About the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine of Nara
Kasuga Taisha Shrine Map
Also known as the Kasuga Grand Shrine, this is one of the most special tourist destinations in the Nara prefecture. A World Heritage Site in its own right, it is located at Kasugano street in Nara city of the Nara prefecture. It is located to the southeast of the Nara National Museum and the Todaiji shrine.
This special shrine is considered as the most celebrated in all of Nara. It was established to commemorate the ancestors of the powerful Fujiwara clan, the leaders of Heian period Nara. Since it is one of the most important shrines in the area, it was periodically reconstructed every few decades. There are two different access points to the shrine: the outer area and the inner area.
The Kasuga Grand Shrine, as its name suggests, is comprised of the most intricate structures constructed during its time. It features what is known as the Kasuga style of architecture whose finishes are luxurious and one-of-a-kind. Even today, this particular structure stands as one of the most iconic and majestic out of all the shrines in the country.
Important Structures inside the Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Akachichi Shirochichi Shrine – Since the Kasuga Taisha Shrine is a major shrine and is comprised of a large complex of temple structures, the Akachichi Shirochichi shrine is one of its sub-shrines. This particular shrine was established for curing women’s diseases and illnesses. Also known as the “Breast Shrine”, the shrine has its own ema (votive plaques, or prayer plaques) that display women’s breasts. This plaque is where people would write their prayers and wishes. This particular shrine is one of the many temples in Japan dedicated to women – their health, prosperity, and wellness.
Wakamiya Shrine – Also one of the subordinate shrines of Kasuga Taisha in Nara, the Wakamiya shrine was established in the early 11th century. It has its own garden, music hall, oratory, and pavilion. It does not have a specific deity of worship. This particular shrine of Kasuga Taisha is most famous for the On-Matsuri, or celebration of Japanese dance and music. This is an event that celebrates the greatness of Japan’s culture, music, and dance.
Meoto Daikokusha – This is also a sub-shrine of the Kasuga Taisha in Nara. It is mainly dedicated to married couples, or “meoto”. Instead of love locks, they have votive plaques for which married couples or soon-to-be-married couples can write their wishes, prayers, and messages for one another. The ema which could be offered in this particular shrine is heart shaped. Many people believe that married couples visiting this shrine will be blessed with a long and happy married relationship. Many people also visit this shrine to pray for their future partners. Many people also worship in this shrine to pray that a potential partner is on its way.
Homotsuden Treasure House – This is one of the best places to visit in the entire temple complex of Kasuga Taisha. It is found near the Kasuga Taisha Main Hall. However, compared to the other areas in the entire shrine complex, it is relatively small. It is a museum that houses all of the treasures and artifacts that came from almost all the sub-shrines found in the area. This includes drums, statues, stone relics, artworks, paintings, and more.
Kasuga Taisha History
The Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine was established in the late 7th century and was spearheaded by the Fujiwara clan. It was established as a place to honor the spirits of their ancestors. This particular family was the richest and most powerful not only in the province of Nara but in the entire country. This family had close ties to the Imperial crown as they have offered their daughters as wives of crowned princes and emperors.
They have developed the shrine into a temple complex. There are different halls and buildings dedicated to a wide variety of deities, gods, and goddesses. The place became so special that in the 9th century it was one of the shrines that became subject to Imperial patronage. Since the Meiji restoration in the late 1800s until after the Second World War, the Kasuga Taisha shrine is the number one rank of government supported shrines. Through time, it has experienced reconstructions, additions, demolitions, and more until it became the Kasuga Taisha we know today.
Kasuga Taisha Festival
Just in 1999, a new festival was created and has been celebrated in the last decade. This is in the hopes of “sharing the fire” to a much wider audience. Also, this is in hopes of increasing the tourism in Nara and sharing their history and culture to more people. The Tokae is a celebration of light, a 10-day long festival held not only in Kasuga Taisha but all over Nara. During this event, each person is given the chance to light their own lanterns. They are to place it on the ground, light it up, and make a wish. The lantern is in the shape of a hollow ball. The melted remains are believed to resemble a flower which is why it is called a Toka, or “light flower” or “flower candle”.
Kasuga Taisha Lantern Festival
There are two different lantern festivals celebrated in the Kasuga Taisha every year. The first is the Sestubun Mantoro Festival and the other is the Obon Matsuri. The Setsubun Mantoro is a seasonal celebration that marks the beginning of Spring in Japan. While the Setsubun Mantoro marks the last day of spring. Usually, the Setsubun is celebrated in the Kasuga Taisha Shrine by lighting up all the 3,000 lanterns that they have. This celebration has been going on for the last 800 years. This is usually Celebrated on the 3rd of February.
The Obon Matsuri is a celebration of honoring one’s ancestors. It is believed that during this time of year, the spirits of the deceased family members return to their families and into this world. Usually, lanterns are used to guide their way into and back to where they came from.
