Tōrō line and illuminate the Sando!
From Nara deer park it’s about a good 30 minute walk to find the entrance to Kasuga Taisha, which is opposite of Todaishi. From there it’s a bit of a walk to get to the main shrine, but the good news is that it’s through a beautiful forest lined with pine trees and over a thousand Toro. Toro are Japanese lanterns made of stone, wood, or metal traditional in the Far East. Originally, the Toro were only used in Buddhist shrines – though later in the Heian period were also used in Shinto shrines and private homes – and lit lanterns were considered offerings to Buddha. Segments of these Toro could be divided into the five elements of Buddhist cosmology and each represented the idea that after death our physical bodies will go back to their original, elemental form. There are two types of Toro – the hanging kind, known as tsuri-doro, and the platform type, known as dai-doro. The pathway is lined with these Toro; big ones, small ones, one after another! It’s perfect to view on a sunny day.
The Kasuga Grand Shrine:
Gradually the path winds up, and after strolling for about 15 minutes through the forest you will arrive at the main shrine. It’s of the same family as the Fushimi Inari Taisha, although the reddish paint isn’t as new as its counter-part in Kyoto. If you pay a small entrance fee you can get closer to the gods and go behind the fence that separate the commoners from the paying folk. Outside the shrine there is the forest where one can walk for many hours and find different calm and quiet spots for reflection. There is also a museum where different samurai attire is on display.
On the way back there is a nice restaurant and a botanical garden, known as Manyo botanical garden. There are over 300 types of plants, all mention in the Manyoshu – the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry – each labeled with their names and poems which mention them. We didn’t visit the garden unfortunately, as it was near to closing time, though from looking at the ground plan, this garden is quite extensive and definitely worthwhile to visit for nature lovers.
The Kasugayama Primeval Forest:
Kasuga Shrine, and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest near it, are registered as one of the nine UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”. It was built in 768, and from 1871 through 1946 it was designated officially as one of the Kanpei-taisha, meaning it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines. The main shrine is made of four different shrines, all designated to a different god, though most people worship in front of the Heiden shrine out of the main shrine. To the west of Kasuga taisha is the Homotsuden; a treasure hall containing over 3000 treasures, 520 of which are designated as national treasures and important cultural properties. There are many smaller branch shrines in the outskirts, and especially popular are the twelve to the south – it is said that if you visit all of them you will find happiness afterwards. Mount Kasuga, to the east of Kasuga taisha, and because of the hunting and logging which has been prohibited for a thousand years, a broad primary forest spreads, untouched by human hands.
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