A sign at the entrance to Kasuga Taisha provides the
The Kasuga Shrine was founded in 768 C.E. at a time when
Nara was capital of Japan. The beautiful location, the vicinity of the Mikasa
and Kasuga hills, was upon a site that had been considered holy from the
As the family shrine of the powerful Fujiwara family, the
Kasuga Shrine rose to the zenith of importance in the Heian period (794–1185),
when the Fujiwara aristocracy was dominant at the Imperial court upon its move
to the new capital at Kyoto.
Even after the period of Fujiwara
political preeminence came to an end, the family still retained a position of
great prestige at court. Since virtually all empresses have been members of
Fujiwara branch houses, the Kasuga Shrine, as their tutelary shrine, has
developed many close ties with the imperial family.
The shrine is unsurpassed as a
repository of Heian period art and architecture. Periodic restoration and
ceremonial rebuilding have assured careful preservation of the original forms of
many ninth-, tenth-, and eleventh-century buildings.
Of the four deities enshrined here,
Takemimikazuchi-no-Mikoto and Futsunushi-no-Mikoto were originally brought here
from the Hitachi and Shimofusa districts, in modern Ibaraki and Chiba
prefectures near present-day Tokyo. The remaining two, Amenokoyame-no-Mikoto and
Himegami, are revered as forebears of the Fujiwara family.
From other sources, I learned that
legend has it that the shrine originated when the deity
Takemimikazuchi-no-Mikoto arrived on the top of Mount Mikasa from Kashima Shrine
in Hitachi Province (present-day Kashima Shrine in Kashima City, Ibaraki
Prefecture), riding on a white stag. In 768 the Fujiwara clan buiilt shrines in
four locations on the present grounds to worship the gods named above. The
construction of the Wakamiya Shrine in 1135 brought the number of deities
worshiped at Kasuga to five.
From the Heian period on, the Fujiwara
clan, along with the emperor and the imperial family, actively sponsored the
shrine and donated to it numerous sacred items to be used by the gods enshrined
within the inner sanctuaries. Today, the Kasuga Shrine Treasure House (Kasuga
Taisha Hōmotsukan) houses many of these shrine treasures along with other
valuable objects. The shrine and its surrounding forests are part of the UNESCO
World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”
the entrance to Kasuga Taisha, our guide, Kyoko, points out the plaques naming
donors to the shrine.
of sake donated by the manufacturers as temple tribute. All the barrels are now
empty and just for show.
stone marker at the entrance to the shrine proclaims that “In
December 1998, ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’
including Kasuga Taisha Shrine was inscribed upon the World Heritage List, under
the terms of the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural
and Natural Heritage. Inscription on this List confirms the outstanding
universal value of cultural or natural sites which deserve protection for the
benefit of all humanity.”
stag fountain is a reminder of the legend that
Takemimikazuchi-no-Mikoto rode in from Kashima Shrine on the back of a
asked us to guess how many lanterns there are at the shrine, this being one of
the features for which it is noted. She later provided the answer: 3,218. Here
Tom poses with a few of them.
sign gives the history of the shrine (paraphrased above) in Japanese and
were told that this wisteria is many centuries old.
more of the 3,218 lanterns.