The first shrine in Nikko was built by a Buddhist priest named Shodo Shonin 1200 years ago. Legend states that he crossed the Baiya River pictured here on the back of two snakes, one red and one green, thrown in the air by an old man. The bridge was first built in 1636 for use by the shogun and his party only. Destroyed by flooding, the current bridge was rebuiilt in 1907. It is the property of the Futarasan Shrine and is the first cultural highlight encountered on entering the shrine area from the village of Nikko.
The first-time I saw Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine I was truly in awe. This magnificent Shrine honours the spirit of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). Many of Japan’s best artists and carpenters were brought together to design and construct this shrine. It took about 12 and a half years to build and was completed in 1639 under the rule of Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu.
One of the most interesting things about this structure is the unique way it blends the architectural accents of both the Shrine and the Temple styles.
You enter The Shrine through The Yomeimon Gate. This colourful gate features more than 400 ornate wood carvings. Other ornate wood carvings of interest are the famous three see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys, which can be seen on the Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha) and the sleeping cat (which sleeps realistically along the Eastern Corridor). It is said that these carvings may well have been done by Jingoro Hidari. Hidari features in many legends and was a famous artist of his time.
The famous carving of the 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys is located within the Toshogu shrine on the Shinyosha or Sacred Stable. It is the most well-known of a series of 8 monkey carvings on this building (had I only known). The panels follow the course of a human life from child to parenthood. The monkeys are on a stable because in ancient times monkeys were considered the guardians of horses.
this magnificent gate is the masterpiece of the Toshogu shrine, named after an Imperial Gate in Kyoto. It is over 30 feet high and has over 500 sculptures. Many are of animals both real (giraffe, tapir) while others are of imaginary animals like horse-dragon and flying dragons. Three detail photographs of the shrine are included in this set.
this temple was founded by Shodo Shonin who introduced Buddhism to Japan in the eighth century. It houses 3 gold-lacquered wooden statues corresponding to the three mountain Shinto gods enshrined at the Futarason shrine nearby. Besides the hall of the 3 Buddhas, there is an adjacent classic garden and the Taiyuin Mausoleum dedicated to the thried Tokugawa shogun Iemetsu. It was a mecca for pilgrims and those training in religion.
this remarkable structure is dedicated to the 5-Wisdom Buddha. Originally built in the 1600's, it was reconstructed in the early 1800's incorporating an anti-earthquake technique by which the central pillar floats above the ground. Animal sculptures on the lower levels indicate the zodiac signs.
this huge torii is made of granite and is the largest of its kind in the world, measuring almost 30 feet high and dwarfing the other giant toriis in Kyoto and Kamakura. There are a group of steps leading up to the torii which are built as an optical illusion - the distance is much shorter than it appears from the bottom of the steps.
This ware house is used to 1200 costurmes for periodic Samurai parades as well as equipment for archery on horseback. It is most noteworthy for the elephant sculptures on the front gable. Seems the painter had never actually seen an elephant so the ears are all wrong. Now called "Imaginary Elephants"
This gate is the entrance to the Toshogu mausoleum. There are over 80 animal carvings of chinese lions, tapirs, giraffes and tigers. Guarding the immediate entrance and pictured on a supplemental image are two Deva Kings, the guardians of Buddhism. These kings, or Nioh measure over 4 feet high.
The Yomeimon gate is also called Higurashino-mon. (“The Gate where people spend all day long looking.”)
The name of the Yomeimon came from one of the twelve gates in the Imperial court in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.
This gate is a showcase to the ancient techniques of crafts and decoration (such as coloring, metal fitting and sculptures). Due to its magnificence, it is said that Japanese people never tire of looking at the gate all day long. Many visitors throng the gate & it is heavilly photographed from all angles in all its glory.
Indeed, it is a marvellous gate with intricate carvings and sculptures, which number over 500, all around its frame.
According to the Nikko official website, among the 500 sculptures are those of dragons, birds, flowers, Chinese Sages and mythical animals such as “Iki” and “horse-dragon”. “Iki” has a tusk, but no whiskers. The horse-dragon had two horns and a scaled body, and was described in ancient textx as being part of the dragon family. There are also sculptures of giraffes on either side of the door-frame. The intricate sculptures are not only found at the front of the gate but also at the back of it. Here there are 194 sculptures of imaginary animals which are called Reiju, i.e. Holy or Spritual animals.
According to our tour guide, in ancient Japan, the giraffe was a symbol of peace. When the great Tokugawa Ieyasu (and was the first Shogun ruler), unified Japan, peace was said to have come to the people and as a symbolic gesture, the giraffe was depicted within the Shrine complex. However, as no artists had ever seen the giraffe in real life, they drew the creature based on stories told by travellers and based on their own imaginations. The result (from what I could see), a cross between a dragon and a horse, with a peaceful, noble face. (as no photography is allowed within the shrine itself, you'll have to visit Nikko and see for yourself!).
This lavish gate is part of the Rinnoji temple and is the entrance to the shrine to Tokugawa Iemetsu, the grandson of the founder of the dynasty, called the Taiyuin. It is modeled after the Toshogu shrine but is intentionally somewhat more modest. A detailed image of a figure is included.
The Five-Storied Pagoda stands at a height of 36 m and is located on the left of the main Ishdorii (Stone Gate).
Apparently, there are no floors inside & each story is connected directly. As an anti-earhquake device, the central pillar, with a diameter of 60cm, hangs from the height of the 4th floor by a chain and floats about 10cm off the ground.
This pagoda was built by Tadakatsu Sakai, the governor of Obama (former Fukui prefecture) in 1650, and burned down in 1815. It was rebuilt by Tadakatsu?s descendents in 1818.
The pagoda shows the historical influence of Buddhism to these parts.
The Sacred Bridge undergone major renovation and had just been reopened when I went there. It is considered as one of the finest bridge in Japan.
The old red bridge is very attractive, which was built across the crystal clear running river, and is surrounded by thick forests.
There is a hefty admission fee of 500 yen if you want to walk across it or to have a closer examination of its fine details. The old bridge is only about 100m from the current road bridge, so you can save money.
Check the website below for more details about the bridge.
This shrine and the tomb itself, given the gaudy overdecorated? nature of the entire complex, are surprisingly simple and unadorned. Yet they are the centerpieces, if not of the tourist industry, then of the visitors who come to Nikko. Unlike the rest of the complex, respectful quiet is the norm at this site.
This beautiful white horse was a gift from the government of New Zealand to the Japanese government. It lives in a stable within the compounds of this massive Toshogu temple complex. The sacred horse is only brought out for public viewing only twice a day for a few minutes. We were lucky because we were there during one of these times.
Isn't he just magnificent? I was lucky enough to see him up close and managed to take a few photos.
There is some protocol to be observed. We were informed to keep very quiet in order not to startle the horse. In addition, no one must come near the sacred horse or try to touch it. The path is cleared before the keeper brings the horse out. The horse allows itself to be photographed, and after a few minutes is led away back to its stables.