About Nikko Toshogu Shrine | Detailed explanation of history and overview

🕓 2024/3/30

Detailed explanation of the history and overview of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

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  1. History of Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  2. Architecture of Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  3. Sculptures and decorations of Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  4. Religious and cultural significance of Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  5. Tourist guide to Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  6. Attractions around Nikko Toshogu Shrine


Nikko Toshogu Shrine is one of Japan's leading shrines and is registered as a World Heritage Site, and is known for its beauty and historical importance. This shrine, located in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, was built in the early Edo period to enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu. He is revered as the person who ended Japan's Sengoku period and ushered in a long period of peace. Later, under the protection of the Tokugawa shogunate, Nikko Toshogu Shrine received numerous additions, giving it the grandeur that you see today.

We will also consider the religious and cultural significance of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and explore the role this sacred place plays in today's Japanese society. We'll then guide visitors to get the most out of this historic site, including how to get there, what to see, and recommended routes.



1. History of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

The construction of this shrine dates back to 1617. It was built to enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu after he passed away. Ieyasu is known for ending Japan's Sengoku period and establishing the Edo Shogunate. His political and military talent brought about an era of peace that lasted over 250 years in Japan. In honor of his accomplishments, his successors decided to worship him as a god and build a shrine to him.

Nikko Toshogu Shrine was built according to the will of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who wanted it to be enshrined in Nikko after his death. One of the reasons for this is Nikko's rich natural environment. During his lifetime, Ieyasu highly valued the beauty of Nikko and believed that this place should be remembered for a long time by future generations.

The first Toshogu Shrine was relatively simple, but by the time of the third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, it was expanded into the grand structure that can be seen today. Due to this expansion, Nikko Toshogu Shrine became a symbol of the power and wealth of the Tokugawa shogunate, and the shogunate's generals worked to beautify and expand the shrine to demonstrate their own power and show respect for Ieyasu.




2. Architecture of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

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Nikko Toshogu Shrine as an architectural masterpiece
Nikko Toshogu Shrine is known worldwide for its magnificent architecture and elaborate decoration. This sacred site embodies the pinnacle of traditional Japanese architectural techniques and art, and continues to fascinate visitors. Let's take a closer look at its architectural features and representative buildings.

Introduction to comprehensive architectural styles
The architecture of Nikko Toshogu Shrine exhibits a unique style that combines Japanese tradition and innovation. The wood used in the construction of the shrine is harvested from the rich natural surroundings, and each building is arranged to be one with nature. In addition, the carvings and decorations that decorate the building reflect traditional Japanese aesthetics and the high level of skill of the craftsmen, and are made with exquisite detail.


【 Overview of representative buildings and their significance 】


As a symbol of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, it spans the Otani River in Nikko, surrounded by rich nature. The bridge was originally a sacred place, considered a passageway for the gods, and symbolizes Nikko's beautiful natural and historical background to visitors. The vermilion lacquer is said to have the power to ward off evil spirits, and the beautiful curves demonstrate technical sophistication, while at the same time serving as a sacred gateway to purify the mind and body. Shinkyo Bridge, which reflects the scenery of each season, deeply impresses all who visit it as a symbol of timeless beauty and peace.


stone torii gate
The stone torii gate that protects the entrance to Kotoshogu Shrine serves as the entrance to the sanctuary. This torii gate is the first welcome to the ornate Nikko Toshogu Shrine, giving visitors a first impression of its grandeur and sacredness. The letters engraved on the stone torii record that Kuroda Nagamasa, the feudal lord who ruled Fukuoka Prefecture, dedicated stones from his territory to Nikko, symbolizing Ieyasu's prestige and the respect of the feudal lords. The difficulty of transporting and dedicating stones from more than 900 kilometers away in a straight line speaks to the respect for Tokugawa Ieyasu and the power structure of the Edo period. The stone torii gate is made of multiple stones, and its structure is said to have the effect of alleviating the shock of an earthquake.


Five-storied pagoda

The five-storied pagoda is one of the buildings that symbolizes the landscape of Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Five-storied pagodas, which are usually built at Buddhist facilities to house the remains of the Buddha, attract many tourists with their presence and beauty. Under the eaves of the first floor of the five-storied pagoda, there are carvings of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, with a total of twelve animals arranged on four sides. These carvings include the zodiac signs of Ieyasu and his descendants, with Ieyasu's own zodiac sign of the tiger, his son Hidetada's zodiac sign of the rabbit, and his grandson Iemitsu's zodiac sign of the dragon placed on the front. Masu. Through these zodiac signs, respect for Ieyasu and his lineage and wishes for prosperity are expressed.



