Rise of a Dynasty

Japan's flag
Asia » Japan » Tochigi » Nikko
October 5th 2017
Published: October 22nd 2017
Edit Blog Post

Tomb of Tokugawa IeyasuTomb of Tokugawa IeyasuTomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
Hello my fellow travellers!

I was off to an early start this morning because I wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible in Nikkō before I had to return to Ichiro in Shinagawa. Nikkō is an historical town and large parts of it are designated as a World Heritage Site. In total there are 103 structures that are considered to be World Heritage and they primarily belong to either the Rinnō-ji Temple, the Futarasan Shrine or the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine.

As I wrote in my blog post yesterday the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) and this is the one which I was looking forward to visiting the most. Ieyasu was the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868) and he is one of the most famous and revered figures in Japanese history.

The train ride to Nikkō was a comfortable one, although, it turned out that the last train that I had boarded wasn't covered by the JR Pass so I had to pay an additional fee of ¥2,000. This was actually written out specifically inside the JR Pass so it was my own fault for not
Statue of a MyōbuStatue of a MyōbuStatue of a Myōbu

Shōichii Inari Shrine, Nikkō
reading it properly. There is another train which is covered, although I would have arrived later if had I taken that one. I paid the additional fee cash on the train and got a receipt in return which I showed the staff in the station as I left the train.

From the train station I decided to walk to the World Heritage Site as I wanted to see a bit of the actual city on the way and it's only about a 30 minute walk. The bus would of course have been faster and easier but I enjoy walking when I travel.

While I was walking I came upon a small shrine and a small temple situated across from each other on opposite sides of the road. To my right I had the Shōichii Inari Shrine and to my right I had the the Ryuzo-ji Temple.

Because I converted to Shintoism not long ago I decided to use this opportunity to offer up my first, honest, prayer in Japan to Inari who is one of the main kami in Shintoism. Inari is a kami of rice, tea, sake and fertility and he/she is able to change his/her
Ema (Votive Tablets)Ema (Votive Tablets)Ema (Votive Tablets)

Shōichii Inari Shrine, Nikkō
gender at wish or even be androgynous if he/she wants to be.

The concept of a kami is quite different from how we think of the God in the monotheistic religions and even quite different from most other polytheistic religions as well. While a kami can certainly be a deity, similar to the powerful creator(s) of the world we're used to, a kami can also be elements of the landscape, forces of nature or the spirits of venerated dead persons.

At the entrance to the shrine area stood a beautiful vermilion torii, the traditional gates that are quite synonymous with Shinto shrines. The name torii actually means "bird abode" but despite this strange name they serve the honourable purpose of representing the line that divide human and divine realms. This line is called kekkai and it's customary to bow to the kami before you pass over it. It's also considered good form to walk to the sides as you pass through it because the middle of the path is reserved for the kami.

When I entered the grounds of the shrine I found a temizuya to my left. This is a form of ablution pavilion and there
Hondō (Main Hall)Hondō (Main Hall)Hondō (Main Hall)

Ryuzo-ji Temple, Nikkō
will almost always be one available at any shrine. They are also a common sight at temples even though they aren't as mandatory there because a worshipper can often purify themselves with incense there instead. Cleansing yourself at a temizuya is a ritual affair that is known as a temizu and if you perform it properly you will gain the respect of your Japanese peers.

To perform a proper temizu there are a few different steps to do but once you've done it a couple of times it comes quite natural. First you take one of the supplied ladles in your right hand and fill it up with running water. Next you wash your left hand before you switch the ladle from your right hand to your left hand and wash your right hand. After this you switch the ladle back to your right hand and pour water into your cupped left hand and use this to rinse your mouth. Finally you wash your left hand again before you upend the ladle in such a manner that the last bit of water flows down the handle to clean it for the next worshipper. Preferably this should all be done
Statue of a KomainuStatue of a KomainuStatue of a Komainu

Ōsugi Shrine, Nikkō
without refilling the ladle but I doubt that anyone would be upset if you were to refill the ladle to complete the ritual.

Next to the temizuya were two stands filled with ema. These are small votive tablets upon which a worshipper can inscribe a wish and then hang them up at the shrine to hopefully have the wish granted. The ema are then burned in a ritual at the end of the year which symbolises the liberation of the wish from the worshipper. It's okay to bring the ema home with you rather than to hang it at the shrine but it should still be returned to be burned in the ritual at the end of the year.

Most, but not all, Shinto shrines are made up of three main parts, the most important of these is the honden, the main hall of the shrine. This hall is closed to worshippers and to any but the highest of the priests that serve the shrine. The reason for this is that the honden is reserved for the kami which may chose to reside there. The part that is open to the worshippers is called haiden which means "hall of worship". The haiden is located in front of the honden and they are usually connected by an area called heiden which means "hall of offerings".

In front of the haiden is a box for offerings called a saisenbako where worshippers toss a coin as an offering to the kami. The amount offered is entirely up to the worshipper but a ¥5 coin is considered lucky because it's pronounced goen which is the same word as luck. Similarly it's considered bad luck to offer a ¥10 coin because the word for ¥10 sounds similar to the word for far away so your luck might be far away.

Because Japan is still very much a cash-based society you will always find yourself with a plethora of coins in your pockets, this is were they are meant to end up. The offerings of the worshippers is what keeps these beautiful places alive and well.

On each side of the entrance to the haiden stands a statue of a fox known as myōbu, this is a honourable title that used to be given to high-ranking ladies of the court. The myōbu serve as the messengers of Inari and they are a sure way to know that you are at a shrine dedicated to Inari.

