Kasuga-taisha, Nara, Japan

Established at the same time as the city itself, Nara’s most celebrated shrine is famous for its lanterns – and the deer, of course. Even the shrine’s chōzuya is carved in the shape of a deer.

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Lanterns are everywhere. They line the approach to the shrine, and gather around and between its buildings. Twice yearly, each and every one is lit: several thousand, made from stone, wood, or bronze. The bronze lanterns in particular are donated to the shrine by worshippers, and are regularly replenished.

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As you can see, the deer are able to wander as freely here as anywhere else in the city.

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The Minamimon – South Gate – is just as flooded with lanterns as the rest.

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From Kasuga-taisha you are free to wander on to several auxiliary shrines, and view the ancient forest beyond, which contains many of Japan’s oldest and largest camphor trees. The forest belongs to the shrine, but is closed to the public.

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The shrine also maintains a very pretty botanical garden, which displays over 250 varieties of plants. These are of particular interest to fans of Japanese literature, as all are described in the Manyoshu poems of the Nara period.

Visiting Kasuga-taisha:

The temple is approximately 30 minutes’ walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, at the South-East corner of Nara Park. It is well signposted.

Admission: The shrine’s grounds are free. Entry to the inner area is 500円; the botanical garden is 500円; and the Treasure House is 400円.

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