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Yomeimon is one of the most famous buildings in Nikko Toshogu Shrine, with its impressive contrast of gold and white. Containing 240,000 pieces of gold leaf, this gate has more gold leaf than the Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, symbolizing Toshogu's opulence and extravagance. Yomeimon is also called the ``Sunset Gate,'' and its beauty continues to fascinate visitors until the sun sets. Ieyasu's divine name ``Tosho Daigongen'' is engraved on the central frame, and this character was written by the reigning Emperor Go-Mizunoo. The decorations and carvings on Yomeimon express a wish for peace, and most of the carvings of animals and people symbolize a peaceful world.



Karamon is a gate with a distinctive arch-shaped roof located just in front of the worship hall. At the top of the center of the roof is a sacred animal called Akatsuki, which is said to have more power than a lion or a tiger, and is said to protect Toshogu Shrine at night. The statue of Akatsuki is fixed with a gold ring, and serves as a keystone of nighttime protection to prevent it from going anywhere. In the front center of the gate sits the legendary Emperor Shun of ancient China, giving the impression of his will and enthusiasm for ideal government. Shun is considered the representative of the ideal monarch in the East, and his image placed on the Karamon gate shows respect for Tokugawa Ieyasu and his political ideals. It is also said that Shun's face was made to resemble Ieyasu's, and this is interpreted as a symbol of Ieyasu's ideal reign, and a device to preserve that image for future generations.



The main shrine is located in the center of Nikko Toshogu Shrine and consists of the main shrine and worship hall that enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu. This area was created by the third Shogun Iemitsu during the Edo period, and was built at a huge cost by master craftsmen. The shrine buildings are decorated with lacquer and rich colors, and the pillars are decorated with numerous carvings, making the gorgeous and luxurious buildings truly a sight to behold. It is one of the most important facilities in Toshogu Shrine, so photography is prohibited inside the building.




The Okumiya (Okusha) of Nikko Toshogu Shrine is located behind the main shrine and is known as the site of Tokugawa Ieyasu's grave, making it the most sacred spot. This quiet and calm place is surrounded by deep respect and tranquility, in contrast to the glamor of Yomeimon and Karamon. The path to the inner shrine is a series of steep stone steps, and once you reach the top of the stairs, you will see a shrine in front of you, and behind that is the tomb where Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried. The front of this shrine is painted with the most expensive black lacquer in Toshogu Shrine, giving it a very solemn impression. Until it was opened to the public in 1965, it was a sacred place that only members of the shogunate could enter. Even today, its sacredness remains unchanged, and when you stand in this place, you feel surrounded by deep respect and silence.




3. Sculptures and decorations of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Nikko Toshogu Shrine is especially known for its rich carvings and decorations. Particularly famous are the sculptures of ``Three Monkeys'' and ``Sleeping Cat,'' but these works have more than just decoration. Let's explore the interpretation of these sculptures and the beauty of their craftsmanship details here.

【 Interpretation and meaning of famous sculptures 】
three monkeys
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The sculpture of the three monkeys, ``See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'' symbolizes the teaching of seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and speaking no evil. This reflects traditional Japanese values that guide moral living.

sleeping cat


At first glance, this sculpture just depicts a cute cat, but it actually has a deeper meaning. It is said to convey the message that in a world so peaceful that cats can sleep in peace, or in a sacred place, every creature, no matter how small, deserves to be protected.

【 Beauty in the details of craftsmanship 】

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The carvings and decorations of Nikko Toshogu Shrine were created using the outstanding skills of the craftsmen. The detailed decorations and carvings leave a deep impression on the viewer. For example, the flower and animal decorations on the pillars and beams, and the detailed carvings surrounding the building are all the result of the handiwork of skilled craftsmen. These works prove that Nikko Toshogu Shrine is more than just a religious place, it is a treasure trove of art.

When looking at the carvings and decorations of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, you will gain a deeper understanding by paying attention not only to their beauty, but also to the meaning behind them and the skill of the craftsmen. By paying close attention to the stories and technical details of each sculpture, you can gain a deeper sense of the true value of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.




4. Religious and cultural significance of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Architecture as a religious role and object of faith
Nikko Toshogu Shrine occupies an important place in Japan's religious landscape as a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu is known for bringing about an era of peace, and worshiping him as a god is an object of faith for many people. The architecture of Nikko Toshogu Shrine embodies this belief and serves as a sacred place. In particular, buildings such as the main shrine and inner shrine serve as places of respect and worship for Tokugawa Ieyasu and his legacy, and provide spiritual support for religious visitors.

