Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine, established in 768, at the same time as the capital.
It is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city, and is the tutelary shrine of the
Fujiwara family, Japan’s most powerful family clan during much of the Nara and Heian periods.

Kasuga Taisha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kasuga Taisha was torn down and rebuilt every 20 years to keep the buildings looking new in
perpetuity, but in this case the Shinto custom was abandoned at the end of the Edo period in 1863.
Since virtually all Empresses came from the Fujiwara family, Kasuga Shrine enjoyed privileged status.
Kasuga Shrine is well known for the thousands of ishidorii (stone lanterns) lining paths through the forest.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Kasuga Taisha is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Heian Jingu, Kasuga and Sumiyoshi Taisha


Tamukeyama Shrine 9860

Taking the back door route to Kasuga Shrine
from Todaiji, you come upon the 8th century
Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine, a Shinto
shrine dedicated to the kami Hachiman. Built
in 749, it was moved to this site in 1251. The
building to the left of the sakura is the Hoko
Treasure House (Important Cultural Property),
which is built in Azekura (log cabin) style.


Tamukeyama Kara Mikoshi House 9863

We entered via the side of the shrine, where
many of the structures are older and less well
maintained. This old building houses a mikoshi,
which is a large palanquin used to carry the deity
of the shrine. The Tamukeyama Hachimangu
shrine was established to guard the Todaiji
when it was being cast in the
8th c., and the deity is still on duty.


Tamukeyama Shrine Treasure House 9861

Detail of the Azekura-style (log cabin) construction of the Hoko Treasure House.
Built in 749 in the same manner as the Shosoin Treasure House at Todauji,
it is one of the earliest environmentally-controlled buildings, designed to
protect the contents from the humidity of Japan. The raised floor keeps
the building above any possible flooding. The structure also contains
elements of the Tempyou architectural style used in some buildings at
Todaiji, and it is designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan.


Tamukeyama Kara Mikoshi 9866

The Mikoshi is rather large and heavy. It is
placed on poles and carried on the shoulders
of large numbers of parishioners and carried to
the Todaiji Temple in a procession in the fall.


Tamukeyama Shrine 9869

Since we were just passing through, we
headed through the rear torii gate past several
old buildings to the Tamukeyama maple forest
and down the hill to Kasuga Taisha shrine.


Tamukeyama Shrine Stele 9868


Tamukeyama Shrine Stele detail 9868

A stele discussing history of the Tamukeyama
Hachimangu Shrine. The typeface used at the top
is so old that my wife says they look like petroglyphs,
 (she called it “funky Kanji”), and very little of the Kanji
in the text below that is readable (again, it is too old).
This needs an specialist in ancient Kanji to decipher.


Tamukeyama Deer 9870

Just down the path, we came upon a young couple and their daughter
who were having a day at Nara Park. Nara Park is famous for the Sika Deer,
1200+ of which wander around, looking for a visitor who has bought some of the
shika-senbei crackers to feed them. Many of the deer bow to the visitors, knowing
that this will get them fed. Look at the far right of this image and you’ll see that these
deer closely approached the couple’s two year old daughter thinking she had food.
She seemed both fascinated and afraid... no problem, even though she didn’t
have food for them. A funny story I heard in Nara Park: A lady told her son to
be sure not to eat the deer crackers because they turned people who
ate them into deer. Many of the deer wandering around were
people who could not read the Japanese directions....


Kasuga Shrine Fawn 9880


Kasuga Shrine Sika Deer Portrait 9882

A doe and fawn decided to stop by and give us
the plaintive “we’re starving... got crackers?” look.

That fawn looks as if it has had plenty of crackers.


Kasuga Shrine Lantern 9877

You know you are starting to get close to
Kasuga Shrine when you start seeing lanterns.


Kasuga Shrine Lantern 9879

Trust me... you’ll soon see what I mean.
These were just the first two we came to.


Kasuga Shrine Lanterns 9884

There are literally thousands of ishidoro (stone lanterns) lining the paths through the forest leading to
the Kasuga Shrine. Follow the lantern-lit road... follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the lantern-lit road.


Kasuga Shrine Kairo 9885

I took two angles for this shot, and while I like the
 image at right better, this one shows the lantern sea.


Kasuga Shrine Kairo 9886

The Kairo at Kasuga Taisha shrine.
Painted a bright vermilion, flanked by lanterns.


