Nara Guide: Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine )

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  • Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s oldest and most famous shrine, don’t miss this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site with thousands of stone and bronze lanterns, and the brilliant vermillion columns surrounded by lush green trees.

    center courtyard - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    Where is Kasuga Taisha 春日大社

    Kasuga Taisha is located on the eastern end of Nara Park not far from Todai-ji and Nara National Museum. You can get to Kasuga Taisha easily on 3 bus routes, the loop bus, bus 77/78, and bus 97/98.

    Deer at Kasuga Taisha

    As the shrine is located near Nara Park there are many wild deer roaming around nearby. Be respectful (and careful) if you interact with the deer since the Shinto religion considers them messengers to the gods. The deer could be aggressive if you have deer feed or food on you.

    children with a deer | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    child next to warning signs for deers - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com
    Warning sign for deer

    Kasuga Taisha World Heritage Site

    Kasuga Taisha and the ancient forest on Mount Kasuga nearby are both recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara“. In the historic monuments, it’s the only Shinto Shrine.

    The shrine was built in 768 by the Fujiwara clan, one of the most powerful and influential family in Japan from the 7th century to the 11th century. It’s best known for the thousands of stone and bronze lanterns on its grounds, all the way from the entrance to throughout the shrine. The lanterns were donated by worshippers over the years. When we visited, Kasuga Taisha celebrated it’s 1,250th year.

    large stone with World Heritage and Kasuga Taisha engraved - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    children with a deer | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com
    Torii gates leading to the shrine

    Kasuga Taisha Lanterns

    There are over 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns in and near the shrine. The lanterns are only lit twice a year during the Mantoro Festivals (節分万燈籠 and 中元万灯籠) in Februray and August.

    giant lanterns next to entrance gate at Kasuga-taisha | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    children next to lanterns | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    lanterns along the walkway | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    The Shrines at Kasuga Taisha

    It is free to walk around the surrounding area, but if you want to enter to see the halls and inner parts of the shrine there is an entrance fee (500 yen).

    lanterns and trees next to the entrance | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    As you get closer to the shrine, you see the vibrant vermillion columns against the white walls and the Kasuga-zukuri architectural style building.

    Nanmon (South Gate) | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nanmon (South Gate)

    doors on Nanmon (South Gate) | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

     

    Deities Enshrined at Kasuga Taisha

    Established in 768, there are four deities enshrined at Kasuga Taisha which is fairly unique in Japan (usually 1 or 2).  Each deity is worshipped their own altar in the main sanctuary area. The shrine is still worshipped at today and more than 2,2000 rituals are conducted annually at the shrine including daily morning and evening rites. The rituals are held to pray for Japan and global peace, and happiness of all people.

    center courtyard - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    The grounds at Kasuga Taisha is not exceptionally large so it doesn’t take long to finish (roughly 1 hour) to walk around.

    trees and shrines inside the courtyard - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    As you tour the courtyard, you will start off at the grand Chumon (center gate) and the halls that extend to the east and west. The main sanctuary is behind the Chumon and it was closed to the visitors when we visited (not sure if it’s allowed for visitors to enter).

    Chumon (center gate) and Oro - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    Shato-no-Ohsugi (giant cedar tree) - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com
    Shato-no-Ohsugi (giant cedar tree) in the courtyard

    The halls supported by the vermillion columns are decorated with the signature bronze lanterns hanging from the rafters.

    lanterns hanging in the hallway - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

     

    Although the lanterns are only lit twice a year, Fujinami-no-ya Hall on the west side of the shrine is open to the public and has many lit lanterns inside.  It lets visitors get a feel what it’s like during the Mantoro festivals with thousands of lit lanterns.

    lit lanterns inside Fujinami-no-ya Hall - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    lit lanterns at Fujinami-no-ya Hall - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    Even though the shrine has been there since 786, the current building is from around 1863. Prior to that, the building was was rebuilt every 20 years based on the Shinto custom.

    fortune telling omikuji - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    Around Kasuga Taisha

    Around Kasuga Taisha, you can walk around stone paths to many other surrounding shrines such as the Wakamiya Shrine.

    path lined with lantern to Wakamiya Shrine - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    There is also the Kasugataisha Museum (additional fee required) which has thousands of cultural assets and national treasures on display for visitors to check out.

    Taiko drums on display at Kasugataisha Museum

    Lastly, there is a small souvenir shop (Kaoh) where we stopped by for some green tea soft serve. It was a great way to cool down on a hot day.

    Kaoh cafe | Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    souvenirs inside Kaoh - Nara Guide: Kasuga-taisha | www.justonecookbook.com

    Thank you for reading our Nara Guide for Kasuga Taisha. We’ll be sharing more travel guides on Nara so stay tuned. If you are interested in unique Shinto shrines, don’t miss our post on Itsukushima Shrine 厳島神社 and it’s world famous Torri gate.

    If you are interested in traveling in Japan, check out our adventures in the Japan Travel Guide section.

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