The Highlights of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Kasuga Taisha Shrine Lanterns
Stone lanterns in Japan, known as Toro, is a key architectural element in many traditional structures. It could be made of stone, metal, or wood. Although it may be just a simple decoration, it has a lot of meaning and value for the Japanese. For them, lanterns symbolize enlightening guidance and illumination. Lanterns serve as pathways for spirits to travel from the living world to the other side. It is also a Shinto symbolism for being saved from darkness, pain, and suffering.
The Kasuga Taisha shrine complex alone has a total of 3,000 stone lanterns, an impressive number that cannot be topped by any modern structure. Many of the lanterns hanging along the temple are donated by ordinary citizens and locals. It was a means of providing light for the temple, especially during the time that electricity was still inaccessible.
The Omikuji is a traditional means of fortune telling which works similarly to a lottery. Somewhat resembling the concept of a fortune cookie, the omikuji are fortunes which are written in small strips of paper. By offering a small amount of money, like a 5 yen coin, people can randomly get a “fortune” from the lot. There are blessings and curses written in the Omikuji that ranges in intensity from Great Blessing to Great Curse. It is then a custom to fold it up and attach it to trees inside the Kasuga Shrine.
If the fortune is bad, it is a custom to fold it up and attach it to pine trees inside the Kasuga Shrine. This is due to the wordplay where the word pine tree (matsu) literally translates to “to wait”. If the fortune is tied up to the pine tree, it will wait by the tree then take itself together with the bearer.
Travel Tips to Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Kasuga Taisha Honden Bus Stop: Access to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine
The grand shrine is located to the east of the Nara Park. This means that it is highly visited most times of the year. People can access both locations via the Kintetsu Nara Station and the JR Nara Station. From the former, it usually takes about 30 minutes to walk to the shrine. On the other hand, a longer 45-minute walk is required from the JR Nara Station.
There are different means of getting to the Kasuga Taisha shrine of Japan. This means that people who don’t wish to walk can take the bus going to the destination. The Kasuga Taisha Honden Bus stop is the station nearest the Kasuga Shrine. The ride costs a small amount of 210 yen.
Opening Hours and Entrance Fee
There are two areas inside the Kasuga Taisha shrine and both have different operating regulations. For instance, the outer area is the place where most tourists are allowed to visit most times of the year. The inner area is usually closed-off and is open only at specific times of the day or during celebrations. The entire shrine is accessible between 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM during the months of April to September. However, it opens at 6:30 AM and closes at 5:00 PM during the cold season. On the other hand, the inner area only opens at 8:30 AM and closes at 4:00 PM.
Admission to the outer area of the shrine is free for all visitors. However, access to the inner area has a fee of about 500 yen. The Kasuga Taisha museum and the botanical gardens have different closing times and admission rates compared to the shrine. The museum opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 5:00 PM. Entry to this museum costs about 500 yen. Then, the botanical garden opens from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and entry also costs about 500 yen.
Tourist Destinations around the Kasuga Shrine
Kasugayama Primeval Forest
This is a 250-hectare forest located near the Kasuga Taisha shrine. It is a popular destination located at the summit of Mount Kasugayama and it is a great pilgrimage destination after or before visiting the shrine. A lot of tourists visit this forest to see the different species of insects, trees, birds, and more. It is a beautiful natural reserve which has been taken care of since the Nara Period.
Manyo Botanical Garden
This is located inside the Kasuga Taisha shrine and it is a large garden often frequented by visitors from all over the world. It is home to about 300 kinds of plants but the main attraction are the wisteria flowers that bloom every year. The Wisteria flower is the symbol of the Fujiwara clan and these flowers were planted in the garden since the time they were ruling Nara. Also, during the 5th of May and 3rd of November, the botanical garden becomes a popular venue for featuring ancient dance and music of Japan.
Known as the Great Eastern Temple, this is one of the most historically significant temples in the whole of Nara prefecture. It is located to the north of the Kasuga Taisha shrine and is known to have been established in the same century. It is the largest Buddhist temple in the prefecture. Although it cannot top the grand temples located in the ancient capital of Kyoto, the Todaiji temple still makes the list of the most beautiful in Japan. In fact, many travel articles and journals exclaim about the beauty and power of this particular shrine.
Found at the backdrop of the Kasuga Taisha shrine, this is the most beautiful mountain in all of Nara. It could be seen from any hotel view or any tourist destination in the city. Its slope is lined with cherry trees that are in full bloom every April. Many people hike up this mountain because it only takes about 30 to 40 minutes to hike up the summit. And, it only takes roughly 15 minutes to get to a height where incredible views of the city can be attained. Interestingly, an annual festival held in Nara where some sides of the mountain are lit with fire. This event is known as the Wakakusa Yamayaki.