I felt their gaze upon me as I approached the haiden and presented my offering. In front of the haiden there is a bell hanging which is called suzu-no-o and I rang it in order ward of evil spirits in preparation of the arrival of Inari. I then bowed twice in reverence before clapped my hands twice in appreciation. Then I prayed to Inari before I bowed a final time and excused myself. This ritual worship is called sanpai and I always feel a sense of tranquillity when I perform it.

Back in my home in Sweden I have a kamidana, a small Shinto home-altar. I ordered it from Japan a while back and it's actually dedicated to Inari. One of the primary goals of this trip is actually to acquire some items that I still need for my kamidana. Most important of these items is an ofuda, a talisman which will protect my home and which is kept inside the kamidana, hidden from sight.

In the future I'm also planning to set up a butsudan, a Buddhist home-altar, and learn more about
Shinkyō BridgeShinkyō BridgeShinkyō Bridge

Futarasan Shrine, Nikkō
Buddhism as well. In the future I will do my best to follow the tenants of both Shintoism and Buddhism and while Shintoism is the one I feel the most connected to I will also be venerating Buddha.

After I had finished my prayer I crossed the street to visit the Ryuzo-ji Temple and pay my respects to Buddha as well. I actually came in though the back rather than the front and I passed a small, solemn, cemetery. On the other side of the temple I could see the actual gate through which you are supposed to enter the temple grounds. To the side of the gate I could see the small Kannon-dō Hall which enshrines Kannon which is the Japanese name for Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

To the side of the Kannon Hall is the shōrō, the bell tower of the temple. A Japanese shōrō is quite different from how we generally imagine a bell tower to be in the west. There are two types of shōrō, an older type with walls that is called hakamagoshi and a newer type without walls that is called fukihanachi.

The one at this temple is the fukihanachi
Statue of Shōdō Statue of Shōdō Statue of Shōdō

Rinnō-ji Temple, Nikkō
type and looks more like a small pavilion rather than a tower. The bell inside a shōrō is called bonshō which means "Buddhist bell". They can also be called either tsurigane which means "hanging bell" or ōgane which means "great bell". Unlike the bells in churches these don't contain a clapper but are instead struck from the outside by either a handheld mallet or a beam suspended on ropes.

A shōrō can also be found at shrines, just as a torii can also be found at temples. This is a residue from the time that the two religions were amalgamated before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The intended separation of the two religions was largely unsuccessfully and was eventually abandoned, leaving many religious sites with buildings pertaining to both of the religions.

I didn't stay very long at the temple as it seemed to be closed so instead I continued on my way. Before I reached the Daiya River which runs through the city I came to the small Ōsugi Shrine and decided to make a brief visit to it as well. To be honest I couldn't really find any information here and I don't even know which kami that is enshrined here but I paid my respects to it regardless.

Entrance to this small shrine was through a pair of beautiful torii and the haiden off the shrine was guarded by two statues of komainu, a mythological being that is a cross between a lion and a dog. They are very common to see guarding shrines here in Japan and they are always depicted as a pair. One of them has it's mouth open and the other one has it's mouth closed. This represent the sounds of a and um which together form the sacred syllable aum.

I followed the Daiya River until I came to the World Heritage Site. There I was greeted by a statue of Tenkai (1536–1643) who was the Buddhist monk that founded the Kan'ei-ji Temple in Tokyo which I visited last year. He served as an adviser to the first three Tokugawa shoguns and he was a very powerful man. I often come across various depictions of him in Japanese movies and series and I quite often see him portrayed in a villainous role. He was the man whom Ieyasu entrusted with his funerary details and posthumous name so I
Okariden (Temporary Main Hall)Okariden (Temporary Main Hall)Okariden (Temporary Main Hall)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
imagine that Ieyasu had a deep respect for him.

Before I really got started with the sightseeing portion of my day I knew that I needed a bit of food so I sat down in an adjacent restaurant named Asaya Resthouse and ate a set meal consisting of curry and noodles.

I was hoping to be able to charge up my phone there as well because for some reason it didn't seem to charge during the night. Unfortunately I somehow managed to find a restaurant that was completely void of power outlets. Well, at least the food was good and with some sturdy food in my belly I at least had more energy than my phone did so I knew that I should be ready for a full day of exploration.

As I left the restaurant my eyes fell on another statue, standing on the opposite side of the road, so I went to take a look at it as well. It turned out to be a statue of Itagaki Taisuke (1837–1919), he was the leader of Japan's very first political party and an advocate of liberal rights during the Meiji period (1868–1912). He was also the man who managed saved this entire area from destruction during the Boshin War (1868-1869). He managed to persuade the pro-shogunate forces that held the area to abandon their positions without a fight and I believe the world owes him a debt of gratitude for saving such a beautiful area from wanton destruction. If he hadn't manage to do so I fear that this area might have suffered the same fate as Ueno in Tokyo where only a couple of structures now remain of the once massive Kan'ei-ji Temple.

Not far from his statue is the first major site in the area, the Shinkyō Bridge. The bridge is situated right next to the small Iwasaku Shrine but it actually belongs to the much larger Futarasan Shrine. The current bridge was built in 1636 but there has been a bridge here ever since the 8th century. It's considered to be one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan. I know one of the other two is the Kintaikyō Bridge in Iwakuni which I visited last year. I'm not sure which one the third is but I think it might be the Megane Bridge in Nagasaki.

