Nikko Part 2 – Toshogu Shrine
… continued from Nikko Part 1 – Travel and Hotel.
Toshogu is any Shinto shrine in which Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the last shogunate of Japan, is enshrined. Ieyasu’s son, the second shogun Hidetada, ordered the construction of the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Nikko, the shrine’s entrance fee is a pricey 1,300 yen ($13), but it is well worth it.
The Ishidorii (Stone Gate) is one of the best three stone-made torii gates in Japan, but it is the biggest among the stone-made torii gates in Edo period, standing 9 meters tall pillars with a diameter of 3.6 meters.
The front gate is called Omotemon, which used to be called Nioh-mon Gate because images of Nioh, a pair of Deva Kings, guardians of Buddism, can be found on its side.
After you pass through the Omotemon front gate, three sacred warehouses, called Sanjinko, are found. One of the buildings has a sculpture of elephant on its gable called the Imaginary Elephant because the chief painter, Tanyu Kano had not ever seen the real elephant.
Next is the Shinkyu, a sacred stable housing two white horses. There are no paintings on the Shinkyu, instead sculptures of Sansaru, the famous three monkeys, are found on the crossbar of the Shinkyu. The monkey has been treated as a guardian of horse since early times. The Sansaru consists of 8 panels like a picture book, which express the way of life.
As found in most shrines in Japan, the Omizuya, the water house, is used to purify hands and mouths before worship. There are sculptures of flying dragons and waves under the roof. The flying dragon has wings, and it is treated as the spiritual beast, which controls the water.
Made of bronze, the Karadou-torii stands 6 meters high. It was the first bronze torii gate in Japan.
Designated as a national treasure, the Yomeimon Gate is the masterpiece of building in Toshogu Shrine. It faces south with a size of 11.1 meters high, 7 meters wide and 4.4 meters deep. With over 500 sculptures, its twelve pillars are colored by white pigment, and scrolling patterns are carved on the pillars. Truly impressive, it has also been called Higurashino-mon, the gate where people spend all day long to look.
Also designated as a national treasure, the “Sleeping Cat” is found at the entrance of Okusha Inner Shrine. It is told that the “Sleeping Cat” was made by Jingorou Hidari, and it is the most famous sculpture in the Toshogu Shrine. There is a sculpture of sparrow on the backside of the Sleeping Cat. The sparrow will be eaten if the cat is awake. However, the sparrow and the cat co-exist so nationwide chaos is over and a peaceful society has come.
(Note: An extra free of 500 yen is required to enter the Okusha Inner Shrine to see the Sleeping Cat and Ieyasu’s coffin).
In the Okusha Inner Shrine, you will find the coffin of Ieyasu in the treasure tower called Okusha-houtou. It stands on a foundation of 9 octagonal steps and is 5 meters high.
As a souvenir, we bought a pair of okou-mamori, a charm in a brocade bag, very popular in Toshogu Shrine as they are believed to make your wish come true.
More sight-seeing in Nikko, to be continued …