Monday, April 02, 2012

Nikko: Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu, the most lavishly decorated shrine is also the most well known of all shrines and temples in Nikko. It houses the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. This powerful ruler founded a dynasty that ruled Japan for over 250 years with its capital in Edo, current day Tokyo. Ieyasu’s posthumous Buddhist name was Tosho-Daigongen, after which Toshogu is named.

It is said that an ailing Ieyasu, expressed as his final wish to his successors, the building of a small shrine in Nikko enshrining him as the guardian God of Peace in the country. Ieyasu was buried immediately after his death in 1616 but the Toshogu mausoleum was built in 1634 on the orders of his grandson Iemitsu who was the third Tokugawa shogun. It took about 2 years for 15000 artisans from all over Japan to build this magnificient mausoleum. The monument has been lavishly carved, gilted, painted, lacquered to such an extent that it is often said that at Toshogu, anything that can be decorated has been decorated.
The mausoleum was designated as a shrine in the Meiji period, but interestingly it retains many of its Buddhist elements like a pagoda, a Buddhist temple style Niomon gate etc.

At the entrance to the shrine is a granite stone torii. To the left is a 5 storeyed Pagoda, which was donated by a feudal lord in 1650. 
It was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1818. Each storey represents the 5 elements- Earth, Water, Fire and Wind.
The Niomon gate stands a few metres ahead and is guarded by two Nio guardians. A walking trail leads past an array of stone lanterns on either side. 
On the right hand side stand the  traditionally designed sacred store houses. 
These storehouses also carry some interesting carvings and decorations.

On the left is an unpainted wooden stable where a horse gifted by the Govt of New Zealand is stabled for few hours everyday. 
The building is decorated by a carving of the three wise monkeys “Sanzaru”- Kikazaru, Mizaru and Iwazaru, who respectively “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil”. 
These three monkeys have become sort of a symbol for Nikko city and Toshogu.
More monkey carvings apparently depicting stages from life cycle of  monkeys adorn the stable building.

Few metres ahead is a granite structure housing the sacred fountain used for ritual purification.
Next to it is another stone Torii. 
To its left is a wooden building, Rinzo which houses a sutra library of Buddhist scriptures.
A flight of stairs leads to the identical Drum tower(on the left) and Bell tower(on the right) which signify Positive and Negative energy respectively.

The Drum Tower and Bell Tower are ornately carved as seen in the picture below.
Situated behind the Drum Tower is a building called Honji-do.
The ceiling is painted with the image of a crying dragon. When hands are clapped beneath it, the echo resounds, perhaps implying the dragon's crying.

The Yomeimon Gate is the lavishly decorated gate which marks entrance to the shrine’s inner complex. 
Carvings of beasts, flowers, birds, human beings adorn the Yomeimon’s 12 columns. 






The niches in the gate are occupied by Imperial ministers, guarding the shrine.
Wooden wall panels on both sides of Yomeimon gate are decorated with carvings. 
The right side is adorned with peacock carvings, while the left is adorned with other birds. 




Further ahead is another gate the Karamon gate, the smallest of all gates in Toshogu. 
 Further inside are the Haiden (sanctuary) and Honden(inner sanctuary).
Over an entrance in the east corridor, is the carving of a tiny sleeping cat, Nemuri Neko. 
It is said that when seen from one angle, the cat appears to be awake, while from another it looks to be asleep. To see the Nemuri Neko, an additional ticket priced at yen 520 needs to be purchased.

The special ticket also entitles visitors to visit the burial place of Ieyasu, which in reality is a simple tomb with a treasure tower containing his ashes. A fleet of 200 stone steps leads to the burial site. 


True to its reputation of being the most ornately decorated shrine in Japan, each and every roof, pillar, door is decorated. The smallest of the buildings are also lacquered, gilted and carved. It would not be wrong to say that there is practically nothing simplistic about Toshogu.



The exteriors of all buildings are allowed to be photographed. Photography is prohibited inside the halls. 

Opening Hours: 8:00-17:00 hrs ( Last admission 30 mins before closing time)
                        Closes at 16:00 hrs between November-March

Closing Days: Open 365 days

Admission  fees : 1300 yen  for  all parts of Toshogu.
                          1300 yen Combination ticket which includes entrance to Sanbutsu-do,
                          Treasure House, Shoyoen garden, Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuin Byo and 
                          Futarasan Shrine.  However combination ticket does not include admission  
                          to the Nemuri Neko carving and Ieyasu’s tomb. Additional ticket priced at 
                          Yen 520 can be purchased at the entrance to the Nemuri Neko carving.  

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