After the Shinkyō Bridge
Gojūnotō PagodaGojūnotō PagodaGojūnotō Pagoda

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
I came to a stone that marked the entrance to the World Heritage Site. From there I followed a path leading to the Rinnō-ji Temple which is the oldest of the shrines and temples in Nikkō. It was founded in 766 and today it belongs to the Tendai school of Japanese Buddhism. It's still an important base for ascetic training amongst their monks and it's nice to know that tourism hasn't deprived it of it's proper use.

While I was walking along the path I noticed several small halls in a warded-off area to my left. When I researched them I learned that they are called otabisho which literally means "the travel place". This was something that was completely unknown to me before but I learned that they serve as a resting point for the kami during religious festivals or whenever a kami is being moved from one shrine to another.

They belong to the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine and they are only open during the spring and autumn festivals so I had to be content with viewing them from outside of it's enclosure.

Soon afterwards I was welcomed to the Rinnō-ji Temple by a statue of Shōdō
Omotemon GateOmotemon GateOmotemon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
(735–817), the Buddhist monk who founded the temple more than 1,250 years ago. In front of his statue is a gorgeous fountain with an intricately detailed sculpture of a dragon and behind the statue is the path up to the main hall of the temple.

The main hall of the Rinnō-ji Temple is called sanbutsu-dō which literally means "hall of three buddhas". It's named so because it enshrines statues of three of the Japanese Buddhist Pantheon. The first of these statues is of Amida Nyorai, the Japanese incarnation of Amitābha. He was once a mighty king but he decided to renounce his throne in order to achieve buddhahood. He has amassed an infinite amount of merit through countless lives and because of this he is known as the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life.

The second statue is of Senju Kannon, the Japanese incarnation of Avalokiteśvara With a Thousand Arms. According to the lore Senju Kannon attempted to reach out to everyone in need but she strained herself so much that her two arms shattered. Seeing her plight Amida Nyorai came to her aid and gave her a thousand arms to reach out to all those in need.
Statue of Naraen KongōStatue of Naraen KongōStatue of Naraen Kongō

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō

The third statue is of Batō Kannon, a Japanese mixture of Hayagriva and a wrathful side of Avalokiteśvara. Batō Kannon literally means "Kannon With a Horse Head" but unlike the original Hayagriva Batō Kannon isn't depicted with the head of a horse.

These three are also regarded as the Buddhist manifestations of the three mountain kami of Nikkô. I will tell you more about these kami when I reach the part about the Futarasan Shrine where they are enshrined.

Unfortunately the sanbutsu-dō was undergoing extensive restorations and was completely covered up by scaffolds but at it was still possible to enter it to see the three statues inside. The entrance fee was a bit steep though and there was no photography allowed inside, a combination that I'm generally not very fond of.

Before I continued towards the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine I also stopped for a moment to take a peek at the Kuromon Gate which stands on the opposite side of the temple complex from where I entered. I continued up past the sanbutsu-dō and I soon came a hall called butokuden which is a martial arts hall that belongs to the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine. It
Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
still serves it's purpose as a practice and study hall every year the Nikkō Kendo Tournament is held here.

Not far from the butokuden is the a hall called okariden. This serves as a temporary main hall of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine whenever the kami need to be moved from the main shrine due to renovations or similar. It's situated very beautifully in a grove of trees up a short flight of steps. Because of it's seclusion there were no other people around and it was very nice to enjoy it in peace and quiet. It was built in 1689 and is closed off from visits but enjoying it from the outside is certainly enough.

Rather than continue straight up from here I decided to take a small detour to see some more of the smaller sites before I went into the main area of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine. To be honest I think I needed to steel myself a little bit before wrestling with the crowds that I knew would be gathered there.

First I passed by a statue of Munehiro Koura (1574–1646), the master carpenter who oversaw the construction of Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine. After that
Torii (Shrine Gate)Torii (Shrine Gate)Torii (Shrine Gate)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
I came to a small and inconspicuous Kodama-dō Hall. Kodama means "small ball" and the name references an event in which the famous Buddhist monk Kūkai (774-835) saw two white balls come out of a nearby pond. He believed them to be powerful spirits and constructed this hall as a place for them to reside in. The hall belongs to the Rinnō-ji Temple and quite beautiful and worth the short detour.

I continued on this road until I reached the small Kezo-in Temple. After that I turned back and took the route past Nikkō Tōshō-gū Art Museum to finally make my way to the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine.

The first thing that greeted me as I approached the shrine was an impressive stone torii these are called ishidorii in Japanese which just mean "stone torii". This one is considered to be one of the three most beautiful ishidorii in all of Japan. To be honest I don't know which the other two are. Close to the torii stands the gorgeous five-storied Gojūnotō Pagoda which was originally built in 1648 but had to be reconstructed in 1818 after a fire.

I entered the shrine through the Omotemon Gate which
Yōmeimon GateYōmeimon GateYōmeimon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
is guarded by the two terrifying niō, the guardians that travelled together with Buddha. The one on the right is named Misshaku Kongō but is commonly known as Agyō. The one on the is named Naraen Kongō but is commonly known as Ungyō. They are a common sight at Buddhist temples but not so much at Shinto shrines but as I wrote earlier in this post this is a result of the ultimately failed separation of Buddhism and Shintoism during the Meiji Restoration.

As I passed through the gate the incredible splendour of the shrine opened up to me and took my breath away. Thing first thing that I took a closer look at was the kamijinko, nakajinko and shimojinko. Their names mean "upper-, middle- and lower sacred storehouse" respectively. Collectively they are known as the sanjinko which means "three sacred storehouses" and they house the gear used for the procession of the 1,000 samurai held here every spring and fall. I hope to come back here one year for that procession as I expect it's an incredible sight to behold.

