What to Learn about Nikko's Toshogu Shrine

Who was Tokugawa Ieyasu?

This man was the founder, thus the first shogun or leader, of the Tokugawa shogunate. He was born a daimyo or warlord in Okazaki Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power when he was able to gain victory in the Battle of Sekigahara after the death of then Shogunate Leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi. What made him the success that he was is the fact that he was the only shogun leader of Japan that was able to unify clans from all over the country. He did this by improving the existing systems that his rivals had before him and expounding on what works about it.

He had developed a system that would lessen the conflict among rivaling clans by developing a system of hierarchy to the government position he was holding. This means that the bloodline shall determine who the next designated shogunate leader becomes. Such a system proved to be effective that it was used up until the last shogunate leader of the Edo Period prior the Meiji Restoration.  

He was such a powerful man that his death in the early 1600s has caused a major stir in the governance system. The good thing was that he was able to set up the system that will prevent further rivalry against clans and samurai families. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan for over two and a half centuries. Because of his great heritage, he was posthumously honored through the construction of Toshogu shrines all over Japan.

The Toshogu Shrine of Nikko

Toshogu Shrine Map and Location

The Nikk Tosho-gu is the most popular shrine that is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is located in the city of Nikko from the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan. It is considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its lavishness and grandeur which was perfectly preserved.

Main Highlights of the Shrine

What makes this particular shrine special is the fact that starting at its Yomeimon Gate, the structure is completely embellished with intricate paintings, carvings, and designs. The lines are ornately adorned with gold strings and leaves. The building or main hall is designed with a bright red color. The contrast between the red and gold create a royal vibe to the entire shrine.

There is a five-level Japanese pagoda inside which has a very colorful design which creates a vibrant and elegant ambiance in contrast to the simple and natural backdrop of the forest. There is also a Sanjinku, or Three Sacred Storehouses which are still trimmed with gold leaf and brightly painted red with rainbow-colored embellishments. There are a drum tower and bell tower inside the shrine grounds which is completely identical to that standing right next to the Yomeimon entrance gate.

What many people exclaim about are the carvings on the walls which have been carefully designed by artisans from the 16th century. In fact, these have become so special that they are declared as national treasures of Japan.

Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee

Compared to other Toshogu shrines in other parts of Japan, this is probably the most expensive to get into. The entrance fee to the shrine alone costs about 1,300 yen and an additional fee of 1,000 yen will be required for those who wish to enter the museum. However, there are packaged tickets providing entry to both the shrine and the museum which are sold for 200 yen less at 2,100 yen.  

The shrine is open to the public for most parts of the year with no closing dates, even on holidays. This means that people who wish to visit the shrine can do so even if there are no festivals or celebrations. This is why there are a number of travelers that go the shrine on a daily basis. The opening hours is between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM where people can enjoy the entire complex for hours. It is important to note the hours as the shrine is closed at night.

Access to Toshogu Shrine

The Toshogu shrine of the Nikko prefecture cannot be accessed via direct train lines as there are no stations near the area. A traveler can opt to take the Tobu railways or the JR line and get off at the Nikko station. From there, visitors can travel to the tourist information booth to ask for directions towards the shrine. It can be reached via a one hour hike through the city. But for those who wish to get there faster, there are buses available which cost about 500 yen roundtrip for only 10 minutes.

There are hotels available in the vicinity. This makes it easier to ask questions regarding tours, directions, and rates. In fact, most hotels have picked up and dropped off systems.  

Bits of Trivia About Toshogu Shrine

History of Toshogu Shrine

The Toshogu shrine was originally intended to become the mausoleum of Ieyasu. However, it was repeatedly reconstructed and remodeled until it became a shrine to commemorate his spirit. His spirit is considered as the deity Tosho Daigongen which represent the “Deity of East Shining Light”.

Toshogu Shrine Monkeys

One of the most interesting carvings in the walls of the shrine would be the allegorical Three Wise Monkeys. Carved on the walls of the Sacred Stable (or Shinkyusha) in the shrine complex is the famous Japanese and Chinese Buddhist principle “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to point out whether the shrine is Shinto or Buddhism. The Three Wise Monkeys demonstrate the interesting Buddhist principle.

Toshogu Shrine Renovation

Because of the intensity of the intricacy of the embellishments in the Nikko Toshogu shrine, renovations of the entire structure takes years. Not only is it expensive, there are also risks of actually restoring them improperly. For instance, the renovation of the Yomeimon gate took a little over a year to make and totaled to a very jaw-dropping value.

