Japan Atlas: Architecture 
Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Location: Nikko City, Tochigi Pref. 

 Founded in 1617 

 Completion of existing buildings: 1636 

 Number of structures: 24 

 National Treasures: Honden (main hall), Ishi-no-ma (corridor), Haiden (worship hall), Shomen Karamon (front gate), Haimen Karamon (back gate), Sukibei (fences with openwork), Yomeimon (main gate), and Kairo (surrounding corridors). 



Splendor of Japan's Greatest Architecture of the 17th Century  

Nikko Toshogu was built as a shrine and mausoleum to deify Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). Today Nikko is rightly famous as a popular sightseeing point, but originally it was a place revered in mountain worship, and was the center of religious devotion in the Kanto region (located in east central of Japan). The main hall of Toshogu was first built in 1617, but 20 years later it underwent a major renovation which bequeathed the splendid group of buildings that remains today. Naturally, at the time of construction, the detailed architectural design ingeniously set forth a building lay-out in such a way as to take full advantage of the natural landscape, the giant ancient trees and the lie of the land. The detailed construction plan based on the state-of-the-art technology of those time also paid careful attention to structural durability as well as resistance to fire, cold, and humidity. Consequently, today we can still see a group of structures of such exquisite quality and these eight buildings are designated National Treasures. In addition, the 37-kilometer (230-mile) route extending from Nikko City to Nikko Toshogu is called "Nikko Suginamiki," because it is lined with 15,000 Japanese cypress trees that was planted in the 17th century. This route is designated a Natural Monument.  

Nikko Toshogu is famous for the ornate carving that splendidly decorates the entire buildings both inside and outside and from end to end. In particular, the imposing Youmeimon tower gateway is famous for its lavish decorations that include over 300 dazzling carvings of mythical beasts, such as dragons, giraffes, and lions, and Chinese sages. The well known carvings of the three "see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil" monkeys, can be seen on the Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha). Also, along the Eastern Corridor there is the carving of the sleeping cat; this masterpiece depicts the form of a cat so realistically that despite being asleep, the cat appears to be paying close attention to his surroundings.  

Photos: (top) The Yomeimon Gate (Tochigi Prefecture); (middle) Kami-jinko, one of the three treasuries of the shrine (JCIC); (bottom) three monkeys engraved on the outside wall of Shinkyusha (JCIC).  

Unauthorized reproduction of the photos in this page is prohibited. 

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