On the front of the kamijinko is one of three most famous carvings of the shrine named
Statue of KushiStatue of KushiStatue of Kushi

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
Sōzō-no-zō which literally means Imaginary Elephant. This is a very apt name as the artist, Kanō Tan'yū (1602–1674), had never actually seen a real elephant. He was an artist of great renown though and he became the Tokugawa Shogunate's first official painter.

Next to the sanjinko stands the Shinkyūsha which is where the shrine's sacred horse is kept. It's an absolutely marvel to behold as it's covered in lavish decorations and another of the three most famous carvings of the shrine is here. It's called Sanzaru which literally means Three Monkeys but we usually call it The Three Wise Monkeys. In total there are eight panels of the monkeys doing various things. The most famous of the panels though is one that's called See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.

Each of the three monkeys have a name which reflects what he does in this iconic carving. The one that covers his eyes to see no evil is named Mizaru which means "seeing monkey". The one who is covering his ears, and thus hear no evil is, named Kikazaru which means "hearing monkey". The last one who covers his mouth to speak no evil is named
Beautiful Painting on the Yōmeimon GateBeautiful Painting on the Yōmeimon GateBeautiful Painting on the Yōmeimon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
Iwazaru which means "speaking monkey".

All around the sacred buildings stands dozens upon dozens of beautiful stone lanterns called ishidōrō and bronze lanterns called kondōdōrō which are such an iconic part of Japan. I must admit though that the entire experience was a bit spoiled by the massive crowds. I tried for a long time to get a few good pictures here but it proved quite difficult. Even though the Japanese are the most polite people I've ever known even they are helpless against the sheer volume of people moving around here and getting uninterrupted shots was quite a challenge.

From the shinkyusha I went to the omizuya which I believe is a more polite term of the regular temizuya. It was certainly more lavishly decorated than most ablution pavilions I've come across. In front of the omizuya stands a large torii in what feels like the centre of the shrine grounds.

In front of me I had the absolutely stunning Yōmeimon Gate, it is one of the most famous parts of the entire shrine and it's easy to see why as it's splendour is almost blinding. The Yōmeimon Gate is often called "the gate of the
Beautiful Carving on the Yōmeimon GateBeautiful Carving on the Yōmeimon GateBeautiful Carving on the Yōmeimon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
setting sun" because it's possible to spend an entire day, from when the sun rises until it sets, just gazing at it. It has over 500 different carvings, each one of them more magnificent than the other.

The Yōmeimon Gate is guarded by the zuishin, they are two kami warriors that can often be found guarding the gates of shrines. Originally the two zuishin was a single kami named Toyo-kushi but at some point both the kami and his name was split in two. Now the one who sits to the left is named Toyo and the one of sits on the right is named Kushi.

While I ascended the stairs towards the Yōmeimon Gate I also had a beautiful view down over the kyōzō, the repository which contains over 6,000 volumes of Buddhist sutra. These are normally only found at Buddhist temples but like I said before in this post this is a residue from the former amalgamation of the religions.

Flanking the Yōmeimon Gate are two towers, the drum tower which is called korō on the left and a shōrō of the hakamagoshi type on the right. They make for a magnificent framing for the
Yōmeimon GateYōmeimon GateYōmeimon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
gate and both of the towers are as lavishly decorated as everything else here is. Another thing that's worth some extra attention here is the outside of the kairō which stretches out on the right side of the gate, connecting it to the Sakashitamon Gate. A kairō is the Japanese version of the European cloister, the roofed corridor around the innermost sacred area. These were usually originally only found at Buddhist temples but can now be found at shrines and even aristocratic residencies as well.

On the Sakashitamon Gate is the final of the three most famous carvings of the shrine, the Nemuri Neko, which literally means "Sleeping Cat". It is a really beautiful carving that's attributed to a legendary, and possibly fictitious, craftsman named Hidari Jingorō. Hidari literally means "left" and there are a couple of legends as to how he acquired this name.

One legend is that he was an apprentice to a famous blacksmith and he attempted to learn the temperature of the oil used during forging. This was still forbidden knowledge for him at the time and as punishment the blacksmith cut of his right arm. Another legend is that other carpenters were jealous
Karamon GateKaramon GateKaramon Gate

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
of his work and cut of his right arm without knowing that he was left-handed.

If it weren't for the crowds passing in and out of the gate I would have loved to have stayed here longer and just watch this carving as it instils a sense of peace in a way that only a sleeping cat is able to. On the opposite side of the gate there is a beautiful carving of a sparrow, and it's said that once the sleeping cat wakes up it will eat the sparrow. There is also a saying says that the two animals exist in perfect harmony with each other and that's why the cat is sleeping in peace.

As I mentioned earlier Shintoism and Buddhism used to be amalgamated in Japan and that there was a somewhat failed attempt to separate them, which is why there are such a mixture of Shintoist and Buddhist influences everywhere.

It was Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) that gave the order to separate the two religions in what became known as the shinbutsu bunri. There was a couple of reasons for this separation, the first one was that the new Meiji government needed to rally
Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat)Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat)Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
a sense of national pride and imperial reverence. After all this was really the first time since 1185 that the emperor held real political power in Japan, unless you count the three short years of the Kenmu Restoration (1333–1336). Emperor Meiji needed to strengthen is divine ancestry going back to Amaterasu, the kami of the sun. It proved to be a perfect rallying-point and worked wonders as the nationalist pride of Japan soared and swiftly changed Japan from a feudal society into a modern superpower.

