On the opposite side of the park to Todaiji, across the road is the Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) shrine, dedicated to the deity that protects the city. Legend has it that Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, travelled from Ibaraki, northern Japan on a white deer all the way to Mt. Mikasa, a holy mountain, to reside on its summit for the prosperity and happiness of the nation. She is one of the four deities enshrined here since the shrine was built in 768 by the Fujiwara clan.
The walk along the footpath in the atmospheric forest is serene and peaceful, lined with hundreds and hundreds of stone lanterns and many nestled in the woods. You can feel the quietness as you approach the impressive Shinto shrine with cute little sacred deer peeking from behind these stone lanterns every so often where you will want to stop and take some pictures. Near the entrance to the shrine, there is the Museum which is home to the most impressive and important swords, suits of armour and various other items dedicated to the deities since the 8th century.
The Kasuga Taisha is popular for its many stone lanterns that lines the path, and many more in the woods and bronze lanterns which you will see hanging along the wall of the buildings all throughout the shrine. The North cloister where the Fujinami-no-ya hall is situated, behind the main shrine is filled with hundreds of lanterns. These lanterns are lit twice a year, in February and August during the Mantoro Festival. It gives you a certain feel when you just imagine, the beauty of the paths through the forest and the lanterns hung throughout the shrine when these 3000 flickering lanterns are lit up from sunset. The beautiful contrast of the shrine itself, the bright orange red, with white walls and the hinoki cypress bark roof as against the green of the ancient woods just paints a serene beauty.
The Shrine is also famous for about 200 of its wisteria trees which blooms from late April to early May. You can find some of these around the shrine, but a large part of the Shinen Manyo Botanical Garden is dedicated to these beautiful flowers. The Garden is close-by to the Shrine and displays about 250 kinds of plants, described in Manyoshu. Manyoshu is a collection of Japan’s oldest poems which dates to the Nara period.
From Kasuga Taisha, there are paths leading through the forest park to Mt. Wakakusa. Behind the Kasuga Taisha shrine is the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, a sacred area which is closed to the public and remained untouched for over 1000 years. Both the Kasuga Taisha and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest are jointly designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you are planning to walk, like I did, from Todaiji Temple to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, then you will probably do the following route:
If you walk from the Kintetsu Nara Station, it will take about 35 to 40 minutes and your route will probably look like this:
Kasuga Taisha – Opening times: Apr-Sept – 06:00 – 18:00
Oct-Mar – 06:30 – 17:00
Admission fee: Free [outer area]
500 Yen [inner area]
Kasuga Taisha Museum – Opening times: 10:00 – 17:00 [last admission: 16:30]
Admission fee: 500 Yen
Botanical Garden – Opening times: Mar – Nov – 09:00 – 17:00 [last admission: 16:30]
Dec – Feb – 09:00 – 16:30 [last admission: 16:00]
Admission fee: 500 Yen