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One of the greatest World Heritage Sites in Japan, Nikko Toshogu is a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun active in the 15th -16th century. The highlight of Nikko Toshogu is, without a doubt, its magnificent buildings in the temple precincts. Among 55 buildings, 8 are designated as National Treasures while 34 are designated as Important Cultural Properties. In addition to this, Nikko Toshogu is known as one of the strongest spiritual places in Japan. Many spots in the premises are gathering people’s attention as a spot to bring better luck.
- 2301 Sannai, Nikko-shi, Tochigi
- Contact No.
- From Nikko station, take Tobu bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen. Ride for 5 minutes and get off at Shinkyo. Walk for 10 minutes. From Tobu Nikko station, take Tobu bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen. Ride for 5 minutes and get off at Shinkyo. Walk 10 minutes.
- Opening Hours / Holidays
- 8:00-17:00 (from November to March -16:00)
- Official Website
- Time Required
- 2.5 hours - half a day
- Admission fee
- Admission: 1,300 yen (includes Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat) & Okusha (Inner Shrine))
- Other Information
- *Honden(Main Hall), Ishinoma(Stone Chamber), Haiden(Worship Hall), and Yomeimon are under repairs until the end of March 2019.
※ Some information is displayed in Japanese and machine-translated English, which may not be accurate.
For the latest information, please check the official website for each spot.
Shrines and Temples in Nikko: Designated World Heritage Sites
Nikko Toshogu and its neighboring shrine and temple, Nikko Futarasan and Nikkosan Rinno-ji are registered in the UNESCO World Heritage sites as “shrines and temples in Nikko.” In addition to this, 5 properties consisting of 8 buildings namely Honden (Main Hall), Ishinoma (Stone Chamber), Haiden (Worship Hall), and Karamon (Chinese Gate) are designated as National Important Cultural Properties. This precious group of temples and historical buildings has been painted in ukiyoe (wooden block prints) since ancient times.
Nikko Toshogu: a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu
Nikko Toshogu enshrines the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu who established the Edo Bakuhu (samurai government in Edo) in 1603. The shrine called Nikko Toshosha was built by the second shogun according to Ieyasu’s will, “build a small temple in Mt. Nikko at the first anniversary of my death.” Later on, the major renovations were done by the third Shogun conducted from 1634 and the shrines took the form that you see today.
Yomeimon: Most Decorative Gate in Toshogu
The main gate of the main shrine, Yomeimon has a beautiful contrast of gold and white. Also, it has as many as 500 stunning carvings. This gate is also known as "higurashi-mon,” which means that one could look at it until sundown, and not get tired of seeing it. It is said that rare animals like lions, kylin, and dragons are guarding Tokugawa Ieyasu. On both sides of Yomeimon, guardian god statues called “Zuishin” are placed. Some say the statue is Tokugawa Ieyasu himself, while others say it is another shogun who was Ieyasu’s rival. The truth remains a mystery.
Please note that Yomeimon is under repairs until 2018 and cannot be seen from the front. However, the paintings on Tozai (east/west) wall discovered in 2013 are presented to public only for the limited period of the repairing. It is worth seeing especially the one on the west wall that has been opened to the public for the first time in 215 years.
Three Wise Monkeys: "See No Evil, Speak No Evil and Hear No Evil"
This is the world famous carving of the three wise monkeys. Each monkey covers its eyes, mouth, and ears. The three monkeys carved at Shinkyu-sha (a storehouse) of Nikko Toshogu are famous in Japan. Shinkyu-sha has 16 monkeys carved in total including these three monkeys. It is said that these carvings feature the story of a life of a human being.
Honchido:Hall filled with the Sound of a Roaring Dragon
Honchido (Yakushido) is famous for its mysterious phenomenon called “naki-ryu” (roaring dragon). The dragon painted on the ceiling of the hall is 6 m long and 15 m wide. If you clap your hands under the head of the dragon, you will hear a fluttering echo, which sounds as if the painted dragon on the ceiling is roaring, so people call it the roaring dragon.
Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat): Most Famous Sculpture in Nikko Toshogu
Among many sculptures in Toshogu, the most famous one is a National Treasure, Nemurineko. It is located at the east corridor that leads to Okumiya (inner shrine). There are several theories what this sculpture represents. Some say that the cat pretends to be asleep and is ready to attack anytime in order to protect the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu which is located nearby, and others say that it shows the sculptor’s wish for a peaceful world such that a cat can sleep safely judging from the sparrows happily flying around the cat.
Aseismic Five-Storied Pagoda: Technique adopted for the SkyTree
The five-storied pagoda in Toshogu is considered to be the most elegant five-storied pagoda in Japan because of its beautiful colors and decorations. The original pagoda was built in 1650 and burnt down later. The present pagoda was rebuilt in 1818. The central pillar is hung from the fourth story and doesn’t touch the ground. This is the technology to minimize the damage from earthquakes and winds. This technology is also adopted to build the Tokyo SkyTree.
Karamon: Gate Decorated with More Than 600 Sculptures
After passing through Yomeimon, a small white gate called Karamon can be seen at the front. As small as it is, Karamon is decorated with 611 sculptures and regarded as the most important gate in Toshogu. In the Edo period, only some people of a high social status like Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) were allowed to pass through this gate.
Ishi-dori (Stone Gate): One of the Three Finest Stone Gates in Japan
The stone steps at the front approach lead to a huge Ishi-dori which is 9.2 meters high and 13.2 meters wide. This gate was built in 1618. It is the largest among stone gates built during Edo period. The Ishi-dori in Toshogu is considered as one of the three finest stone tori in Japan along with the Ishi-dori at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura and Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto.
Omotemon (front gate) contains Buddhist and Shinto Statues
The magnificent statues of Nio (the guardian gods) guarding both sides of Omotemon (also called Niomon) seem to stir and move. This gate has Nio statues that symbolizes temples at the front, but when you pass through the gate and look back at the gate, it has Komainu (guardian lion-dog statues) that you often see at shrines. It is a rare case that one gate has both Buddhist and Shinto statues in Japan.
Carvings of Two Imaginary Elephants
Soon after passing through Omotemon, there are three buildings called Sanjinko. These are called Kamijinko (upper sacred storehouse), Nakajinko (middle sacred storehouse), and Shimojinko (lower sacred storehouse), which is closest to the gate. The south side of Kamijinko has carvings of two elephants. There was no elephant in Japan in those days. So, the artist who designed these elephants is believed to have done so using his imagination by only listening to the information about elephants.
Okumiya (Inner Shrine) that Enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu
207 stone steps lead to Okumiya (inner shrine), the highest place in Nikko Toshogu. There is Gohoto (two-storied pagoda) made with an alloy of gold, silver and copper, along with Haiden (worship hall) and Inukimon. This Gohoto stands above the tomb where Tokugawa Ieyasu was buried.
Kanaesugi: Spiritual Place in Nikko Toshogu
This tall cedar tree stands near Gohoto. This cedar tree is over 600 years old and is called “Kanaesugi.” It is believed that if you make a wish towards the tree hollow, your wish will come true. People often stand in line in front of this spot known as a spiritual place in Toshogu.
Toshogu Treasure House
Toshogu Treasure House near the entrance of the precinct exhibits a lot of historically important items including articles that were cherished by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Above anything, the paintings and calligraphic works by Tokugawa Ieyasu himself and other shogun in those days, and their swords that were used in battle are something you shouldn’t miss!