Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Japan Autumn Trip 03: Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

Heading south from Tamukeyama Shrine (手向山神社), you will reach another major tourist spot in Nara, Kasuga Taisha (春日大社, or Kasuga Grand Shrine).

First you will pass through Mt. Wakakusa (若草山). This small hill, which covered by sheets of grass, is recognized as one of the new three major night view of Japan. You could have a nice night view of Nara if you are on top of it. During Edo period, it was famous with its Mikasayama-yuki (三笠山雪, snowy Mt. Mikasa) and listed as one of the Eight Views of Southern Capital (南都八景). This is also the place that held the famous burning-hill ceremony (山焼き) in every January.

The hilltop was covered by thick mist. It looks like the heaven is just a few steps away.

Mizuya Teahouse (水谷茶屋), an iconic small hut on the way to Kasuga Taisha. (I like this view so much!)

Mizutani Shrine (水谷神社)

Stone lanterns could be seen along the way towards Kasuga Taisha.

Misty forest at 11am

Hitokotonushi Shrine (一言主神社)

Abe-no-nakamaro's (阿部仲麻呂) Poem of Missing Home

Abe-no-nakamaro was one of the famous scholars that sent to Tang Dynasty during Nara period. Also known as Chao Heng (晁衡) as his Chinese name, Abe-no-nakamaro left Japan at his age of 17. He obtained Jinshi degree, the highest degree in the Imperial Examination of Tang Dynasty and was assigned to various offices by the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang.

According to the legend, he had his blessing ritual at Kasuga Taisha before his departure. At his age of 33, he requested to return to Japan but it was only approved by the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang until his age of 53. The Poem of Missing Home was the poem he made during the night before his return.

天の原 ふりさけみれば 春日なる 三笠の山に いでし月かも

Looking up at the boundless sky, bright moon is rising slowly  
The moon rising at Mt. Mikasa of Kasuga's land shall be the same as what I'm looking at

Kokin Wakashu  Part IX》

Abe left China from Suzhou, but the ship he boarded was sailed to Annam (today's Vietnam) instead of Japan because of storm. He then went back to Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty and never stepped on Japan's land again till end of his life. He passed away at the age of 70. In order to commemorate his contribution to Japan, he was honored as Senior Second Court Rank, the same rank as udaijin (右大臣, the Minister of the Right).

Keisho-den (桂昌殿, built in 1699) was built as a praying hall on the name of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's mother, Keisho-in. It was used to pray for the peace of Japan. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was the fifth shogun of Tokugawa shogunate.

After Keisho-den, turning left and you will see the main hall of Kasuga Taisha, with its iconic red corridor.

West Corridor

Central Gate and Corridor

Bronze lanterns at corridors

This year is the 60th Renovation Routine Ritual. The shrine asked for the donation of Japanese cypress bark.

Kasuga Taisha holds more than 2200 rituals every year. The most important one is Shikinen-zoutai (式年造替), or Renovation Routine Ritual. This ritual is held together with the renovation of the shrine roof, which made by Japanese cypress bark. The renovation is held every 20 years and all building within the shrine area are renovated one by one within this 20-year period.

This year is the 60th Shikinen-zoutai. The first building to be renovated is the Main Hall (本殿, Honden). During the renovation, the statues worshiped in the hall are moved to the Temporary Hall (仮殿, Kaden). Once the renovation is completed, the statues are returned to the Main Hall again. These two god-shifting rituals are called Gesengu or Kaden-senzasai (外遷宮・仮殿遷座祭 or Ritual of Moving to Temporary Hall, held at 27 March 2015) and Shosengu or Honden-senzasai (正遷宮・本殿遷座祭 or Ritual of Moving to Main Hall, held at 6 November 2015). The rituals are strictly followed the ancient way and the procedure is very tedious.

Praying place towards Ukigumo Peak of Mt. Mikasa (御蓋山浮雲峰遥拝所)

Praying place towards Ukigumo Peak of Mt. Mikasa is a simple designed praying spot for believers to pay their respect to Takemikazuchi (武甕槌命), the Thunder-God in Japanese legend. It was said that the Ukigumo Peak of Mt. Mikasa was the place that Takemikazuchi landed from heaven with his white deer and protected Heijyokyo (平城京, today's Nara), the ancient capital during Nara period. Therefore, the peak, until now, is still considered as sacred place and entry to this area is forbidden.