The other reason was that the Buddhist temples and the monks that served there had acquired immense wealth and power and Buddhism had originally been brought over from China and might pose a threat to the new government. The order to separate the religions caused a lot of anti-Buddhist sentiments and many monks was forced to either return to a layman's life or become kannushi, trhe Shinto priests and dedicate themselves to Shintoism instead.

Eventually the separation stalled and finally died out in 1873 but by that time many Buddhist buildings had already been relocated and thousands of temples had been forced to close as their lands were confiscated. Several sacred texts, statues
Okumiya (Inner Shrine)Okumiya (Inner Shrine)Okumiya (Inner Shrine)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
and artefacts of Buddhism was also destroyed or lost forever during this time.

Even though the separation did manage to turn Shintoism and Buddhism into two different, identifiable and independent religions the separation was still, in my opinion, largely unsuccessful and the two religions are still very intimately connected in Japan to this very day.

From the Sakashitamon Gate I walked up the slope to reach the okumiya, the inner shrine of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine. This is where the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu is located and in the past this area was forbidden to enter by anyone except the shogun himself. It might be worth noting that there is actually a bit of a dispute whether or not the earthly remains of Ieyasu are located here or not.

The reason for this is that for the first year after his death Ieyasu was buried at the Kunōzan Tōshō-gū Shrine on Mount Kunō in Shizuoka and after that he was reburied here in Nikkō by his son and successor Tokugawa Hidetada (1579–1632).

The debate is regarding whether or not his actual remains was reburied or if it is just his spirit that is enshrined here. His
Sacred CedarSacred CedarSacred Cedar

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō
actual remains might very well still be buried at the Kunōzan Tōshō-gū Shrine and since neither of the two shrines have been willing to open up their respective tombs the issue remains unresolved.

I actually visited the Kunōzan Tōshō-gū Shrine last year and while I find both shrines to be very splendid I would say that this one here in Nikkō is the most lavish one. I do think that the one on Mount Kunō is more spiritual though because there are much less tourists there.

The current form of this shrine was built by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604–1651), the grandson of Ieyasu. He turned this, formerly more modest shrine, into this lavish palace because of his great admiration of Ieyasu. The entire project was actually completed in a mere one and a half year but it cost a whopping ¥40 million by today's currency standard.

Regardless of whether the earthly remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu is really here or in Shizuoka this site is a wonder to behold. While the crowds does detract a bit from the experience, I would argue that this is one of those places that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
Kyōzō (Sutra Repository)Kyōzō (Sutra Repository)Kyōzō (Sutra Repository)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine, Nikkō

Fortunately for me the crowds thinned out considerably by the time I reached the okumiya and I could finally spend a few precious moments in silence. I used this opportunity to offer up a prayer before the tomb of the founder of a great dynasty, one that managed to keep the peace for over 200 years in a previously war-torn Japan.

After I had paid my respects to Ieyasu I decided to return back down the slope to the main structure of the shrine. It's known as gohonsha which is a polite term that means "main shrine" and it's made up of the aforementioned honden and haiden.

I removed my shoes and entered into the haiden part of the gohonsha and ended up listening to an information session held by one of the kannushi. It was in Japanese so there was unfortunately a lot of it that I didn't understand. However, just sitting there on the tatami mats, looking at the portraits of the 36 immortal poets of Kyoto that lined the walls while listening to the kannushi certainly elevated the experience for me. I do wish that I was fluent in Japanese so that I understood all that was said, but it's proven a difficult language for me to master.

This part of the shrine is actually not only dedicated to Ieyasu, but also to two other famous rulers in Japanese history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598) and Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199).

Hideyoshi was the first to manage to unite Japan under his rule after the collapse of the Ashikaga Shogunate (1336–1573) and he led the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598). The invasions were ultimately unsuccessful and ended Hideyoshi died of illness in 1598. After his death the country became divided once more and a short civil ensued before Ieyasu managed to grasp power and make himself shogun in 1603.

Yoritomo was the very first shogun of Japan after he ushered in the Kamakura Shogunate (1185–1333) and I will talk more about him and that shogunate tomorrow when I visit the town of Kamakura.

After I left the haiden I took a peek at the Karamon Gate which looks like a smaller, but absolutely stunning, version of the Yōmeimon Gate and it's certainly also worth a closer look.

As I was walking out of the main area and was about to exit the
Mikado GateMikado GateMikado Gate

Futarasan Shrine, Nikkō
Yōmeimon Gate my eyes fell on another beautiful carving, this one was depicting a white dragon. I learned that this carving is also attributed to Hidari Jingorō. I couldn't find if this one has a specific name though or really any other details about it except for that. I should say though that it might actually need a little bit of restoration as it's white colour hasn't fared quite as well over the years as many other carvings here have done.

Before I finally left the area I decided to also take a look at the shinyosha, the hall where they house the portable shrines known as mikoshi. The thing that stood out the most, for me, on the shinyosha was a gorgeous carving of two tigers above the entrance but I don't know who the artist was that made them.

I didn't really feel very stressed yet so I decided to remain by the Yōmeimon Gate for a while just to observe some of the amazing carvings as there really are a tonne of them. I found a lot of beautiful gems, such as a man riding a dragon and one depicting court nobles. When I felt
Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)

Futarasan Shrine, Nikkō
content with my viewing of the carvings I went down to the last part left for me to visit at the shrine, the beautiful Honji-dō Hall. Inside this hall is the famous painting Nakiryû which literally means "Crying Dragon". Unfortunately there was no photos allowed inside which is a shame as it's a truly splendid work of art and I really wish that I could have shown it to you all.