Kasuga Shrine Kairo Lanterns 9888

There are also a vast number of bronze and brass lanterns seemingly everywhere.
I wonder who runs the candle concession at Kasuga Shrine... must be a good business.


Kasuga Shrine Kohi 9889

At the entry to the Shrine is the Kohi (Ko-hai), a vestibule where the parishioners ring the bell
to wake up the gods or nature spirits (Kami), drop their money into the Saisembako offering chest,
(shown at bottom left), bow twice, clap their hands twice to prove to the Kami that they are empty handed
 and have no secret intentions in their heart, bow once again, and ask the Kami to make their wish come true.


Kasuga Shrine Imperial Lantern 9892

A gold-plated lantern (what else?), with the Imperial Chrysanthemum kamon (crest).
Behind the lantern is a monmaku shrine drapery with Imperial Chrysanthemum kamon.


Kasuga Shrine Lanterns 9896

There are literally 3000 lanterns at Kasuga Shrine (someone got bored and counted).
Can you imagine doing that and then, you round a tree, get startled by a Sika deer... and lose your count?

The oldest lantern at Kasuga Shrine was donated in 1136 by Fujiwara no Tadamichi,
a regent to Emperor Sutoku. There are about 2000 stone lanterns and 1000 hanging lanterns
which were donated to Kasuga Shrine over the last nine centuries for various reasons.


Kasuga Shrine Lanterns 9897

The lanterns are nearly everywhere. I was
fascinated by them, to the exclusion of the shrine.
You can’t see the forest for the sea (of lanterns).


Kasuga Shrine Lantern Forest 9899

This is a shot from within the Primeval Forest,
beside the path. You can see how the path is
lined with multiple rows of the stone lanterns.


Kasuga Shrine 9900

I started feeling guilty, and figured I’d better get one more image of the shrine (with a few lanterns).
Kasuga Shrine really is famous for its lanterns, and they are something that stands out the first time you
go there, but upon retrospect I have to admit that I did go a little bit overboard with the lantern shots.

OK, now that I have that out of my system... here are some... wait for it... lantern shots.   :^)


Ron Kasuga Shrine 9918

Some of the stone lanterns at the entrance are huge.
 This is the largest, with your photographer providing scale.

OK... so I was just being a tourist. We all do it.


Kasuga Shrine Lantern Forest 9902

The lanterns line the path through the Kasugayama
Primeval Forest on both sides, many layers deep.

The one on the right above is inscribed:
“Lit throughout the Night”.

Image number 9922 (bottom of the page)
is engraved with the same inscription on the left,
and it says “Kasuga Taisha” (actually Sha) on the right.

Many of the lanterns are inscribed “Kasuga Shrine”.


Kasuga Shrine Torii 9906

The Torii Gate at the entry to Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine.
Founded in 768 in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Approaching from Tamukeyama, you enter Kasuga Shrine from the rear.
This is why the Torii Gate is being shown near the end of this page.
(I decided to display the images in the order they were taken)


Kasuga Shrine 9905

I couldn’t resist getting a little artsy...

To the right, I had an up close and personal
encounter with one of the Sika Deer who was
interested in my activities. I was taking the shot
of the Torii gate above, when I sensed something
behind me, turned, and there’s a deer in my ear.


Kasuga Shrine Deer Closeup 9907

Filled the frame with a 28mm lens. Very close.


Nara Park Sika Deer Portrait 9914


Nara Park Deer 9910

Resting after a long day of cadging crackers.

Left: an in your face portrait. This is not a crop (85mm).

Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, the first of the Kasuga shrine’s four deities, was invited from Kashima and arrived riding a white deer in 768. The Shrine began to insist that the sika deer in the forest surrounding the shrine were sacred animals, upon which the deities would ride. This is depicted on the Kasuga Mandala, a series of medieval paintings.

The Nara Park Sika Deer have been strictly protected since medieval times. About 1200 of them roam freely, wherever they like, bowing to the visitors and begging crackers. They are designated as a natural treasure by the government.


Kasuga Shrine Lantern 9922

Two of the large lanterns at the entrance to the shrine.


Kasuga Shrine Lantern 9909

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Kasuga Taisha is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Heian Jingu, Kasuga and Sumiyoshi Taisha


Return to the Shinto Shrines index page


Return to the Master Index on the Japan Select page.