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Arguably the most impressive Shinto shrine in Nara, Kasuga Grand Shrine or Kasuga Taisha is centuries old temple complex built nearby the mountanious area of Mount Kasuga. Its vermillion gates look outstanding and the trees surrounding the temple makes a beautiful contrast. Historical records said that it took over 50 years to construct the crimson temple. The overall atmosphere of the temple is simply enchanting and invoking imaginations. You will be welcomed by herds of free-roaming spotted deers and some stone lanterns covered with moss along the lines. For over 1300 years, Kasuga Grand Shrine doesn't only serve as a worshipping place but also a symbol of glory for Fujiwara Family, one of the most powerful clan in Japan's political history.
Capture the Captivating Beauty of Kasuga Grand Shrine
The history of Kasuga Grand Shrine dated back in year 768. The Fujiwara Family decided to build a tutelary shrine as they believed that the temple will serve as an entrance gate for the deity Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto to enter human realm. The deity was believed to be a messenger of Gods that will pray for the prosperity of the country and the happiness for its people. Fujiwara Family, like other Japanese believe that Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto came to the Earth and travel all the way from Kashima Jingu Shrine to Mount Mikasa on a white deer. That's the main reason why deers are considered sacred and they are allowed to roam around the holy temple undisturbed. Other legend mentioned that the Kasuga Grand Shrine was built following the enshrinement of Futsunushi-no-Mikoto from Katori Jingu Shrine and Amenokoya-no-Mikoto and Himegami from Hiraoka Shrine.
One thing that Kasuga Grand Shrine is famous of is its impressive stone lanterns. The lanterns are lined up neatly along the path to the main shrine, almost all of them are covered in moss. There are over 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns in the shrine yard, most of them are donated by the worshippers hoping that great lucks will befall upon them. The lanterns are all lit up to celebrate Mantoro (Setsubun) Festival. Mantoro means Ten Thousand Lanterns, you can imagine how beautiful it would be as the lanterns radiate through the thick forest.
The main shrine (Honden) is easy to notice as it was supported with bright vermillion columns with white walls and sloping roofs made of hinoki cypress bark. By entering the main hall, you will see four shrines dedicated to worship four deities that is believed to have protected Fujiwara Family for many years. The deities are Futsunushi-no-Mikoto, Amenokoyane-no-Mikoto, Himegami, and Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto.
Apart of the main shrine, Kasuga Grand Shrine also boast several smaller shrines. Each of them are dedicated for different deities each with their own duties. Worshippers will also pray for many different things in the shrines. You can have a short tour to twelve minor shrines that enshrine Japanese Twelve Lucky Gods. The most popular ones are Wakamiya Shrine used as a venue for traditional dance festivals and Meoto Daikokusha. Meoto Daikokusha enshrine married deities, and Japanese have a strong belief that they will be blessed with great luck in marriage or matchmaking by praying in the shrine.
Manyo Botanical Garden is 3 hectares botanical garden located right next to Kasuga Grand Shrine. This scenic garden boast over 300 species of plants, some of them are even mentioned in the Man'yōshū literatures. All plants are well-groomed, the visitors will be pampered with the breathtaking view of colorful flowers such as Wisteria, Camelia, Iris, and many more. Wisteria, in particular, is the main attraction here. Around early May people will come flocking to the botanical garden to enjoy the spectacular view of full blooming Wisteria, that is also known as Sunazuri no Fuji. Allegedly, Wisteria is the Fujiwara Family's crest and that's why you'll find thousands of them sprawling over the garden.
The only part in Kasuga Grand Shrine that is restricted for visitors is Kasuga Primeval Forest, and that's probably for a good reason. The dense and also mysterious ancient forest have stay untouched for over 1000 years. Any kinds of forest and exploitation and hunting exploitations are highly prohibited here as the locals believe that the forest is the dwelling of Gods. Thousands of rare flora and faunas are making their home in this sacred forest. Cedar trees, beech trees, and the ancient evergreen oak trees grow into enormous sizes while deers and other animals such as green tree frogs, hime-haru cicadas, rare birds and the clouded salamanders are lurking among the dense trees. If visitors are going to explore the forest, they must stick to the designated routes that will lead them all the way through Mount Wakakusa.
How to Get Tickets?
Most parts of Kasuga Grand Shrine can be accessed for free. However, visitors will have to pay JPY 500 ($4.45) to enter the main shrine and the botanical garden.
How To Get Around?
Kasuga Grand Shrine is quite extensive, though all attractions are located quite close to each other and are within walking range. Most likely you won't even have to worry about feeling exhausted since you'll get plenty of fresh oxygen and able to interact with adorable wild deers
What Should I Wear?
Kasuga Grand Shrine is a highly reverred place, so obviously you will have to dress appropriately. IT doesn't mean you will have to dress too conservatively. Just avoid wearing skin-hugging outfits, or clothes that show too much skin. Don't forget to wear your most comfortable hiking shoes.
Best Time to Visit
If you're wondering when is the best time to visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine? The answer will largely depend on your purpose. Do you want to watch the wisteria in its full bloom? Then it is best to visit the Manyou Botanical Garden from late April to early May. If you want to see all 3,000 lanterns in Kasuga Grand Shrine lit up all at once, come in early February or mid August to see Setsubun Mantoro Festival. Kasuga Matsuri (Monkey Festival) is held on March where you can see the performance of ancient Gagaku Dance that has been performed for centuries.
Will I Need a Guide?
All informations you need can be found easily in this website so a guide won't be necessary.
How To Get There?
The closest way to get to Kasuga Grand Shrine is from Kintetsu Nara Station, that will only takes 30 minutes walking. You can also walk from JR Station though it will takes additional 15 minutes. If you want to get there faster, you can take the Yellow Loop Bus from any of the station.