (namely Goal 12 and 15: “Responsible Consumption & Production and Life on Land.)

Similar to how a Hongu man has considered planting fruit trees to attract monkeys to his restaurant so that tourists would patronise his business while photographing the monkeys (Knight 2006, 119), the Nara locals consider deer a major source of revenue through their mere presence, which increases tourist foot traffic in the prefecture,  and allows for locals to profit from shika senbei and deer-related merchandise sales. This, in turn, creates instances of speciesism when their treatment is compared to that of other animals native to Nara. Animals are often attributed with certain roles and attributes in Japanese folklore. In Nara, the deer hold mythological and cultural value as messengers for the Gods. Monkeys, on the other hand, are often anthropomorphized with “human capacities, actions, and desires”, and are often seen as the demonic, monstrous Other (Knight 2006, 86). While deer feeding is largely encouraged by the locals, feeding monkeys on the other hand is actively discouraged, with campaigns instructing against the feedings of monkeys (Inoue 2002, 93).

The article also highlights the vulnerability of Japan’s environment to pollution and waste mismanagement, brought about by Nara Park’s popularity as a tourist destination. However, it also shows how environmental degradation is an acceptable trade-off in exchange for the economical benefits reaped through tourism, a similar sentiment observed in post-war Japan’s bid for the nation’s economic “growth-at-all-cost” (Kirby 2011, 170).  By explicitly stating that the conservation of Nara’s deer is tied to the economic well-being of Nara, it confounds the intent of Nara locals in adopting this ecologically-friendly approach, be it for the benefit of the deer or other stakeholders who are negatively affected by their deaths, but demonstrates their interconnectedness.

Whilst this article portrays Japan’s conservationist stance on protecting local deer, it is also worthy of note that since 2017, Nara has begun its deer culling program in response to the deer’s damaging of local farmers’ fields and rice paddies (Baseel 2017), suggesting that the deer are only appreciated when their “dangerous wild” nature is brought into a controlled, “manageable” context, in what the Nara locals perceive as their “idealised state”, turning on the deer when they threaten human activities (1997 Kalland and Asquith, 14, 16).

Baseel, C. (2017, August 8). Nara begins deer culling program. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

Fukuoka, R. (2020, September 24). Nara has a new way to stop its deer from eating plastic bags. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

Inoue, M. (2002). Yama no Hatake wo Saru Kara Mamoru (Protecting Fields in the Mountains from Monkeys). Nobunkyo, Tokyo. 

Japan For Sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives.

Kirby, P. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. University of Hawai’i Press. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

Knight, J. (2006). Monkeys. In Waiting for wolves in Japan: an anthropological study of people-wildlife relations, pp. 84-122

McCurry, J. (2020, October 21). Doe your bit: Japan invents bags deer can eat after plastic-related deaths. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

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