The amazing thing though isn't just the painting in and of it's own, but the fact that when the kannushi clapped a pair of wooden blocks together anywhere but precisely under the dragon there was no reverberation of the sound. However, once he stood under the gaze of the dragon the sound reverberated, giving voice to the dragon above us. This is where the name of painting comes from. It's a magnificent experience, even though you have to stand so tight with the others that you can barely breathe while you take it in.

After I left the Honjidō Hall I went to the the shrine office, called shamusho, and bought a hamaya which is a demon-breaking arrow which is used to ward of evil and I will place in my kamidana once I get back home. I also bought an ema which has the image of a dog painted on it and it represents the year of the dog which is the year I was born in.

As I left the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine I was approached by a group of students who asked if they could interview me as a part of their English studies. Of course I agreed and I answered their questions in both English and Japanese (as best as I could) and after they were done they all gave me beautiful origami folds that they'd made themselves. I spent some time afterwards talking to their teacher, telling him a little bit about myself and Sweden.

He was quite surprised when I told him that I had arrived in Japan just the day before and he was genuinely impressed with my Japanese, especially when I told him it was all self-taught. All of them were really lovely and we ended the whole interview session by taking a few group photos with everyone's cameras before I continued on my way to the Futarasan Shrine.

On my way there I passed by
Niōmon GateNiōmon GateNiōmon Gate

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
the Hokke-dō Hall and the Jōgyō-dō Hall which are connected to each other through a corridor. The former enshrine the historical Buddha whom is known as Shaka Nyorai in Japan while the latter enshrines Amida Nyorai. Due to them being connected they are often known as the twin halls and they were built in 1649 as part of the Rinnō-ji Temple.

Futarasan Shrine, despite being a Shinto shrine, was also founded by Shōdo just as the Rinnō-ji Temple was. It was founded one year after the Rinnō-ji Temple and it takes it name from the nearby Mount Nantai which is also known as Futarasan in Japanese. As I mentioned earlier in this post the kami of Mount Nantai is enshrined in Futarasan Shrine. The other two kami that are enshrined here are those of the adjacent Mount Nyohō and Mount Tarō.

As I promised earlier in this post I would tell you a little bit more about the kami of Nikkō in this part of the post. I hope I won't bore you but personally I find the lore of Shintoism quite fascinating. Although I have to admit that I often also find it befuddling and hard to
Stone LanternsStone LanternsStone Lanterns

Ryūkō-in Temple, Nikkō
keep up with.

Anyway, the first and most important of the kami enshrined here is Ōkuninushi, he is a major kami who is considered to have been the original ruler of Izumo Province. A famous legend around him is the Hare of Inaba which took place before Ōkuninushi became a mighty kami. Before he even became known as Ōkuninushi (the names of both kami and famous historical people in Japan tends to change frequently as they "evolve" and they can be hard to keep up with, so I won't confuse you further by using multiple names for the same entity).

According to the legend Ōkuninushi and his 80 brothers were all suitors to the same woman, Princess Yagami of Inaba, and they all left together to travel to Inaba to court her. Ōkuninushi, being the runt of the litter so to speak, was travelling far behind his brothers, carrying their luggage. While they were travelling they came upon a hare that was laying flayed and in agony upon the shore of the sea.

The brothers of Ōkuninushi, who came upon the hare first, asked the hare what had happened. The hare told them that he had needed
Korō (Drum Tower)Korō (Drum Tower)Korō (Drum Tower)

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
to cross the sea from the Oki Islands to Cape Keba and in order to accomplish this he had made a bet with the wanizame a sea monster that's a cross between a shark and a crocodile. He bet them that the hares were more numerous than the wanizame and they accepted the bet. The hare then told them that he had to count them so they had to line up across the sea so that he could jump on their backs in order to count them. However, once he came to the last wanizame the hare taunted them and told them that he'd only wanted to cross the sea and needed a bridge which the wanizame had now given him. In response to this insult the last wanizame snapped it's jaws at the hare and managed to tear off his fur.

Because the brothers of Ōkuninushi were cruel they decided to play a prank on the flayed hare and told him to wash himself in the briny sea and then blow himself dry in the wind. As the hare did this his pain only worsened while the brothers of Ōkuninushi laughed.

Later, when Ōkuninushi came upon the poor hare and heard his story he instead told him to wash himself in the fresh water at the mouth of the sea and then roll himself in the pollen of the cattail plants which restored him to his original state. As his pain was alleviated the hare revealed himself to be a mighty kami and made a divine prediction that Princess Yagami of Inaba would choose him for her husband which she did.

The second kami enshrined here is Tagori-hime. She is one of the three female kami whom was born when Amaterasu broke up a giant sword and consumed it. After Amaterasu had consumed the sword she blew it out as a fine mist from which the three sisters were born. The three of them are considered to be kami of the sea and they are collectively known as the "three kami of Munakata". They were very important kami to the Munakata clan who ruled over the Sacred Island of Okinoshima where they are all enshrined together. Tagori-hime was also wed to Ōkuninushi so it makes good sense that they are enshrined here together.

The final kami that are enshrined here is their son, Ajisukitakahikone, who
Yashamon GateYashamon GateYashamon Gate

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
is a kami of thunder. In his infancy he cried so loudly that he had to be placed in a boat and sailed around the islands of Japan until he was calmed down. The most famous story around him of when he ascended to the heavens to pay his respects to his deceased friend Amewakahiko whom had been slayed by Takamimusuhi for shooting the pheasant Nakime.

