After visiting Tōdai-ji, the superfluous Buddhist temple that made a mark in the political system from the 8th century, we strolled through the Nara Park and walked along a forest path lined with stone lanterns to get to the main hall of Kasuga-taisha.
Kasuga-taisha (春日大社) is a Shinto shrine built by the Fujiwara clan, a family who dominated politics in Japan from the 8th century to the 11th century. A Fujiwara helped a prince stage a coup to restore the power of the royal family. When the emperor moved the capitol of Japan to Nara, the Fujiwara family built this shrine to worship the deities that the family sees as guardians. (More about the Fujiwara family and why there are so many deer in Nara.)
Kasuga-taisha is known for thousands of stone lanterns alone the pathway leading up to the shrine and the many bronze and brass lanterns at the main alter. These lanterns are donated by worshippers. The lanterns are lit only twice a year in early February and mid August.
The shrine is also famous for wisteria flowers that bloom in May.
The shrine was originally built in the 8th century. However, as in the Shinto beliefs, this shrine was dismantled and rebuilt every 20 years for centuries. That tradition lasted around 1,300 years. It was abolished in the Meiji period. The current form was built in 1863, but the shrine maintained its look from the Heian period in the 8th century.
Look closely at the roofs. They are fascinating. The roofs are made of layers of cedar bark.
The shrine worships the thunder god among three other gods. Admission is required for the main hall. The entrance fee is 500 yen.
Walking around Kasuga-taisha also lends a sense of wonder of the adjacent Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest, a sacred forest that is one of the treasures of Nara’s World Heritage sites. The forest was awarded World Heritage status because it has been untouched for over a thousand years. Logging and hunting has been prohibited since 841 AD.
There is in fact much more to see. In addition to the main hall, Kasuga-taisha has many auxiliary shrines and a botanical garden. We were starving by this point so we did not walk through the entire property. Out of curiosity and hunger, we bought a corn chowder from a vending machine.
Yes. Hot corn chowder from a vending machine.
I’m sure you are familiar with soda and junk food from a vending machine. But a vending machine that sells cold bottled water as well as hot corn chowder in a can? A vending machine next to a gravel path on the property of a shrine next to some primeval forest where you see deer that are not afraid of people? Not so much I bet. Surprisingly, the corn chowder was delicious! We bought another one right afterwards.
Not all corn chowder from a machine is the same though. This one by Asahi that you can see in Nara and lots of vending machines in Osaka is delicious – creamy with lots of creamed corn. The one by Kirin that you would often see in vending machines in Kyoto is horrible. Tasteless with sad corn kernels stuck on the bottom that you’ll never be able to eat.
April to Sept: 6:00 am – 6:00 pm
Oct to March: 6:30 am – 5:00 pm
Main hall: 8:30 am – 4:00 pm
Admission: free for most areas; 500 yen entrance fee for the main hall
Open all year round. The main hall may be closed for events.