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Kasuga Taisha, Holy Deer! | Kansai Odyssey

Kasuga Taisha, Holy Deer!

Nara Prefecture is famous for its rich history and iconic shrines and temples. Perhaps just as iconic as those shrines and temples are the deer. Once you get close to Nara Park you will immediately see scores of deer freely walking around. Tourists love to buy special crackers to feed the deer, and the deer are more than happy to accept. But why are the deer there? The reason these deer are here is because of nearby Kasuga Taisha [春日神社].


The Mythology and History of Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Shrine has a very confusing history, deeply mixed with actual occurrences and myth. Built in 710 by the Fuhito Fujiwara, Kasuga Shrine houses a total of four gods, collectively called the Kasuga gods: Takemikazuchi, Futsunushi, Amenokoyane and his wife, Himegami. Kasuga Taisha’s original god was Takemikazuchi. Originally from Kashima Shrine in Chiba, legends say that Takemikazuchi rode a white deer from Kashima, Chiba to Kasuga Shrine. As for the white deer, supposedly all the deer in Nara Park today are related to this one white deer, and therefore blessed by Takemikazuchi.

Later, in 768, Fujiwara Nagate, brought the god of Chiba’s Katori Shrine, Futsunushi, as well as the gods of Hiraoka Shrine in Osaka, Amenokoyane and his wife, Himegami, to Kasuga Taisha. Since then, the Kasuga Gods became the guardian gods of the Fujiwara clan.


Getting to Kasuga Taisha

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Kasuga Taisha is only a 15 minute walk from Kintestu Nara Station. There is JR Nara Station, but it is bit far away, meaning you will have to walk a total of 25 minutes to get to the shrine gates. Of course you should get yourself plenty of time to get to the shrine since everyone wants to stop and pet/feed/photograph the deer along the way. Not to mention, the road that directly leads to the shrine, is lined with thousands of stone lanterns. This road is yet another great spot for some amazing pictures, so be sure to take this in to consideration as well when you are making your plans.


Shrine Grounds


You will still find there are many deer along the path to the shrine. The stone lanterns, or toro, are also very impressive. There are roughly 2,000 toro in Kasuga Taisha, some of which are hundreds of years old.
sando of Kasuga Taisha

Deer are in no short supply here.

Japanese deer between two stone lanterns at kasuga taisha

After a little walking you will come across Ni no Torii. This torii is a good example of a kasuga torii, which you can only see in Kasuga Taisha and its surrounding smaller shrines. 

Ni no torii of kasuga taisha
Ni no Torii. It seems deer enjoy going to the shrine too

After Ni no Torii, you will see the main shrine grounds.

deer shaped water fountain at kasuga taisha
Chozuya, not surprisingly, it’s a deer.
close up of nara deer at kasuga taisha
“Would you like a guide?”

As you approach the south gate you will see Enomoto Shrine. This shrine originally occupied this area before Kasuga Taisha’s construction.

Enomoto Shrine on kasuga taisha shrine grounds
Enomoto Shrine

Main Shrine Grounds

south gate of kasuga taisha
South gate

Once you go through the south gate, you will see the Heiden and Maiden. Though it looks like one long covered structure it is actually two and you can make your offering and prayers here.

Heiden and Maiden of kasuga taisha
Heiden and Maiden

Wisteria is common throughout Kasuga Taisha because it is the family crest of the Fujiwara clan.

700 year old wisteria plant at kasuga taisha in full bloom
Sunazuri no Fuji: This wisteria is 700 years old!
small shinto shrine covered in blooming wisteria at kasuga taisha
Taga Shrine

Unfortunately, the honden where the Kasuga Gods reside, is not visible from here. If you pay an additional 500 yen, you can get special access to the inner part of the shrine where you can get a better look at the honden. If you are interested in shrine, I strongly encourage you to go! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take a photos of the honden itself, so you will have to find out what it looks like for yourself. 

Inner Shrine

In terms of Japanese shrines, Kasuga Taisha’s honden is fairly new as it was completed in 1863, . Despite this “newness”, it is registered as a Japanese National Treasure. In the past, Kasuga Taishi regularly rebuilt their honden every 20 years. Though they no longer continue this tradition, the shrine does repaint its honden regularly. 

Kasuga taisha
Entrance to the honden

There are approx 1,000 hanging lanterns, or tsuri toro, in Kasuga Taisha. Come during Setsubun and O-bon to see all lanterns in the shrine lit up!

rows of lanterns at kasuga taisha
Tsuri toro

Some tsuri toro are even from famous samurai.

famous lanterns at kasuga taisha
Donated by Naoe Kanetsugu [直江兼続] on right and Ukita Hideie [宇喜多秀家] on left.
If you were really hoping to see the lanterns lit up, fear not! In the inner shrine grounds is the Fujinami no Ya where they keep some lanterns lit whenever you come.

Fujinami no Ya
dark room with glowing lanterns in Kasuga Taisha
Fujinami no Ya

Points of Interest


Like many ancient and important shrines, Kasuga Taisha has its own specific style of architecture. The only buildings that use kasuga-zukuri are the shrine’s honden as well as some of the smaller shrines. Because it is can be kind of challenging to get a clear view of the honden, the smaller shrines dotted around the shrine grounds are the best way for visitors to get an understanding of what kasuga-zukuri looks like.

Little Shrines

Kasuga Taisha is a huge shrine! There are as many as 61 little shrines throughout the shrine grounds. The largest of these is Wakamiya Shrine [若宮], which enshrines Amenooshikumone no Mokito, the son of Amenokoyane and Himegami.

wakayamiya shrine at kasuga taisha
Wakayamiya: Built using kasuga-zukuri. Here you can clearly see this style of architecture looks like.

Meoto Okunisha [夫婦大国社]

Another particularly interesting shrine is Meoto Okunisha, which enshrines Okuninushi and Princess Suseri. It is only shrine in Japan which enshrines Okunishi and its wife in the same shrine. Thus, it is known as enmusubi shrine, a place where people go to pray for love.

Meoto okunisha
Love charms that slowly reveal when you are destined to meet your true love.


Manyo Botanical Garden [万葉植物園]

entrance to manyo botanical garden
Manyo Botanical Garden

On the way to Kasuga Taisha, is Manyo Botanical Garden. Manyo Botanical Garden is very unique because most of the flowers in the garden are in the famous Manyoshu a collection of poetry compiled in 8th century.small island with a large tree and a stone monument in a pond at manyo botanical garden

Above all else, the garden is famous for its beautiful wisteria and many people come to visit when the flowers are in bloom.

entrance to the wisteria garden in Manyo botanical garden
Entrance to the wisteria garden

Kasuga Taisha

Address160 Kasuganocho, Nara City,
Nara Prefecture 〒630-8212
Hours of Operation Apr – Sep: 6:00 -18:00
Oct – Mar: 6:30 -17:00
Admission FeeGeneral Admission: Free
Inner Shrine Admission: 500 yen 

Coming next time,

The Kagusa Primeval Forest!
The adventure continues…

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