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The Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Sacred spot of the Edo Shogunate with striking religious architecture and glorious nature

Tochigi prefecture

The "Shrines and Temples of Nikko" refer to the Toshogu and Futarasan-jinja shrines and the Rinnoji temple as well as their surroundings.

Toshogu is where Ieyasu Tokugawa (ruling from 1603 to 1605) is enshrined; he was the first shogun of the Edo Shogunate, which flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries. As many as 127,000 craftsmen were involved in constructing the shrine, using the highest level of technology available at the time. The two-story "Yomei-mon Gate", decorated with brilliant colors and over 500 sculptures, is particularly famous. It is also called "Higurashi-mon (sunset gate)", because people spend all day long gazing at its beauty.

If you pass under Yomei-mon, turn right and enter the avenue leading to the shrine at the back, you will see the "Sleeping Cat" overhead, a national treasure created by legendary master Hidari Jingoro. The story behind the carving is that the cat was to ward off mice, because it is situated near the gate leading to the grave of Ieyasu. In the "Shinkyusha (sacred stable)" for the horses serving God, there is a series of 8 carved boards on which the life of a monkey is illustrated, from birth to pregnancy, caricaturing human life. One of the sculptures, the "Three Monkeys", is famous throughout the world for the "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" poses. The carved monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouth, respectively, were inspired by the Buddhist teaching that if we do not hear, see or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared from evil, and the theme was chosen here in the belief that the monkeys would protect the horses from disease.

In addition to these carvings, there is also one of an elephant, purely from imagination, in a warehouse called "Kamijinko". The Toshogu Three Sculptures are small, but incredibly beautiful, and there is always a crowd of people in front of them.

The "Shinkyo Bridge" acts as a gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko and is one of the three most unusual bridges in Japan. According to legend, when a certain saint tried to cross the rapids of the Daiyagawa River, two snakes formed a bridge for him to walk across. An 8-year repair work program was completed in March 2005 and the bridge is now open to the public again. The arch-shaped bridge covered in vermillion lacquer supported by stone piers is most attractive in the fall when the mountain trees are a dazzling red and yellow.

Some must-see sights in Futarasan-jinja include the vermillion lacquered shrine pavilion and the "Bakedoro (haunted garden lantern)" next to it. The lantern is rumored to change into a spooky shape when lit at night, and it still bears the scars from numerous sword strikes made by startled samurai warriors. Rinnoji is one of the temples representing the Tendai School of Buddhism along with Hieizan Enryakuji (Otsu City, Shiga prefecture) and Kaneiji (Taito-ku, Tokyo). The three gilded wooden Buddha statues, 8.5 meters high each, are enshrined within the main hall.

Nikko City, Tochigi prefecture

*Photo (C) Nikkozan Rinnoji Taiyuin Haiden
(National treasure, World heritage)

Directions

Toshogu: Approx. 10-minute walk from the Shinkyo bus stop. The Shinkyo bus stop is approx. 5 minutes from the JR or Tobu Nikko station taking the Tobu bus (to Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen). Or approx. 20-minute walk from the JR/Tobu Nikko station. Futarasan-jinja: Approx. 7-minute walk from the Nishisando bus stop. The Nishisando bus stop is approx. 7 minutes from the JR/Tobu Nikko station taking the Tobu bus (to Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen). Rinnoji: Approx. 10-minute walk from the Shinkyo bus stop. The Shinkyo bus stop is approx. 5 minutes from the JR/Tobu Nikko station taking the Tobu bus (to Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen).

 

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