The brightly vermilion-lacquered halls of this Shinto shrine stand inside Nara Park, against the backdrop of the primeval forest of Mount Kasuga. The shrine’s vermilion columns, white walls, and natural cypress-bark roofs are the very definition of magnificence. Its history is thought to date back to the Nara period (710-794). A registered World Heritage site, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is truly a cultural treasure of the ancient capital of Nara.
Visitors approach the shrine via the First Torii Gate, the shrine’s main entrance, and then proceed along a straight path, which was once used as a horse-riding ground. The path is surrounded by Asajigahara Park, where a clear stream runs between mossy knolls, and lush, grassy fields where deer graze contentedly. Nearby you can also find the Man’yo Botanical Garden, containing plants that appear in the Man’yoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, as well as the Kasuga Taisha Museum, a treasure hall where about 3,000 relics including 520 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties are held. A special admission fee of 500 yen is required to worship at the Main Sanctuary, the shrine’s innermost area surrounded by cloisters.
The grounds also contain the Meoto Daikokusha Shrine famous for its power to bestow luck in matchmaking and matrimonial happiness, which makes it popular among worshippers with romance on their minds. After admittance here, you can go on to explore fifteen other auxiliary shrines. If your feet get tired, take a break at the Garden Café (Kasuga Ninai Jaya), where you can enjoy Man’yo rice porridge with seasonal vegetables connected to the Man’yoshu, adzuki-bean soup, or sweets such as shaved ice in summer. Kudzu-starch cakes and kaki-monaka (wafer cakes filled with persimmon-flavored bean jam) also make great souvenirs.