Toshogu Shrine and the Taiyuinbyo

The Toshogu shrine is so iconic and popular that it has been replicated in many parts of Japan during the 16th and 17th century. This is why there are a number of Toshogu shrines all over the country. However, the grandson of Ieyasu wanted to have his own place of rest which closely resembles the shrine. Known as the Taiyuinbyo this is a mausoleum of Iemitsu which is located in Nikko as well. The designs are more colorful than that Toshogu but are designed with fewer gold embellishments. The entire structure from floor to ceiling is designed with carvings, paintings, and statues. There are no specific explanations for the existing images but it is left to the visitors to interpret what they mean. The Taiyuinbyo is so popular as well that it became a subtemple of the Rinnoji temple.

The Other Toshogu Shrines of Japan

Toshogu Shrine Tokyo (Toshogu Shrine Ueno Park)

The Ueno Toshogu shrine was built during the Tokugawa period as a means of celebrating the life and greatness of the man named Tokugawa Ieyasu. His role in the rise of the shogunate’s power was so significant that all shrines attributed to him are ornately carved and lavishly decorated. In fact, the renovation of the Ueno Toshogu shrine became so expensive and intricate. This particular shrine was closed for about six years due to renovation, it was only re-opened to the public in early months of 2014.

Just like the vitality of the Tokugawa shogunate while it was still in power, the Toshogu shrine is just as sturdy. It is known to have survived both natural and man-made calamities. This is why it is now considered as a Cultural Property of Japan.

The Ueno Toshogu shrine has impressively preserved the gates and entry to the shrine are carefully detailed and designed. People can enter the premises for a small fee of 500 yen. The entire shrine is opened until night time for people who wish to make their offerings. The shrine is popular for the ema or a wooden tablet used as an offering to the shrine kami. It is cutely designed with a mythical kami known as a Tanuki.

Located in Taito-Ku, a district of Tokyo in Japan, the Ueno Toshogu is not that difficult to locate. This particular shrine can be accessed via the Tokyo Metro line, JR Yamanote Line, the JR Keihin Tohoku Line, or the Keisei Rail via the Ueno Station. The Ueno Toshogu shrine is located exactly at the Ueno Park so it will not be that difficult to find. It will just be a few minutes’ walk from the station.

Toshogu Shrine Hiroshima

This particular shrine was built in the mid-16th century with equal lavishness as the other shrines. What makes this particular shrine special is the fact that they have a festival which occurs only every 50 years. This is known as the Torigosairei, a celebration of the life and death of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

This is probably the simplest Toshogu shrine out of all that was built in the country. The reason why this is so is due to the fact that the atomic bomb burnt a majority of the shrine complex leaving only a portion of it intact. Many of these were rebuilt but nothing can beat the splendor of the original shrine complex.

The shrine is located at Futabanosato of the Higashi ward in Hiroshima city. It can be accessed via a 10 to 15-minute walk from the Hiroshima station of the Shinkansen. This is the fastest and easiest means to access the shrine.

Toshogu Shrine Shizuoka

Tokugawa Ieyasu was so powerful that there are shrines to commemorate his life even up in the mountains of Shizuoka. The Kunozan Toshogu is the second most popular shrine dedicated to the man who ensured the unification of all of Japan. What is special about Shizuoka is the fact that he spent the last days of his life in the prefecture.

Just like all his other shrines, the Kunozan is intricately designed that even the tiniest details are adorned in gold. It is hidden in the mountains but the bright red building with colorful paintings and carvings are sure to catch anyone’s eye. There is a museum inside the shrine which houses many of Ieyasu’s personal belongings.  

The shrine is usually open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and does not have any closing days even during holidays. Admission to the shrine costs about 500 yen and an additional 300 yen is required for those who wish to enter the museum.

This particular shrine is not as easy to access as that of Ueno but getting there is such a fulfilling experience. The Kunozan shrine of Shizuoka can be reached by climbing up its famous 1000 stone steps. Approximately it takes about 20 to 40 minutes up the long staircase. The entry to the staircase can be reached by riding a bus at the Shimizu station bound for the Kunozan-shita bus stop. For those without the physical stability to climb up such a long distance, they can take a ropeway round trip going to the shrine. This roughly costs about 1750 yen, including the entrance to the shrine and the entire ride takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Toshogu Shrine Nagoya

Out of all the Toshogu shrines in Japan, the one in Nagoya is the simplest. It was built in the early 1600s when the 9th son of Ieyasu was governing the Owari province of Nagoya. It was originally a part of the Nagoya castle before it was moved during the Meiji restoration. It used to be considered as a national treasure of Japan and was one of the most beautiful shrines in the prefecture. It was so magnificent at the time that the festival held in it could gather almost 7,000 visitors at a time.

However, just like that of Hiroshima, a majority of the shrine complex was destroyed by the war. Now, only a small portion of it remains. Now, the main structure of the Nagoya Toshogu shrine is transferred to the Mausoleum of the wife of Yoshinao Tokugawa. There are no fees to see the remains of the shrine.