Preservation and inheritance as cultural heritage
Nikko Toshogu Shrine's cultural value was internationally recognized when it was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1999. This registration means that Nikko Toshogu Shrine is more than just a religious place, it is a valuable heritage representative of Japanese history, culture, and art. Nikko Toshogu Shrine is home to the craftsmanship of its craftsmen, down to the details of its construction techniques and carvings, and is a valuable resource that conveys the high standards of culture and art of the Edo period. Therefore, its preservation and inheritance as a cultural heritage is extremely important, and efforts are being made to pass on this value to future generations.





5. Tourist guide to Nikko Toshogu Shrine

how to access
Nikko Toshogu Shrine is located about 2 hours by train from Tokyo. It is approximately 10 minutes by bus from Tobu Nikko Station or JR Nikko Station. The scenery along the way from the station to the shrine is beautiful, and it builds anticipation even before your visit.

best season
Nikko Toshogu Shrine is beautiful in all seasons, but it is especially popular during the fall foliage season. The fresh greenery of spring, the greenery of summer, and the snowy scenery of winter each have their own characteristics, and you can enjoy different beauties depending on the season you visit.

The main shrine, five-storied pagoda, Yomeimon gate, sleeping cat, three monkeys, and other sculptures and architectural details are beautifully decorated. Also, don't miss the clear stream flowing through the temple grounds and the rich nature.

visiting tips
Preparation: We recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes. This is because the precincts are large and there are many stairs and slopes. Also, dress according to the season, especially taking sun protection in the summer and cold protection in the winter.




6. Attractions around Nikko Toshogu Shrine

When you visit Nikko, don't forget to enjoy not only the nature and historical buildings, but also the delicious local food. There are a variety of restaurants in Nikko city and around Nikko National Park, which is one of the best parts of traveling. There is a wide range of choices, from traditional Japanese cuisine made with local ingredients to casual cafes and sweets shops popular with tourists.

【 Enjoy local flavors 】
Nikko Yuba
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It is a traditional Japanese ingredient made by boiling soy milk and pulling up the film that forms on the surface. This yuba is known for its rich flavor and unique texture, and has been loved in Nikko for a long time. There is a wide variety of dishes using Nikko Yuba, from the traditional "Yuba set meal" to the creative "Yuba sushi", which has fascinated visitors. There are also desserts and sweets made with yuba, offering new flavors. When you visit Nikko, be sure to try the Yuba cuisine, which is unique to the area, at a local restaurant or traditional Japanese restaurant.

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The rich natural environment surrounding Nikko provides the perfect conditions for growing soba. The soba produced here is characterized by its rich flavor and smooth texture. At soba restaurants in Nikko, soba noodles are often served with fresh wild and local vegetables, allowing you to fully enjoy the bounty of nature. You can also enjoy various dishes using buckwheat, such as sweet dishes made with buckwheat flour and soba gaki.

【 Other tourist spots in Nikko city 】

Rinnoji Temple

This temple, which together with Nikko Toshogu Shrine constitutes a World Heritage Site in Nikko, is surrounded by rich nature and allows you to spend a solemn time in a calm atmosphere. In particular, the Sanbutsu-do Hall, which is a national treasure, is a must-see.

Lake Chuzenji
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Located within Nikko National Park, this lake blends beautifully with the surrounding mountains, and you can also enjoy boating and canoeing on the lake. There are also hot spring inns dotted around the lake, where you can spend a relaxing time surrounded by nature.





7. summary

Nikko Toshogu Shrine is a sacred place that represents Japan, with its magnificent architecture, deep history, and rich natural surroundings. This place where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined continues to provide spiritual peace and aesthetic excitement to visitors. The detailed decorations throughout the main hall, inner shrine, and famous sculptures convey the essence of Japanese craftsmanship. In addition, local delicacies such as Nikko yuba and soba offer an opportunity to enjoy a glimpse of the region's rich natural environment and culture.

A trip to Nikko is a precious time where you can experience the perfect combination of history, nature, and food culture. There are plenty of attractions around Nikko Toshogu Shrine, such as Mt. Nikko Rinnoji and Nikko National Park, which will make your visit to Nikko even more enriching. When visiting, please wear comfortable shoes, prepare according to the season, and enjoy Nikko's beautiful nature and culture to the fullest.