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Motif Information
Motif shika 01.jpg
Rōmaji Shika
English Deer
Kanji 鹿
Kana しか
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions Spring
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Animal

Shika refers to the Japanese or spotted deer (Cervus nippon). As the common name implies shika, unlike other species of deer, do not lose their spots with maturity. Most shika are red-brown to black, although completely white pelts are not an uncommon variant. In the winter shika grow a winter coat which obscures their spots and a black mane over their withers.

Shika form small family groups and forage on the sides of the mountains during spring and summer, when fawns are born. In the autumn, shika migrate down the mountain and form larger herds for the mating season.

Nara Prefecture is famous for its numerous shika which are often fed by humans at shrines and temples, most famously Tōdai-ji (東大寺). Shika are in no way endangered in Japan as their only natural predator, the wolf, was exterminated during the Meiji Restoration as part of a coordinated government effort to increase cattle ranching (ōkami no kujo).

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Deer at the Kasuga Shrine (春日の鹿, 1926) by Hiroshi Yoshida
Shika with momiji on hanafuda

Shika as a motif are associated with autumn, their breeding season. During the autumn, the males call for mates and compete with each other to gather harems.

A shika doe with a fawn is a spring motif.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Shika are sacred symbols in Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism. In Shinto tradition, white shika are messengers of kami. In Taoism, shika are associated with Jurōjin, one of the shichi fukujin, and as such are symbols of longevity. In Buddhism, shika recall the deer park in which the Buddha preached his first sermon.

Auspicious Nature

Any of the meanings above can be used to interpret shika as auspicious, according to the individual wearer's beliefs.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Shika are usually easily identified by their antlers and their appearing in a herd. There is an abstract version of this motif known as arisugawa.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Shika and hagi were a common pairing in Heian waka.

In Poetry

Kobayashi Issa wrote many famous haiku about shika, including this one about his childlessness (1821):

縺ゅ″繧峨a縺ヲ蟄舌 akiramete giving up
縺ェ縺 ko no nai shika wa the childless deer
ケソ縺ッ魑エ縺ャ縺ェ繧 nakinu nari calls no more for love [1]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Kobayashi Issa's haiku featuring deer

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Cloverrain
  • FabricMagpie
  • Tzippurah

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)