Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Lasting Tribute "to an Unknown God"

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Kasuga Taisha (Shrine), in Nara City, was established over 1,300 years ago, shortly after Nara became the first permanent capital of Japan.

The purification fountain at Kasuga Shrine

According to shrine historians, Kasuga Taisha was constructed after the Shintō deity Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto appeared atop nearby Mt. Mikasa in response to prayers for protection of the new capital city.

Mt. Mikasa, as seen from neighboring Mt. Wakakusa

Takemikazuchi and three other Shintō deities are enshrined inside Kasuga Taisha, in an elaborate set of buildings where both Shintō and Buddhist ceremonies are conducted regularly.

The worship hall at Kasuga Taisha

Sub-shrines on the expansive grounds of Kasuga Shrine (which encompass a large portion of Nara Park) honor more than five dozen other deities, and the priests conduct hundreds of individual ceremonies to honor these deities every year.

Nara's famous deer: formerly considered sacred because the deity appeared on Mt. Mikasa riding a white deer

One of the most important of these "other deities" was discovered at the time of the shrine's construction, and remains a mystery to many visitors.

Directly in front of the shrine's main gate, a simple wooden fence surrounds a stone embedded in the sandy earth.

The fence is lower left, in front of the stairs. 

This sacred stone was unearthed during construction of the shrine in the 8th century. Shrine historians say that a deity appeared on this stone (and also inhabits the stone, depending on the translation). The deity is older than the shrine, and even older than Shintō faith, and although the deity is not given a specific name, it is said that this deity is even stronger, and older, than the Takemikazuchi and the other deities enshrined at Kasuga Shrine.

The deity is (in) the stone.

For that reason, the stone was not removed, or covered over. Instead, a fence was constructed and ceremonies and prayers are offered in honor of the god whose presence the stone reveals.

The decision to leave the stone, and honor the deity it represents, is emblematic of the way Japan's indigenous Shintō faith respects all evidence of the divine. Although the grounds of Kasuga Shrine were clearly dedicated to Takemikazuchi and the other deities for whom the shrine was built, the priests not only felt no need to "erase" the deities that formerly inhabited the land, but took enduring steps to respect and honor them as well.

The sign (only in Japanese) explains about the sacred stone.

Unfortunately, the current sign explaining the meaning of the stone is written only in Japanese, so many Western visitors pass by without understanding its significance. However, I understand that a new sign, written in English as well as Japanese, is under consideration. I hope it gets approved, and built. Until then, the simple stone will remain a unique, and under-appreciated, element of Kasuga Taisha's history: a lasting tribute to an ancient god.



  1. Dearest,I hope they hire you to write the new inscription in English!!

  2. Once again your post inspires me to want to learn more about a remarkable culture. One line in particular stood out to me: "the priests not only felt no need to "erase" the deities that formerly inhabited the land, but took enduring steps to respect and honor them as well."

    Why can't our "civilized" world's religious and political leaders follow that suggestion, instead of tearing down what came before so that they can reinvent the wheel in their new image.