An in Depth Look at Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Nikko Toshogu Shine is in the city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture and it enshrines the original shogunate Tokugawa Ieyasu. This is one spot you absolutely should stop by when visiting Nikko. In 1999, the shrines of Nikko were registered as World Cultural Heritage Sites, and now many people visit seeking the solemnity of the shrines and the delicate sculptures housed within them.

About Nikko Toshogu Shrine

This shrine was first built in the 3rd year of the Genna Era (1617) after Tokugawa Ieyasu left his will to Hidetada, the second general of the Edo Shogunate. The original shrine was a simple temple, but nearly 20 years later the third Shogun Iemitsu had reconstructed it into a gorgeous building. The monetary value put into constructing it, with conversion in mind, would calculate to about 40 Billion Japanese Yen (approximately 374 Million USD) and the amount of time it took to build is said to be around 1 year and 5 months which was a very short amount of construction time for that era. The compounds of the shrine houses the Five Story Pagoda (五重塔), the Three Wise Monkeys (三猿), the Yomeimon Gate(陽明門), the Sleeping Cat carving(眠り猫), and the Okunomiya(奥宮) to name a few of its features. Take some time to check out each of them when visiting.

Yomeimon Gate of Nikko Toshogu Shrine

The Five Story Tower

Let’s begin after passing through the Torii gate on the right, you’ll see to your left is the “Five Pagoda Tower” (called the Gojuutou). In the 3rd year of the Keian Era (1650) the Feudal Lord Sakai Tadakatsu of the Obama Fiefdom built this tower, and while it did burn down once it was rebuilt in the first year of the Bunsei Era (1818). On the side facing eastward there are carvings of a tiger, rabbit, and dragon, and apparently correspond to the sexagenary cycle/zodiac animals of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hidetada, and Iemitsu. With a height of 36 meters, the atrium houses a central pillar that has a diameter of about 60cm, which allows it to withstand earthquakes.

The Monkey Sculpture

The second highlight lies between the columns of the sacred stables, the famous monkey carvings. It illustrates the entire lifespan of man, and the interesting one to note is the “Three Monkeys.” Each monkey uses both of its hands to cover either both eyes, both ears, or its mouth. It illustrates the famous teaching “See no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.” The sacred stable originally housed the sacred horses, and it was believed that the monkeys protected the horses from illnesses, so there was time when it was a custom to keep monkeys at the stable. Due to this fact, it is said that these monkeys were carved onto this sacred stable.

Yomeimon Gate

The third highlight is the “Yomeimon Gate” which is known as the symbol of Nikko Toshogu. This gorgeous gate has been designated as a National Treasure. There are over 500 different carvings of historical anecdotes, children’s games, saints, wisemen, and many others, allowing people to endlessly view them. Due to this, the gate is also known as the “Gate of Twilight.”

Roaring Dragon

The Honjido Hall and its “Crying Dragon” is another thing that’s a must-see. With a ceiling consisting of 34 Japanese hinoki cypress boards painted with ink, it measures a width of 6 meters and length of 15 meters. A giant picture of a dragon looms above you, and when wooden clapper blocks known as Hiyoshigi are clapped together, it creates a high-pitched ringing sound that echoes across the hall, sounding as if the dragon itself is crying.

Access to Nikko Toshogu Shrine

From Nikko Station take the Tobu Bus “World Heritage Route to Nikko Station” for about 11 minutes to the “Omotesando” stop. 5-minute walk from the stop.

Spot Information

  • Spot name:Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  • Street Adress:2301 Yamauchi, Nikko city, Tochigi prefecture 〒321-1431
  • Access: About 5 minutes from the bus stop Omotesando.  It takes about 11 minutes to the bus stop from Nikko train station
  • Wi-Fi: Free Wi-fi available at Five Pagoda Tower and Houmotsukan
  • Language:English and Chinese interactive audio guides available. Rental costs 500 yen for a day. Rental reception is located straight past the front gate. Reception times are from 9:00 ~ 16:00 in April – October, and 9:00 ~ 15:00 between November and March.
  • Ticket: Nikko Toshogu Single Ticket 1300 yen (allows visiting around front gate to Yomeimon Gate, front shrine, the Space of Stones, the east corridor/Sleeping Cat, Okunomiya, Honjido Hall/Crying Dragon, and more)
  • Opening hours: Between April 1st and October 31st: 8:00 ~ 17:00, between November 1st to March 31st: 8:00 ~ 16:00 *Reception is open until 30 minutes before closing for both periods.
  • Closed: Open year-round