On the south side of Nara Park, not far from the famous Nara temples of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji, one can find a long, wide path flanked with stone lanterns. At the end of this path is Kasuga Taisha, a large shrine complex dating back over 1,300 years.
Kasuga Taisha is well known for its lanterns of which it has some 3,000 in total. This includes not only the stone lanterns on its approach but also hundreds of bronze lanterns suspended inside and outside the shrine buildings.
Entry to the outer areas of the shrine is free, and it is here that you can pray or purchase charms and goshuin; however, you do need to pay before you can access the inner courtyard. From here, you can access the Honden, or main hall, which includes a corridor that is pitch black, save for the faint glow of dozens of small lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
The Honden is in its own unique style called Kasuga-zukuri and has been rebuilt every 20 years since its founding in 768.
Which park is nearby?
On the other side of the Apple Yard is a huge cypress tree called Honsha-Osugi. The tree stands to a height of about 20m and its trunk is some 8m around. It is thought to be at least 1,000 years old and unusually, has a Chinese Juniper tree growing out of it trunk and piercing through the roof of a nearby hall called the Naoraiden.
Around the shrine
Kasuga Taisha also has a fascinating museum with some great artifacts. You can also visit the Manyo Botanical Garden which contains more than 300 varieties of plant, all of which were named in a 1,300 year old poetry compilation called the Man’yoshu
Surrounding the shrine is the primeval forest of Kasugayama. The forest is riddled with trails that lead to Mount Wakakusa to the north and the ancient sword-smithing village of Yagyu to the south. This road, the Yagyu Kaido, is nicknamed the Takisaka-no-Michi meaning “Waterfall Slope Road” as smooth stones and slope can become a veritable waterfall when it rains.