About Tōshōgū Shrine
Located in Nikko is Tōshōgū Shrine (東照宮), a magnificent monument and memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he left a legacy that ruled Japan for more than 250 years.
The shrine started as a humble mausoleum but Iemitsu, Ieyasu’s grandson, enlarged it in the 17th century into the immense spectacle that it is today.
It drips in lavishness and opulence with a design fit for a divine and noble figure.
More than a dozen buildings nestle within the backdrop of a gorgeous forest. There are innumerable woodcarvings and every building adorns vast amounts of gold leaf.
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Legacy
Tokugawa Ieyasu was integral in unifying Japan and is one of the nation’s most important historical figures.
He rose to the position of a powerful shogun during the Edo Period (1603 AD to 1867 AD), which was Japan’s most prosperous and peaceful time in history.
One year after Ieyasu died, the state enshrined him at Nikko and elevated him to a divine status.
In this memorial, Ieyasu becomes Tosho Daigongen, “Great Deity of the East Shining Light.” It combines all the elements of an honorable Shinto death with the piety of Buddhist concepts.
Tōshōgū throughout Japan
Because of this, smaller shrines branched off his main mausoleum throughout Japan. At one time, there were more than 500 of these offshoots.
Actually, anything referenced as Tōshōgū could indicate any of these shrines still standing in honor of him today.
The Japanese still hold Tokugawa Ieyasu in high regard. In fact, the Shuki Taisai Grand Festival held in fall and spring commemorate Tokugawa Ieyasu with a procession of a thousand warriors.
They re-enact the delivery of the legendary samurai’s remains to Nikko. They wear period clothing and weapons along with singing songs and prayers.
Exploring Tōshōgū Shrine
Visitors can spend hours exploring the grounds of Tōshōgū Shrine. But the most notable ones are the five-story pagoda, intricately carved wooden sculptures, and Ieyasu’s luxurious resting place.
The natural views are breathtaking on their own. It’s like taking a trip through a well-curated time capsule during the days of the shogunate reign.
All the buildings at Tōshōgū Shrine are visually gorgeous and interesting to explore. But the five-story pagoda just past the entrance is impressive.
It stands 118 feet (36 meters) tall. Each story of the building is indicative of the five elements in nature: air, fire, water, earth, and void.
But you can’t access the floors or go to the top. The only thing inside is a central pillar that hangs about four inches (10 centimeters) above the ground; installed to combat changes in the wood over the course of many years. Its design is an early form of anti-earthquake engineering.
After this, you come up to the Yomeimon Gate, one of Japan’s most ornate structures. It has an imposing façade with intricate décor and architectural elements.
It has 508 detailed carvings of elders, children, and mythical beasts. It’s a testament to the master craftsmanship reflected by the Edo Period.
On the left of the Yomeimon Gate is a path that leads to Honjido Hall, which features the “Crying Dragon.”
This is an enormous ceiling painting that when you clap two pieces of wood together, producing a bright ringing sound. This action is often under the tutelage of a priest.
Past the Yomeimon Gate is the main shrine that contains a prayer hall, or haiden, which connects to the main hall, or honden, behind it.
Leyasu’s spirit enshrines within the halls along with two other influential historical figures: Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Minamoto Yoritomo.
On the right side of the main shrine, the building is Sakashitamon Gate, which has the famous carving of the sleeping cat, or nemurineko, with two sparrows flying on its backside.
Passing the gate, there is a group of storehouses. There are many elaborate and colorful carvings adorning these.
The most famous is the classic Three Wise Monkeys that “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil” along with the Sozonozo Elephants.
This gate begins an immense flight of stairs leading up through the woods to Ieyasu’s mausoleum. This inner shrine, or okumiya, is the most significant of the complex and the view is amazing once you get there.
Tōshōgū Shrine Hours And Admission Fees
Visitors are welcome to enter Tōshōgū Shrine and its grounds every day beginning at 9 am. From November to March it closes at 4 pm and from April to October, the shrine closes at 5 pm.
However, they deny new admissions 30 minutes prior to closing time.
There is a small fee to pay when guests enter through the main gate. But this will largely depend on if you want to see just the shrine or both the shrine and museum.
The cost is ¥1300 ($10.40 USD) or ¥2100 ($16.80 USD) respectively. There is no separate, lesser charge for minors.
Access to the Shrine
Nikko has plenty of public transportation accessed from anywhere around the country. Since it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they offer bus tours from the train station.
You can take one of these from Nikko or Tobu Nikko station. It takes about 15 minutes.
However, the walk from Nikko Station gives you the chance to enter Tōshōgū Shrine from Shinkyo Bridge. However, it does take 45 minutes to get there on foot. But, the view is absolutely amazing along the way.
Otherwise, you can hop on a bus for 10 minutes from either Nikko or Tobu Nikko train station. It costs ¥320 ($2.56 USD) one way or you can get a day pass for ¥600 ($4.80 USD).