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Notes on the Geography of Japan: Nara: Shrines & Temples

The pictures here show the Kasuga Shrine, as well as the Kofukuji Temple and some sculptures from nearby museums.

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Japan: Nara: Shrines & Temples picture 1

Two friends on their way up to the Kasuga shrine, on the lower slope of Mt. Kasuga. The shrine was founded in 768 by the ancestor of the Fujiwara family, which ruled Nara for several centuries after the city was no longer the national capital.

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The approach passes some 3,000 stone lanterns, lit twice yearly on February third or fourth and August fourteenth or fifteenth.

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Many carry paper notices mentioning the person who paid for the candle last placed in the lantern.

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Along the path: a small shrine in the style of the Kasuga shrines themselves.

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The path leads to a brightly colored gallery enclosing the shrines.

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The lanterns cluster thicker.

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Hanging lanterns.

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Banners.

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We're now close to the gallery with the shrines themselves.

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Another angle.

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The shrines are under the roof in the background.

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They're behind the closed gate: two of the four are visible here, right and left, like small but ornate sheds.

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Here's the rear view of all four. Traditionally, they were always rebuilt every 20 years, regardless of their condition. They are dedicated to the Shinto god Ama-no-Koyane, his wife Hime-gani, and the gods or mythical heroes Take-mikazuchi and Futsu-nushi.

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An oracle ceremony, as shown on a 19th century copy of the picture scroll (gongen-genki) given to the shrine in 1309.

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In the local museum, a massive drum with its own halo.

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The same kind of drum, but this time an ancient one.

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We've come downhill to see the once-great Kofukuji Temple, established in 669 by Fujiwara Kamatari's wife. Eminent in the Nara Period, the temple remained important as long as the Fujiwara family did. With their decline in the 12th century, however, the temple burned to the ground in 1180. Though rebuilt, it was never again as important as it had been.

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At one corner, stones marking the various guises of the Shinto deity Jizo, who protects women and children, travelers and pilgrims. The red cloths are offerings in exchange for answered prayers.

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Column footings for a West Main Hall, yet to be built.

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Kofukuji has the second highest pagoda in Japan. It was built in 730 but destroyed and rebuilt five times, most recently in 1426.

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Another view of it.

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In the temple museum, the head of a temple-gate guard or Kongo Rikishi .

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Senui-Kannon or 1000-armed Kannon, originally in the temple's dining hall. Kannon (Sanskrit = Avalokiteshwara) is one of the Amida (Sanskrit = Amitabha) bodhisattvas; his many secondary arms represent his compassionate reaching out to help the needy. Atop his head sits a small image of Amida.

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A standing Yakushi Nyorai (Sanskrit = Bhaisajyagura), or Healing Buddha.

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An Amida (Sanskrit = Amitabha) Triad, formerly in the preaching hall at the Horyuji east temple. Amida, according to the doctrine of the Pure Land sect, rules over a western paradise, Sukhavati.

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Closer.

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Another angle.


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