Which temple is best to visit when you are in Nikko National Park? A good question! I have two answers. First of all, you can make a good walk along all kinds of small temples, statues and altars. This walk is completely free-of-charge. But if you still like to pay money for a temple, I highly recommend the Toshogu Shrine.
Okay, a ticket to this temple may be the most expensive of all the temples in Nikko, but just the amount of gold you get to see here is impressive. However, it was made for an important person in Japanese history…
Tip: Fancy a short walk? Combine the temples with a walk through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. There are few tourists here and you can enjoy a relaxed walk along the river.
The young Tokugawa Ieyasu
Well, who was that important person? That person was Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. For more than 250 years they would dominate Japan. He is also considered to be one of the three persons who united Japan. And that did not go smoothly.
The young Ieyasu, born in Mikawa, east of the city of Nagoya, ended up in power plays at an early age. At the age of 5 he was taken hostage, his father died, he grew up in a hostile clan and at the age of 15 he fought in various wars. Until he was in a position to become the successor of his deceased father.
Part 1: the beginning of the Toshogu Shrine
I’ll take you to the most important places in this temple. It starts at a large square with a pagoda from 1818. Actually there was a pagoda from 1650, but it caught fire at the beginning of the 19th century. Each floor represents an element. And seen from the bottom up: earth, water, fire, wind and air.
Then I step through a gate that is guarded by the Nio, the guardians of Buddhism. Once on the complex I walk past a few warehouses. In these houses armour and weapons of 1000 Samurai are kept. Twice a year, these equipment are used for ceremonial parades. And don’t forget the sacred stable on the left with a picture of the three wise monkeys…
Tip: In mid-May and mid-October there will be a big festival. If you are here, don’t miss it. The traditional clothing of the Samurai may not be missing.
Power, power and the most powerful
In 1567 Ieyasu officially changed his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu. As the leader of the Matsudeira clan, he cleverly and skilfully defeated a number of enemies. With the most important lord of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he agreed to take control of the Kanto region, the area around present-day Tokyo.
He gave up his power over the Mikawa, where he was born and when Hideyoshi died in 1598, Ieyasu became the most important ruler. This became a fact when he defeated several rulers from the west during the Battle of Sekigkara in 1600. It resulted in an imperial approval in 1603 to become Shogun (commander-in-chief of Japan). In short, the Tokugawa Shogunate begins…
Part 2: a continuation at Toshogu Shrine
After the warehouses I turn right and pass two almost identical towers. They are a bell tower and a drum tower. They lead me to the showpiece of this shrine, the Yomeimon Gate. This gate is about 11 metres high and richly decorated.
The Yomeimon Gate is the entrance to the Haiden, the prayer hall. During my visit this part was restored. A visit is allowed, but don’t take pictures. And once again, pay attention to the many details the building has been decorated.
Tip: In Nikko I stayed in Nikko Guesthouse Sumica. This hostel is located near the two train stations. The owners are very nice and for a bunkbed I paid €17 euro. The only disadvantage is that it is a 30 minute walk to the temple area. But fortunately there is also something they call a bus, if you do not feel like walking.
Death, a mausoleum and the Toshogu Shrine
In 1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu was 60 years old. He remained in power until 1605 and Edo became one of the largest cities in Japan. Although he was not in power anymore after 1605, he still determined the policy to maintain absolute power. Trade with foreign countries was banned, the Edo Castle was expanded and peace and stability in Japan became normal.
Finally Ieyasu died in 1616 and a year after his death work began for a memorial site in Nikko National Park. 15,000 people worked on this shrine for many years. 500 kilograms of gold, 370 kilograms of silver and everything that could be decorated was decorated. The Toshogu Shrine is on the Unesco World Heritage list for a reason!
Finally, it is possible to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. However, I do not get the chance for it, since the clock tells me it’s 5 pm. For an impression click here.
Planning a visit to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko National Park?
How do I get there?
It is a 30 minute walk from JR Nikko and/or Tobu Station. By bus it takes 10 minutes. Entrance to the complex costs 1300 yen. This makes it the most expensive temple to visit, but personally I thought it was worth the money.
Google Maps: Toshogu Shrine
The Toshogu Shrine in Nikko National Park is open every day from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m.
Would you like to read more about Nikko National Park?
- Nikko National Park Travel Guide | 4 historical sights
- Kegon Falls | 200 suicides in Nikko National Park
- Discover the mysterious statues in the Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko
And did you like the Toshogu Shrine? Please feel free to leave a message below!