Setsubun 節分 is the last day of winter in the Japanese calendar that falls on February 3 or 4 every year. For this year in Nara, the day is February 3, 2014, signalling the beginning of spring. This day is a holiday and accompanied by a bean scattering ceremony. In Kyoto, they celebrate Setsubun from 2-4 February. We were in Kyoto on February 2 and missed the bean scattering event in Yasaka Shrine. Too bad because they say that the bean scattering ceremony is about casting off bad luck to be able to start anew. Anyway, so I missed the celebrations in Kyoto but not to fret because I included in our itinerary a visit to Nara on the day of Setsubun Mantoro to witness the lighting of over 3000 stone lanterns in Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This rare event only happens twice a year, the first as has been mentioned is during Setsubun Mantoro and the second during the Obon Festival in mid-August.
We walked to Kasuga Taisha Shrine from Kintetsu Nara station. I know that Nara Park is near, so we decided to go there first. In Nara Park, we were greeted by the famous Nara deer; they are literally all over the place. We will be seeing a few deer until we reach Kasuga Taisha Shrine passing by a few Nara attractions. I believe the deer are an attraction on their own.
We passed by the Kofukuji Temple, which was also being dressed up for Setsubun. Kofukuji Temple, I would find out later on, is the family temple of the Fujiwara Clan, rulers during the Nara & Heian periods. The Five Story pagoda is also the second tallest in all of Japan at 50 meters, only 7 meters shorter than Kyoto’s Toji Temple.
Another interesting thing that we saw while passing by Kofukuji is an erected Sakura tree, of which there’s no way for me to tell whether it is real or fake. All I know is it is lovely, and considering that it is Setsubun, the presence of a sakura tree just completes the picture of welcoming spring.
From Kofukuji, we walked straight ahead until we reached a few lit up man-made lanterns that tells me we are nearing Kasuga Taisha. Even if these were not the actual stone lanterns, the sight of hundreds made me anticipate the beauty of the real thing.
When we finally arrived at Kasuga Taisha, the sky is noticeably darker, it was already dusk. At Kasuga Taisha Shrine, each of the 3,000 stone lanterns are lit up by candlelight. These stone lanterns were donated by people to the shrine and each corresponds to their personal wishes.
When lighted these lanterns evoke a scenery full of mysticism. Because it was already dark, capturing such beauty was a real challenge.
Light amidst the darkness is truly a sight to behold. And just like the coming of spring, the presence of light in my path gives me new hopes for a new beginning.