Located in central part of Nara Prefecture, Tanzan Shrine is most famous for its dazzling autumn foliage, and unique pagoda. Tanzan Shrine is located up a mountain, and can be reached by a two-hour hike… or more conveniently by a 25-minute bus ride.
To get to Tanzan Shrine, I took the bus from the south exit of Sakurai Station, which is easily reached from Osaka or Nara by Kintetsu Railway, and Tanzan is the final destination. Look for the bus headed towards “談山神社” (Tanzan-jinja). The ride is pretty cheap at 490 yen, and there are about 8-9 buses per day. During the peak foliage season, there are additional buses to meet demand.
To Tanzan Shrine
After alighting the bus, it’s a quick walk to the main entrance of Tanzan Shrine. The street is lined with a few shops selling food, from meat buns to alcohol and konjac. There is even a hotel just across from the shrine, so you could easily end your day here without returning to Osaka.
Just through the main torii gate there are about 100 steps leading up to the shrine. When the autumn foliage is just right, about mid-November, this staircase is truly wonderful. The trees hang over the stairs creating a tunnel, so don’t forget to look up! The shrine grounds are quite large, so the leaves are more breathtaking in certain areas compared to others. If you’re lucky they might all turn at once… and that’s something I would like to see.
There are about 4 main buildings that make up Tanzan, and you might notice that it looks rather more like a Buddhist temple than a shrine. This is because it originally was. However, during the Meiji Period of Japan’s history, the government sought to un-entwine Buddhism from Shintoism, and thus the temple was cast as a shrine.
The main hall of Tanzan Shrine has a wonderful balcony which looks out over the grounds. I found this to be a great way to see the autumn leaves up close. The building can also be entered, inside which you will find various treasures and a prayer area.
From inside the building we can look out to the inner shrine of Tanzan. It is here that the founder of the Fujiwara family, Fujiwara Kamatari, is enshrined. The Fujiwara’s were a powerful family that shaped Japan in its early history. Sitting on the tatami, we can also turn around and look out over the balcony and view the shrine grounds from above. Looking at the autumn foliage layered over the shrine is a spiritual experience well worth the travel.
The balcony is lined with beautiful lanterns, making an excellent foreground to the backdrop of the autumn foliage. This is a popular photo spot, so be prepared to wait a while to get the chance to snap a shot without other people entering your frame! However, as you can see, perseverance will pay off!
Tanzan Shrine and Its Unique 13-Storied Pagoda
A unique and famous landmark of Tanzan Shrine is its 13-storied pagoda. This pagoda dates to 1532, and stands 17 meters tall. Its height means it stands up with the trees that surround it, which looks really great along with the matching coloured red leaves.
Besides from the main building and the 13-storied pagoda, Tanzan Shrine has many smaller shrines scattered around its grounds. At the rear of the temple grounds you will find a path heading up the mountain. From here, by a short 10 minute hike, you can reach the peak of the mountain. The peak is only about 600 metres, so well under the tree-line.
Tanzan Shrine is a great way to experience a Japanese Shinto shrine nestled in the mountains. With easy access thanks to Kintetsu Railways and a direct bus service, its seclusion is not a bother, and only serves to add more flavour and spirituality.
I really enjoyed visiting Tanzan Shrine, and I think anyone who loves shrines, seclusion and especially autumn leaves will surely love it too.
Hi! I am a traveler, musician and student living in Japan. I love traveling to places I don't know much about, and then learning as much as possible whilst I'm there. I spend my spare time at home writing fiction, non-fiction and programs, so I hope you find my articles here both informative and fun to read. I first came to the Kansai region as an exchange student, and through the kind hearts of the local people, the unique cuisine and the relaxed lifestyle, the region will always hold a special place in my heart.