The Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara, Japan, is a special place to visit any time of year. The buildings and grounds are lovely, with striking architecture and decoration.
But if you want to see something even more impressive, come for the Chugen Mantoro festival in August, when thousands of lanterns are lit in a magical display.A row of bronze lanterns hanging at the Kasuga Taisha shrine
The Kasuga Taisha shrine
The Kasuga Taisha shrine is a major Shinto shrine in the city of Nara, Japan. This National Treasure was founded to protect the city. For hundreds of years, people have said prayers here for good health and safe homes.
This famous shrine dates back to the year 768 AD. For many centuries, the shrine was completely rebuilt every 20 years. This Shinto custom was intended to renew the construction and purify the site. Kasuga Taisha has been rebuilt perhaps 50 times over the years, until this custom was discontinued. The current version of the shrine was built in 1893.
Kasuga Shrine is a study in vermillion and green. The main gate leads to a number of different halls and primary shrines. There are also a dozen smaller enclaves in the woods around the main complex.
But the most famous aspect of Kasuga Taisha are the lanterns - thousands of them, all donated by worshipers. There are over 2,000 stone lanterns along the pathways outside leading to the shrine. When you reach the interior, you find hundreds more lanterns. Inside, they are hanging lanterns of bronze.One of the smaller enclaves at the Kasuga shrine in Nara
The Chugen Mantoro lantern festival
At the Kasuga shrine, the lanterns are are lit twice a year for special Lantern Festivals, and it's spectacular. Imagine thousands of lanterns glowing along the pathways at night, reflecting in the river, and illuminating the interior of the shrine with their soft, dancing light.
Chugen Mantoro (August 14-15) is festival dedicated to the respect of our ancestors. All of the lanterns are lit, and there is a somewhat mysterious atmosphere. The lights are said to show the way back to earth for past ancestors, who who return to visit each year.Thousands of lanterns are lit for the Chugen Mantoro festival
Nara travel tips
If you're in Nara to visit the Kasuga Shrine, you can also see the nearby botanical gardens, just a short walk away. This unique garden is based on Japan's oldest poetry collection, the Manyoshu. The garden displays about 250 kinds of plants mentioned in those poems. There is a lot of wisteria, and the garden is particularly lovely when it is in bloom.
Nara makes a good day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, though you could stay here overnight, too.
The best times to visit are:
* February 3 (spring lantern festival)
* August 14-15 (Chugen Mantoro lantern festival)
* Late April to early May (when the wisteria is in bloom at the botanical garden)