Toshogu Shrine is Nikko's most important shrine. The 22 buildings to be seen here were erected at a time when architecture and applied art had reached a peak of achievement. Artists were summoned from all over Japan to play their part in creating a complex of supreme magnificence.
Some 15,000 craftsmen were employed on the construction of the Toshogu Shrine, most of them coming from Kyoto and Nara, where there was a great flowering of architecture at that period.
The result was a complex of buildings with an over-lavish profusion of decoration, incorporating all the sumptuousness of the preceding Momoyama period. The practice of renewing the buildings of a shrine every 20 years meant that work was almost continuously in progress.
On his death in 1616 Tokugawa Ieyasu was buried on Mount Kunozan, but a year later, in accordance with his testament, his remains were moved to their last resting place at Nikko. In the same year the Emperor granted him the posthumous style of Toshodaigongen ("Incarnation of the Bodhisattwa illuminating the East"). The construction of his mausoleum was begun by his grandson Iemitsu only in 1634 and was completed in two years. Until the fall of the Shogunate in 1868 the superintendence of the mausoleum was the responsibility of a Prince of the Imperial House - who resided, however, in Edo (Tokyo) and visited Nikko only three times a year. The shrine had a narrow escape from destruction during the Meiji Restoration, when a group of Tokugawa supporters entrenched themselves here. Fortunately, however - thanks to the mediation of Itagaki Taisuke - the buildings were evacuated without a fight.
The visitor comes first to the Staircase of the Thousand (Sennin-ishidan), the farthest point to which ordinary people were formerly admitted. Beyond this is a 28ft/ 8.4m high granite torii, with an inscription in the name of the Emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596-1680). To the left can be seen a five-story pagoda of 1818. The staircase then continues up to the main gateway, the Nio-mon or Omotemon, which gives access to a courtyard with three sacred storehouses and the stables for the sacred horses. The uppermost storehouse has a polychrome relief on the gable depicting an elephant, said to have been carved by Kano Tanyu (1602-74) after some literary model (elephants being unknown in Japan at that time). On the stables are carved figures of monkeys, including the famous group of three ("See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"). At the far end of the courtyard is the granite basin of the sacred fountain, and beyond this the Sutra Library (Kyozo). Flanking the path are stone and bronze lanterns presented by former daimyos. A flight of steps leads up to the middle courtyard, with a bell tower on the right and the Drum Tower on the left. One of the bronze lanterns, presented by Holland in 1636, has the Tokugawa coat of arms upside-down. The bell was a gift from Korea. To the left of the Drum Tower is a large hall, the Yakushi-do (a reconstruction of the original, burned down in 1961). At the entrance to the inner courtyard is the sumptuously decorated Yomei-mon ("Sunlight Gate"), which only highly placed and unarmed samurai were allowed to use. The gate is also called the "Twilight Gate" (Higurashimon) - the idea being that anyone seeing it is so fascinated that he remains contemplating it until twilight falls. The two-story structure, supported on 12 columns, is overcharged with carving, lacquerwork and gilding. On the front is a tablet bearing its name in the hand of the Emperor Go-Mizunoo. The two ceiling paintings of dragons are by Kano Tanyu and Kano Yasunobu (17th C). In the interior is a column with bas-reliefs in the wrong place - a deliberate imperfection designed to ward off the envy of evil spirits (the "evil-averting column", mayoke-no-hashira).
Beyond the gate, on the left, is the Mikoshi-gura, a hall in which the portable shrines used on festival occasions are kept. To the right are the Kaguraden (the hall for cult dances) and the shrine offices. The entrance to the shrine proper is the Karamon, a Chinese-style gate, mainly in white and gold with fine carved decoration. The enclosure wall of the shrine (tamagaki) has a lower part of stone and an upper part of carved and painted woodwork with metal facings. Just within the gate is the Haiden (Cult Hall) with portraits by Tosa Mituoki (1617-91) of 36 poets whose works are preserved in a manuscript by the Emperor Go-Mizunoo. The side rooms were used by the Shogun and his suite and by the Abbot of the Rinnoji Temple. From here, by way of the Ishi-no-ma ("Stone Chamber" so called because of its stone paving), we pass into the Honden (Main Hall; 52ft/ 16m long, 33ft/ 10m wide, 46ft/ 14m high), which consists of the Heiden (room for offerings), the Naijin (inner room) and the Nainaijin (innermost room). In this last chamber can be seen the lavishly decorated and gilded shrine (Gokuden) in which Tokugawa Ieyasu is revered as a divinity and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Minamoto Yoritomo as subsidiary gods. In the corridor to the right of the Main Hall is a famous woodcarving of a sleeping cat, which is attributed to Hidari Jingoro. Beyond this a handsome gate, the Sakashitamon, which even highly placed samuari were not permitted to use.
A flight of 200 stone steps leads up to the Mausoleum of Ieyasu with the Inukimon gate and in front of this, two bronze Komainu (dog and lion-like creatures). Beyond the gate is the tomb, in the form of a small pagoda (rebuilt in 1683 after an earthquake).
Apr 1 to Oct 31: 8am-5pm
Nov 1 to Mar 31: 8am-4pm
Entrance fee in JPY: