Tanzan Shrine

Japan Shrines: Tanzan Shrine

Tanzan Shrine 談山神社

Tanzan Shrine, located to the east of the main Asuka historical area in Nara Prefecture, is an ancient shrine that was founded first as a temple in the Asuka Period (538-710) of Japanese history. Tanzan is a mountain shrine much loved, appreciated and visited for its spectacular autumn colors.

Tanzan Shrine, Nara, Japan.
Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture
Tanzan Shrine, Nara, Japan.
Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture

History of Tanzan Shrine

Tanzan Shrine was originally founded as a Buddhist temple known as Tonomine-ji by the priest Jo'e (643- 666), the eldest son of Fujiwara no Kamatari (614-669), the founder of the powerful Fujiwara clan, who were to have much influence during the later Heian Period (794-1192). The temple moved to its present location in 678.

A 13-story pagoda was constructed on the site to house the remains of the Fujiwara patriarch and the temple was much favored by the Imperial family as the Fujiwara rose to prominence behind the imperial throne in Kyoto. The syncretism of Buddhism and Shinto at this time meant that both the original temple and a shrine coexisted here. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Tomomine-ji/Tanzan Shrine complex received financial support from the ruling Tokugawa regime.

However, during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and the reaction against the perceived "foreignness" of Buddhism, the principle of shinbutsu bunri or separation of Shinto and Buddhism, meant that the complex was reclassified solely as a shrine, Tanzan Shrine, though its architecture and buildings preserved many of the characteristics of its earlier incarnation as a Buddhist temple.

Tanzan Shrine, Nara, Japan.
Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture
Tanzan Shrine, Nara, Japan.
Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture

Tanzan Shrine Buildings

The present 13-story pagoda at Tanzan Shrine dates from 1532 and the Muromachi Period and is designated an Important Cultural Property. It is 17m in height. The original burnt down in 1173.

The Main Hall (honden) is built in the kasuga-zukkuri style of architecture that originated at Kasuga Taisha in Nara and is noted for its gabled, cedar-bark covered roofs. The Main Hall is dedicated to Fujiwara no Kamatari.

The smaller Koi Shrine is dedicated to Kagamino Okimi, the consort of Fujiwara no Kamatari, and is a favorite of courting couples.

Around 3,000 maple trees grow in the grounds and surrounding area of Tanzan Shrine making it a massive draw for people wishing to admire the autumn foliage in Japan. It is best to visit during this period, usually the second half of November, during the week rather than on weekends or public holidays.

Festivals at Tanzan Shrine

Tanzan Shrine hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. On April 29 and the second Sunday of November, participants in Asuka Period costumes participate in a game of kick-ball or kemari.

Tanzan Shrine
319 Tounomine, Sakurai
Nara Prefecture 633-0032
Tel: 0744 40 0001
Hours: 8.30am-5pm

Admission: 500 yen for adults.

Access - how to get to Tanzan Shrine

Tanzan Shrine is most easily reached from Sakurai Station on the JR Line from Nara Station rather than on the Kintetsu Line from Yamato-Saidaiji Station and Kintetsu Nara Station.

The journey from JR Nara Station to Sakurai Station takes 30 minutes (320 yen) and is covered by the JR Rail Pass. From the south exit of Sakurai Station hourly buses (more frequent in the fall season) take 25 minutes to the shrine.

For Hasedera Temple take a Kintetsu Osaka Line Semi-Express train for Haibara from Sakurai Station and alight at Hasedera Station.

For Muroji Temple change to the Kintetsu Osaka Line from Sakurai Station and take the kyuko (express) one station (about 16 minutes) to Muroguchi-ono Station. Then take a Nara Kotsu bus the 4km (about 15 minutes) to the temple.

Tanzan Shrine can be hiked from the Ishibutai burial mound over the mountains in about two hours.

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