The direction that red torii facing towards is where Ukigumo Peak is located. On top of that, this place is also located on the O-ne Line (O-ne or 尾根 means mountain ridge), which originated from Ukigumo Peak, passed through the Main Hall of Kasuga Taisha and ended at Daigoku-den (大極殿) of Heijyokyo.

Besides, this place is located at the north-eastern corner of Kasuga Taisha, where you wouldn't find any outer corridor. The only structure you could find is wooden wall. According to the legend, north-east side is the place that Ki-mon (鬼門, Gate of Ghost) is located. So it is not suitable to have construction at this corner. Otherwise the construction will interrupt the beings in another world.

However, there is other opinions that opposed this idea. Someone said that the wooden wall is part of the entire structure, and the Praying Place is located at east-northeast with respect to the Main Hall. So the construction is still conducted in this corner, which contradicted with Ki-mon theory. (Please refer to the map of Kasuga Taisha)

The bronze lantern offered by Keisho-in (Tokugawa 5th Shogun, Tsunayoshi's mother, actual name: Honjyo Muneko 本庄宗子). Tokugawa's Mitsuba'aoi emblem (三つ葉葵紋and Honjyo's Kokonotsumeyui emblem (九つ目結could be found on the surface of lantern. (below) It was said that Honjyo family, which is also served as Kugyo (公卿), was the descendants of Fujiwara family, therefore this lantern was also considered as an offering to Honjyo family's guardian god.

Lanterns hung along the porch, includes those offered by feudal lords and retainers during Sengoku period, about 400 years ago.

Honsha Osugi (Great fir in main shrine), ca. 1000 years old. This fir was recorded in Kasuga Gongen Kenki, a painted handscroll dated back to 1309, late of Kamakura period.

Utsushi-dono (移殿), also known as Temporary Hall, this is the place that statues from Main Hall is relocated during Restoration Routine Ritual.

Taga Shrine (多賀神社), the god worshiped here is Izanagi, whose function encompassed the origin of life, to whom believers pray for longevity. The legends said that Chogen, the Buddhist monk who reconstructed the Main Buddha Hall of Todai-ji after the fire caused by Genpei War, was able to complete the reconstruction because of Izanagi's blessing.

White banners written with longevity

The most special place in Kasuga Taisha is the Fujinami-no-ya (藤浪の屋) below! Dozens of lanterns were hung inside this dark room. The glass wall surrounded inside reflected the grim light, which made us feel like we are surrounded with thousands of lanterns in dark night. This amazing view shows the beauty of Kasuga Mantoro (春日萬灯篭), a ceremony held in every February and mid of August.

Kasuga Taisha was famous with its 3000 lanterns offered since Hei'an period. 60% of current lanterns could be dated back to Muramachi period, more than 600 years ago. 

The golden lanterns outside Fujinami-no-ya

Mantoro (or Thousands Lanterns) in Fujinami-no-ya

Treasure Store, also known as Sacred Store in ancient times, is the second most important buildings other than the Main Hall. This is because the ritual treasures are stored inside.

Central Gate and Corridor, the family names written on the board below the Great Fir are imperial family names.

Cypress bark roof model

Oharae-hitogata (大祓人形), it is a piece of man-shaped white paper, which visitors could write their name and birthday on it, then give to the shrine to pray for their safety on their behalf during Oharae ritual ceremony.

Little girl in her kimono. November is the month of Shichigosan (七五三), a ritual to pray for children's healthy. That's also why I always saw little girls in their pretty kimono and their parents in formal attire when I visited shrines in this travel.

Heiden (幣殿) and Maiden (舞殿)

Southern Gate

Stone lanterns outside Southern Gate

November is the month of "Caring Nara Deers"

Camphor trees at the site of imperial seat of Emperor Meiji. This huge tree actually composed of three camphors. 1908, Emperor Meiji inspected the military exercise held in Nara and then had a banquet at this place. In order to commemorate this event, the government planted these camphor trees at the site where imperial seat was placed.

The tree opposite camphors turned red already!

On the way towards Nanten-mon (南天門), there are two huge stone lanterns, which donated by Ito Shigeshichi (伊藤茂七), a famous Osaka sugar merchant in 1898.

Nara National Museum Buddhist Art Library, it was Nara Prefecture Exhibition Center long time ago.


On the way back to Nara station, we passed by this wakashi shop at Sanjyo-dori.

Matcha red bean mochi, 130 yen each. It's so tasty!


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