Tanzan Shrine: Hidden 13 Storied Pagoda in Nara

Nara Tanzan Shrine: The only 13-story wooden pagoda existing in the world!

Tanzan Shrine (談山神社) is a Shinto shrine located on the mountain in Sakurai city, Nara Prefecture. It’s one of the best hidden gems in Japan as the magnificent shrine complex is highly praised, and it displays the gorgeous scenery of cherry blossoms in spring and colourful foliage in autumn.

The shrine was founded in 678 during Asuka period by the monk Jo’e who is the oldest son of Fujiwara no Kamatari, the founder of the powerful Fujiwara clan which governed Japan during Heian period (794–1185). The shrine enshrines Fujiwara no Kamatari.

The unique fact is that the shrine was originally built as temple called Tonomineji, then served both as a Shinto shrine (Tanzan Shrine) and a Buddhist temple (Tonomineji) during Encho period under Shinbutsu Shugo, syncretism of Buddhism and kami worship. During the anti-Buddhist shinbutsu bunri movement in Meiji period, it was converted to a shrine, dedicating to the worship of the kami of Fujiwara no Kamatari.

The unique landmark of Tanzan Shrine is the 17m tall 13-story pagoda. It was built in 1532 during Muromachi period as a reconstruction of the structure built by Jo’e during Asuka period. The pagoda is considered as the only one 13-story wooden pagoda existing in the world and it is designated an Important Cultural Properties of Japan.

The shrine comprises many small and large buildings. The main hall of the shrine is built with Kasuga zukuri style, a traditional Shinto shrine architectural style named after the main hall of Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara City.

The shrine is a very popular spot for viewing autumn leaves. There are about 3,000 maple trees at the site that turn into warm autumn colours and display astonishing scenery together with the historic buildings. During the season, autumn leaves festival is held at the shrine featuring numbers of food stalls and special light-up for autumn leaves at night. The peak time of autumn leaves at the shrine is usually from mid November to early December.

Although most of visitors go there for autumn leaves, Tanzan Shrine is actually a great spot for cherry blossom viewing, too. There are over 500 cherry trees at the site blooming usually from early to mid April.

Other highlight of the shrine is Kemari Festival, which is held twice a year on 29th April (Showa Day) and 3rd November (Culture Day). Kemari is a ball game which was commonly played in Japan during the Heian Period and it’s similar to football in present day. At the festival, people play the game in ancient costumes, kicking a ball made of deer skin to each other in a circle.

Tanzan Shrine (談山神社)

Map: https://maps.app.goo.gl/V9mfqZejizQBzpFt9

Access: bus from Sakurai station south exit and get off at Tanzan Jinja stop (25 mins)

Hours: 8:30~16:30

Admission: 600 yen

Website: http://www.tanzan.or.jp/

Thank you for reading! For more information about travelling Nara prefecture and other cities in Western Japan, please check out these articles, too!

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"The world is my oyster" A globetrotter 🌎 and hammock lover 🌞 who loves taking adventures to fuel wanderlust. Born and raised in Japan, I have lived and explored countries around the world. As a resident of Japan and based on my travel experience, I'd love to share my knowledge and tips for travelling Japan with my readers. I hope my story will help you plan your trip and have a great time in Japan 🌈