It wasn't easy to break free from the adorable deer of Nara Park but when we finally managed to break free from their disarming cuteness through restraint from taking any more photos of them, we finally made our way to Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine 春日大社).
A key attraction in Nara City, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is famous for the thousands of stone and bronze lanterns that crowd its vicinity as well as within its walls. The number of lanterns I came across was truly bewildering!
|Through its countless lanterns, Kasuga Taisha Shrine shines as one of Japan's most unique devotional expression of Shintoism.|
Established in 768AD, the shrine has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and stands today as a living architectural record of the period where Japan began to move out of the shadow of China.
Getting Here - Follow the Path of the Stone Lanterns
Getting to Kasuga Taisha Shrine takes about 30 minutes on foot cutting across Nara Park from the Kintetsu Nara Station. However, our journey took triple the time because we fell under the charms of the park's free ranging deer, stopping often to snap photos and buying special deer biscuits to feed them.
It also took us a bit of asking around to get on the right path to the shrine because while there maps around the park, there weren't many signposts to point the way. Or perhaps we missed the signages because we were constantly distracted by scouting for photo opportunities with the deer. The way to Kasuga Taisha Shrine is pretty straightforward and we knew were on the right path when we started spotting the shrine's iconic stone lanterns.
|Follow the path of the stone lanterns that line a rustic trail leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.|
|More deer along the way milling in and out of the forest and stone lanterns. When you come to a split road, take the path on the right to reach the front entrance of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The path on the left is for people who are leaving the shrine.|
Entering the Realm of the Kamis
Kasuga Taisha is a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to four minor folk spirits / deities (kami in Japanese) :
Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto (god of thunder) - Also known as Kashima-no-kami, he is often depicted as subduing a giant catfish that causes earthquakes
Futsunushi-no-mikoto (spirit of swords) - Priests performing rituals and rites typically bear a Nihonto sword
Amenokoyane-no-mikoto (ancestor of the Nakatomi clan) - He is the protector deity of the clan and a guardian appointed by the goddess Amaterasu omikami to guard a divine mirror; and he is enshrined with a Himegami (female consort deity)
* The suffix "-no-mikoto" is an honourary title given to a spirit or venerated person that connotes 'winged being'
|An assembly of stone lanterns fringes the entrance gate of Kasuga Taisha Shrine with a glorious pink sakura tree punctuating the scene beautifully.|
|Inside the shrine's compound, hanging bronze lanterns took over from the stone ones. This is the chumon (middle gate) flanked by oro (roofed veranda) that guards the shrine's main sanctuary which houses the shrines of the 4 kamis.|
|Framing the chumon with a pair of stone lanterns that are more ornate than the ones seen outside the shrine.|
|We could walk around the veranda corridors that surround the main sanctuary but entry into the sanctuary is not allowed and so we didn't get to see the classical Nara architecture of the 4 spirit houses.|
|There are approximately 3,000 lanterns in and around the shrine and they are lit twice a year... once in early February, and another in mid August. This angle can be shot at the free zone without having to pay to go in.|
|Where do the lanterns come from? They are donated by devotees.|
|Nobody lights a lantern to see the sun.|
|If I wore green, I could be that superhero who charges up his power with lanterns!|
There are actually a lot more things to see around Kasuga Taisha Shrine. There is the Kasuga Taisha Shinen Manyo Botanical Garden, a Treasure House and 12 shrines along a path outside the southern side of the main shrine complex. The shrines that are dedicated to 12 gods of luck. Looks like Lady Luck no longer needs to work alone now.
Among the shrines is the Meoto Daikokusha shrine, which is the only shrine in Japan dedicated to married deities. In other words, this is a love shrine for those who want to pray for a good match or for a blissful marriage. Too bad we didn't get to visit. If we did, maybe we wouldn't have become me.
For opening hours, fees and more information, do visit the two links below that I found very helpful :
Kasuga Taisha Official Site
Japan-Guide.com Kasuga Taisha
Related Posts :
Deer Moments at Nara Park
Todaiji : The Great Eastern Temple of Shingon Buddhism