Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha is in Nara, the site of Heijōkyō, the eighth-century capital of Japan. The jinja was founded in the early eighth century, soon after the foundation of the capital, to enshrine the patron kami of the Fujiwara clan. The Fujiwara had become politically important about fifty years earlier, and were to remain of great importance for another four centuries. The jinja enshrines four kami, and each has their own small main sanctuary.

Like Jingū, Kasuga Taisha had a tradition of rebuilding the sanctuaries every twenty years, and unlike Jingū that tradition had never, I believe, been broken for any substantial period. However, in the early Meiji period, the existing sanctuary buildings (which were, remember, less than twenty years old) were declared National Treasures, which meant that they could not be demolished. Since then, the rebuilding has been replaced by a large program of refurbishment, which has been carried out every twenty years.

As is normal for a major jinja, there are a number of other subsidiary jinja. One of these, Wakamiya Jinja, is particularly important, and was regarded as equal in status to the main sanctuaries until the Meiji period. Indeed, the annual matsuri of the Wakamiya Jinja is the largest matsuri of the jinja, and on some accounts was the event at which Noh theatre was born, about seven hundred years ago. Until the Meiji period, the Wakamiya Jinja was also rebuilt or refurbished every twenty years, at the same time as the main sanctuaries, but from the late nineteenth century it was only repaired as needed.

However, this year marks twenty years since the previous refurbishment, and according to the May 17th issue of Jinja Shinpō, the jinja has decided to carry out another one, reviving the tradition of regular rebuilding. (I assume the implication is that they plan to do it again in 2041.)  The kami was moved from the Wakamiya Jinja to temporary accommodation on April 23rd, and the matsuri revived a number of elements that had not been practised since the nineteenth century, such as laying out rush mats on the path along which the kami was carried. There was also quite an elaborate program of preparation and purification for the priests, which appears, from the brief description in the article, to be basically the same as the preparations for the transfer of the kami from the main sanctuaries. The article does not say whether this was a revival as well, but it may well have been. If it is, a break of about 120 years is the same as the break in the rebuildings at Jingū, so there is good precedent for reviving the customs. I suspect that the records remaining from the mid-nineteenth century are rather more full than the ones Jingū had to work with, as well.

Kasuga Taisha is a very important jinja that doesn’t get quite as much attention as I think it deserves; I should write an essay about it in the fairly near future. (Mind you, it is part of the Nara World Heritage Site, so it is hardly neglected.)

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