Sightseeing in Nikko: A Visit to the World Heritage listed Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sightseeing in Nikko: A Visit to the World Heritage listed Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)

Japan has numerous hidden gems outside the so-called “golden route” stretching from the ancient capital of Kyoto to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. The city of Nikko is one of the many gems situated outside of the the typical tourist route that has become well-known throughout the whole world. Just a couple of hours by train north of Tokyo you can find Nikko and its famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the magnificent Tōshōgū Shrine (東照宮). In addition to its sheer beauty the shrine attracts tourists from all over the world as the place where one can visit the final resting spot of the Tokugawa Shogunate's founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you're planning on a trip to Nikko then the Tōshōgū Shrine is without a doubt a must to visit.
The Three Wise Monkeys
In addition to the magnificent temple structures the Tōshōgū Shrine area also boasts of some exquisite carvings, the most famous among them being the Three Wise Monkeys (三猿). This carving has a history that goes back to the 17th century, and together the three monkeys make up the proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" that has become famous all over the world.
My mother and stepdad inside the shrine area
As I experienced first-hand when I had the chance to participate in the Toka Ebisu Festival as a Fukumusume the Japanese shrines and temples are trying hard to find new ways to draw the interest of the public. When we visited the Toshogu Shrine they were exhibiting a collection of Bonsai trees, and the trees blended beautifully in with the traditional structures in the background. The display of these Bonsai trees was a part of the 400 year anniversary of the death of shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa (日光東照宮四百年式年大祭記念 日本大宝樹展), and took place in the shrine area from the 15th to the 25th of October 2015.
Bonsai tree with the shrine in the background
Bonsai trees and shrine
But in addition to seasonal events such as the exhibition of these Bonsai trees there are of course a lot of beautiful details in the shrine that one can enjoy throughout the whole year, and I have gathered some pictures from the shrine below:

Me inside the shrine area
The building shown in the picture above is the one to the left
Stone lanterns
Details from the Sukibei Fence (透塀)
Shrine Maiden cleaning the floor outside the Shinyosha (神輿舎) building
Details from the Karamon Gate (唐門)
When we visited the temple they were doing some reconstruction work on some of the main temple building. Below is the Karamon Gate, and you can (unfortunately for my picture) notice the work being done on the roof in the background.
The Karamon Gate (唐門)
Wall painting in vivid colours
The sleeping cat Nemurineko
Another particularly famous carving you can see inside the shrine area is the sleeping cat Nemurineko, which has been designated a National Treasure. The cat was carved by Hidari Jingorois, and is said to be a depiction of Nikko as it is sleeping in the sunlight (the word "Nikko" literarily means sunlight). Nemurineko can be found right before the Sakashitamon Gate on the way to Tokugawa Ieyasu's grave.
Outside the Sakashitamon Gate (坂下門)
Tokugawa Ieyasu's grave is situated slightly east of the main shrine area, and in order to get there you have to pass through the Sakashitamon Gate and walk up a steep stairway consisting of 207 carved stone steps that leads up into the woods. On the way up the stairs you can peak through the cedar trees to get a glimpse of the Toshogu shrine buildings from above. The whole setting sort of reminded me of myself as a kid, searching for hidden paths and treasures in the Final Fantasy games..
The Inukimon Gate of Okusha (奥社唐門/鋳抜門)
When you reach the top of the stairs you get to the inner shrine area called Okumiya, and if you follow the small path behind the worship hall Haiden you'll find ourself by the Inukimon Gate. The Inukimon Gate is the formal gate to the central shrine where the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu is located, and it is guarded by two Koma-inu (Lion-dogs).
The Pagoda of Okusha (Okusha Hoto 奥社宝塔)
The so-called "Treasure Tower" pagoda Okusha Hoto was first constructed in wood in 1622, and has since been rebuilt twice.  The current structure is 5 meter high, and was constructed of bronze alloy in 1683 after the previous structure had been destroyed by an earthquake. This structure holds the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun and one of the three great unifiers of Japan (the other two being Oda Nobunga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi).

The Toshogu Shrine also got its name from Ieyasu, as he was enshrined with the name "Great Gongen, Light of the East" Tosho Daigongen (東照大権現).

Toshogu Tourist Information

Name of Place Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)
Address 〒321-1431 栃木県日光市山内2301
2301 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1431
Admission Tosho-gu Shrine tickets - ¥1,300 for adults,
¥450 for elementary and middle-school students
Business Hours Open all year from 8:00 a.m._5:00 p.m.
(closes at 4:00 p.m. in November through March)
Note: Last entry is 30 minutes before closing time
Public Transit
Tobu-nikko Station → Tobu bus
(for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen) (5 minutes)
→ Shinkyo Bridge bus stop → 10 minutes on foot
* Or a 40-minute walk from Tobu-nikko Station.
Homepage (Japanese) 
(Nikko Tourist Association, English)

Recommended Hotels in Nikko

Nikko Station Hotel Classic
Nikko Station Hotel Classic
Hotel Lungwood Niigata
Iwaiyado Jyuan Ryokan
Kinugawa Onsen Hotel
Kinugawa Onsen Hotel
Nikkorisou Backpackers
Nikkorisou Backpackers

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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