Kasuga Shine, erected in 768 by Lord Fujiwara, is Nara‘s most celebrated shrine. Located west of Nara Park, Kasuga Shine along with nearby Kasugayama Primeval Forest are designated as a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. It was also the tutelary shrine of the Fujiwara, Japan’s most powerful family clan during most of the Nara and Heian Periods.
The inner shrine consists of four separate shrines surrounded by a gallery and painted in bright vermilion. The eaves of the buildings are decorated with as many as a thousand bronze hanging lanterns. The sloping roofs are made from cypress bark and overhang the structures in an eponymous style of architecture known as kasuga-zukuri. The shrine grounds contain a Treasure House near the main complex which displays the shrine’s relics. These include two sets of large ornate drums.
The shire is famous for its lanterns, which have been donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings, while as many stone lanterns line its approaches. The lanterns are only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid August. On March 13, Kasuga Matsuri aka Monkey Festival which is the main festival of the shrine and features a colorful parade and bugaku and gagaku dance performances is held. From late April to early May, visitors may admire the botanical Garden in which wisteria flowers come into bloom.