Amewakahiko was married to Shitateru-hime, the sister of Ajisukitakahikone and the two of them were quite close. Apparently they were also quite like in appearance and because of this resemblance the family of his friend confused him with the deceased and they thought that Amewakahiko had returned from death. This angered Ajisukitakahikone, who took offence from being mistaken for a deceased man, so much that he destroyed the mourning hut (called moya in Japanese) which then fell down to earth and formed Mount Moyama.

I hope that this delve into the lore of the kami enshrined here didn't bore you. Anyway, I entered the Futarasan Shrine through first a large torii and then the Mikado Gate. Lining the path around me were sacred cedars marked by shimenawa, a sacred rope which wards
Statue of a YashaStatue of a YashaStatue of a Yasha

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
against evil spirits and marks something as being pure.

The first structure that my eyes fell upon as I entered the premise was the magnificent haiden right in front of me. To my left was the ever present temizuya as well as a kaguraden. Kaguraden is where the sacred dance kagura is performed for the kami and it's a fairly common feature at shrines of note. The kagura is a theatrical dance that retells the lore of Shintoism and it predates even the famous Noh theatre. Originally kagura was only performed at the imperial court by miko, the shrine maidens, as they were considered the descendants of Uzume, the kami of dawn, revelry and mirth. She is famous for the dance that lured Amaterasu out of her hiding place and restored sunlight to the world. I'll be talking more about that in a future post though as I will visit a site closely connected with that event.

From the Futarasan Shrine I went to the adjacent Taiyū-in Mausoleum, this is the mausoleum of Iemitsu who wanted to be buried near his grandfather. While the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine was officially designated as a shrine during the separation of Buddhism
Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
and Shintoism the Taiyū-in Mausoleum was instead turned into a sub-temple of the Rinnō-ji Temple. Iemitsu decided to have his mausoleum in this location in order to guard one of the two unlucky directions of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine and thus serve as his grandfathers shield in death.

After I paid the entrance fee for the mausoleum I entered through the the beautiful Niōmon Gate. It is guarded by the same guardians as the Omotemon Gate at the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine and is named after them.

Unfortunately the second gate of the complex, the Nitenmon Gate, was covered up due to restorations so I couldn't get any good pictures of it or of it's guardians. Between the two gates are another ablution pavilion. This one carried a name which I haven't seen before, suibansha. I don't know if this signifies any major difference from a temizuya or the omizuya.

Before I went through the Nitenmon Gate I passed a path lined with stone lanterns that was leading into another sub-temple of the Rinnō-ji Temple, the Ryūkō-in Temple but I didn't continue into it as it seemed to be closed off from entry.

After the Nitenmon Gate
Kōkamon GateKōkamon GateKōkamon Gate

Taiyū-in Mausoleum, Nikkō
I came to the Yashamon Gate which is named after the four yasha that guard is. The yasha are quite interesting as they seem to be both revered as both deities and feared as demons in Buddhism. They fight against the enemies of Buddhism while simultaneously being known to occasionally devour humans as well.

The Yashamon Gate is beautifully framed by a korō and shōrō which are very similar in size and appearance to their counterparts at the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Shrine. Beyond this gate is the haiden and honden and I removed my shoes and entered into the haiden to offer up a prayer to Iemitsu. There were very few people left here now so I was able to pray in reverent silence.

After my visit to the haiden I stepped back outside and walked around the honden and through a small gate to reach the Kōkamon Gate which is the final gate standing between the inner temple, oku-in, where the tomb of Iemitsu is located, and the rest of the world. It is truly stunning, built in an influence of the Chinese Ming Dynasty which I would say is a little bit ironic considering the isolationist policies
Enjoying the ViewEnjoying the ViewEnjoying the View

Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikkō
of Iemitsu. He was the one that implemented the Sakoku Edict of 1635 which forbade Japanese people from leaving Japan under pain of death.

Similarly, Europeans entering Japan without permission were also executed. Catholicism was strictly forbidden and anyone suspected of following that faith was interrogated and punished. Heavy trade restrictions was implemented and foreign trade was limited to only a few select ports.

Unfortunately it wasn't allowed to go beyond this point to the final resting place of Iemitsu so I had to be content to offer up my final respects before the Kōkamon Gate before it was time to leave the mausoleum.

After I left the mausoleum I went to visit the last site left on my itinerary for the day, the Tamozawa Imperial Villa. Originally this villa stood in Tokyo but was moved herein 1899. It was originally a residence of the ruling Tokugawa family but after they fell from power the villa became a summer residence to the imperial family.

It boasts a very interesting interior design as it have freely mixed traditional Edo period and early Meiji period styles with European influences. Many of the floors are carpeted while there are
Fusuma-e (Painting on a Sliding Door)Fusuma-e (Painting on a Sliding Door)Fusuma-e (Painting on a Sliding Door)

Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikkō
also many beautiful sliding doors here, both of the fusuma style and the shōji style. The shōji are the translucent paper doors which I'd guess is the first one that springs to mind when thinking about sliding doors. The fusuma style is a non-translucent version which often have beautiful paintings on them known as fusuma-e.

The villa fell into a state of disrepair after World War II but fortunately it was renovated and opened up to the public as a museum in 2000. Despite being reduced to a mere third of it's original size it still contains 106 rooms and remains one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan.

While I was walking around inside the villa, just enjoying the artistry of it, I met a nice young man from Germany whom had been studying in Japan for a year. He was now doing a tour of the country for a couple of weeks before he had to go back to Germany. We decided to take a walk of the beautiful garden together, we were actually the only two people left here beside the staff so we helped each other out with taking photos.

