As I continued my exploration of Nara, I made my way to Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine, and Tōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple. Along with several other sites in Nara, including Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Taisha and Tōdai-ji are part of UNESCO’s Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.
The pebbled path leading to Kasuga Taisha takes you through a forest of trees that block out the sun. The overhanging leaves and branches create a tunnel through which you walk, almost ceremoniously. Lining both sides of the path are stone lanterns of varying sizes and shapes. And even within Kasuga Taisha, lanterns made of stone or bronze line the walls or hang from eaves. Worshipers to Kasuga Taisha donated many of the lanterns, and the lanterns lit for special festivals each year.
Not far from Kasuga Taisha is Tōdai-ji, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha. Guarding the entrance gate, or niōmon, to Tōdai-ji (like they do at many other Buddhist temples) are kongōrikishi. These two protectors signify the birth and death of all things.
Walking from one site to the other, you cannot avoid crossing paths with many wild Sika deer, especially in Nara Park. According to the local folklore, Takenomikazuchi no mikoto, a god of Kasuga Taisha appeared riding a white deer. Since then, they were all considered to be sacred objects and killing them was a capital offense. However, after World War II, the deer were reclassified as national treasures, thus eliminating their divinity.