Tanzan Shrine: Elegance Between the Mountains
Within a 30-minute train ride from Nara City, this Shinto shrine that seems more like a temple is surrounded by over 3,000 maple trees and boasts amazing spring cherry blossoms, great summer greenery, beautiful autumn foliage and a romantic winter landscape.
Though not among the most famous Shinto spots in Japan, Tanzan Shrine in Nara stands out for both historical and architectural qualities. The complex of buildings is located in the Tounomine Mountains next to the historical Sakurai city, the so-called “Nikko of Kansai”, which is constantly mentioned in the Man’yōshū (the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry).
The vermilion-lacquered facility has its origins traced to a Buddhist temple built in the Asuka Period (538 – 710). It was converted into a shrine during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), after the government made Shinto the official religion of the Japanese state.
The Tanzan Shrine’s main attraction is a 17-meter tall 13-storied pagoda, the only of its kind in Japan. With an impressive variety of trees and flowers, it manages to stay elegant throughout all seasons. According to traditional beliefs, the shrine brings good fortune to couples – especially those who touch the Stone Seat of Bonding within the complex.
The shrine also hosts the Kemari Matsuri (“Kickback Festival” in English) twice a year, on April 29 and in the second Sunday of November. During the celebrations, people dressed in ancient costumes play a lookalike version of football with a ball made of deerskin.