In the garden
Enjoying the View of the GardenEnjoying the View of the GardenEnjoying the View of the Garden

Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikkō
was a beautiful 400-year-old shidare-zakura, a weeping cherry tree, planted in good view of the villa. Unfortunately this wasn't the season for it so there was no flowers or leaves on it, but I expect it is truly splendid in the proper season.

After our walk through the garden we went to the bus stop together and took the bus down to the station where the JR trains leave from. I had planned to also visit the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, an area which was created after an eruption of Mount Nantai. It's supposed to be very beautiful and the road leading to the abyss is lined with some 70 statues of Jizō (the Japanese name for the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha). The statues are known as the "Ghost Jizō" because their numbers seem to change with each counting. I would have loved to take that walk and see it for myself but in all honesty I was getting pretty tired and the sun was starting to set.

If I was to be able to return to Tokyo at a decent enough time to visit an onsen, the amazing Japanese hot spring, together with Ichiro and Kerstin I would have to call
Delicious Hokkaido SweetDelicious Hokkaido SweetDelicious Hokkaido Sweet

Ichiro's Home, Tokyo
it a day here so that's what I did. I expect I will return here another time though to visit the Kanmangafuchi Abyss as well as the nearby Lake Chūzenji which Ichiro recommended me to visit.

This time I made sure to only ride on trains included in the JR Pass so the ride back to Tokyo went without a hitch and I met up with Ichiro and Kerstin near the station. We started by eating some ramen, the Chinese-style noodles, together. We all marvelled at Kerstin's attempts to eat ramen with the supplied hashi, the shorter Japanese chopsticks. After the dinner we all went to the onsen together but Kerstin didn't want to stay to long since she was pretty tired after her long flight.

It was still really nice and it gave Ichiro and me a good opportunity to just relax together and chat about everything imaginable. I always love to visit a onsen, it's one of the greatest pleasures of Japan and something that I've missed a lot since my last visit.

After our bath we returned to Ichiro's home where we spent the rest of the evening just chatting away while drinking some
Ichiro, Kerstin and MeIchiro, Kerstin and MeIchiro, Kerstin and Me

Ichiro's Home, Tokyo
beer and eating some delicious sweets from Hokkaido that Ichiro had gotten from a friend of his.

Tomorrow I will go to Kamakura which is almost a suburb of Tokyo these days. However, it was once the capital of Japan and I've heard that it's reflected in the beauty of it's shrines and temples. I wish I had more time there but I'm expected in Shizuoka in the evening so I will bring my bag with me as I leave in the morning and then go straight from Kamakura to Shizuoka.

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

Additional photos below
Photos: 244, Displayed: 58


Torii (Shrine Gate)Torii (Shrine Gate)
Torii (Shrine Gate)

Shōichii Inari Shrine, Nikkō
Temizuya (Ablution Pavilion)Temizuya (Ablution Pavilion)
Temizuya (Ablution Pavilion)

Shōichii Inari Shrine, Nikkō

Ryuzo-ji Temple, Nikkō
Kannon-dō HallKannon-dō Hall
Kannon-dō Hall

Ryuzo-ji Temple, Nikkō
Shōrō (Bell Tower)Shōrō (Bell Tower)
Shōrō (Bell Tower)

Ryuzo-ji Temple, Nikkō
Front GateFront Gate
Front Gate

Ryuzo-ji Temple, Nikkō
Statues of the Enshrined KamiStatues of the Enshrined Kami
Statues of the Enshrined Kami

Ōsugi Shrine, Nikkō
Delicious Curry and NoodlesDelicious Curry and Noodles
Delicious Curry and Noodles

Asaya Resthouse, Nikkō
Torii (Shrine Gate)Torii (Shrine Gate)
Torii (Shrine Gate)

Iwasaku Shrine, Nikkō
Shinkyō BridgeShinkyō Bridge
Shinkyō Bridge

Futarasan Shrine, Nikkō
Shinkyō BridgeShinkyō Bridge
Shinkyō Bridge

Futarasam Shrine, Nikkō

23rd October 2017

I have heard so much about the three wise monkeys and seen many depictions of them, but had no idea that it was linked to a temple in Nikko - thanks for the detailed information. Crowds are hard to deal with at the best of times, but I think they annoy me more in sacred places where the ambiance and vibe of a space is totally ruined by them. Hope the rest of your trip is blessed with fewer/quieter humans :)
24th October 2017

I agree, it's worse at sacred places where there should be this sense of awe. The worst I've ever experienced was last year in Nara which was full of Chinese tourists that never ever ever stopped talking really loudly and that cared nothing for waiting lines or photographs and so on.
26th October 2017

Wow, I can tell you are highly knowledgeable in Japanese history and religion. Very interesting. I was very interested to read about your insights into Shintoism, a fascinating religion I know very little about. Your love for Japan is very clear here :)
26th October 2017

Thank you man, I really do love Japan and I'm already looking forward to my next visit. :-)
4th November 2017
Enjoying the View of the Garden

It looks so serene Per-Olof. I feel the serenity in your pics...the journey in your words. But I keep coming back to serene...I keep feeling you must be experiencing that.
4th November 2017
Enjoying the View of the Garden

I really do feel serene when I'm there. Sure, I might move around a lot still, but I don't feel the stress I once did. :-)

Tot: 1.733s; Tpl: 0.059s; cc: 13; qc: 44; dbt: 0.0184s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.7mb