nikkō: a rainy morning at toshogu shrine   7 comments

Saturday, July 29:  I leave my hotel by 7:30 a.m. in hopes of getting ahead of the crowds to Toshogu Shrine in Nikkō. The forecast is for 100% rain all day, and already the showers have started. I have my umbrella, so I’m as prepared as I can be in this muggy weather that’s too hot for a raincoat.

I walk past the misty Daiya River on my way up to the shrine.

The Daiya River

Nikkō is known for its brightly lacquered ancient shrines, aged moss clinging to stone walls, soldierly stone lanterns, vermilion gates, whimsical wood carvings and towering cedars. It is known for its ostentatious display of the glories of the Edo period (1600-1868) and the wealth and power of the Tokugawa shogunate.  Spread out over a terrain of forested and hilly terrain, it is an amazing spectacle.

It’s too bad I have to wade through a deluge on the day I’m here to see it.

a mossy stone wall

The lavishly decorated Toshogu Shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a lush forest. Unlike the simple shrine architecture traditionally found in Japan, here elaborate wood carvings and vast quantities of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings.  The shrine contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements, like most shrines did through the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Shinto was deliberately separated from Buddhism. At Toshogu, the two religions were so intermingled that the separation was not carried out completely, according to Japan-guide.com: Toshogu Shrine.  The shrine was listed as a World Heritage site in December 1999.

So I don’t have to keep repeating myself, all parts of this shrine are designated as Important Cultural Properties unless otherwise stated.  I will mention the ones that are National Treasures.  All information is from the Toshogu Shrine website.

It seems I have beat the crowds when I first arrive. I pass through the Ishidorii, the stone torii gate leading into the shrine.  Ishidorii Gate was dedicated in 1618 by the feudal lord of present day Fukuoka Prefecture. The stone for the gate was transported by ship from Kyushu to Koyama and then manually hauled over land to Nikkō.

Up ahead I see the Omotemon, the Front Gate.  It is also called Nio Gate because of the two guardian deity statues positioned on the left and right.

first torii at Toshogu Shrine

Just inside the torii gate is the Gojunoto, or the Five-Story Pagoda.  It was dedicated in 1648 by Sakai Tadakatsu, the feudal lord of present day Fukui Prefecture. It was destroyed by fire in 1815 and rebuilt in 1818 by Sakai Tadayuki, a feudal lord of the same lineage.

Though I try my best, it seems impossible to get a decent picture of it.

I love the ancient moss-covered stone lanterns found throughout Toshogu Shrine.

Torii at Toshogu Shrine

lanterns at Toshogu

Just inside the Omotemon are the Sanjinko, or three sacred storehouses: Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse), Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse), and Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse). Harnesses and costumes used in the Procession of 1,000 Samurai, a part of the Sacred Processions held in spring and fall, are kept in the storehouses.

Below is the Shimojinko, or Lower Sacred Storehouse.

Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse)

Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse) (L) & Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse) (R)

Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse)

Shinkyusha Stable is a stable for the shrine’s sacred horses. There is a frieze of eight panels of carved monkeys running around the building, depicting the lives of ordinary people. Monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses since ancient times.

Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) & Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)

The “Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil” carving of three monkeys is particularly famous.

Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys)

The Three Wise Monkeys are up to all sorts of shenanigans. The ema at Toshogu display a variety of animals.

I pass through another torii gate, heading toward the elaborate Yomeimon Gate.

Yomeimon Gate as seen through the torii

The Omizuya is used to purify body and mind.  Here, worshippers wash their hands and rinse out their mouths before worshiping the enshrined deity. The basin was dedicated in 1618 by Nabeshima Katsushige, feudal lord of Kyushu-Saga.

Omizuya (Water Purification Building)

Omizuya (Water Purification Building) -detail

Upper Sacred Storehouse and Drum Tower on higher level

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Upper Sacred Storehouse

Bell Tower at Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu Shrine: Drum Tower in back

The Kairo (Corridor) is designated a National Treasure. The exterior wall of the building extending to the left and right of Yomeimon Gate is decorated with intricate flower and bird carvings that are considered among the best in Japan. All the carvings are single-panel openwork painted in vivid colors.

Kairo (Corridor)

relief carvings on the Kairo (Corridor)

Kairo (Corridor)

Bell at Toshogu Shrine

candelabra

The beautiful Yomeimon Gate, designated a National Treasure, is said to have been given the name “Main Gate of the Imperial Court.” It is also called “Gate of the Setting Sun” because one could gaze upon it all day. It is covered with over 500 carvings depicting traditional anecdotes, children playing, sages and wise men.

Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

details: Yomeimon Gate

Guardian at Yomeimon Gate

guardian at Yomeimon Gate

detail Yomeimon Gate

details on Yomeimon Gate

details on Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

Drum Tower & Honjido Hall

At nearly every shrine in Japan are colorful sake barrels.  These are kept under cover, and I take an opportunity to get out of the rain to study them more closely.

I don’t know the significance of Kaguraden Hall, but it has colorful intricate carvings like the rest of the halls at Toshogu.

The rain has been falling steadily, but at this point in my journey, buckets of water start falling from the sky!

Kaguraden Hall ??

Kaguraden Hall ??

Kaguraden Hall ??

The Karamon Gate, designated a National Treasure, is painted with a white powder chalk and features intricate carvings of Kyoyu and Soho (legendary Chinese sages), the emperor and his audience, and other scenes.

Behind the Karamon Gate is the Main Shrine, the most important area at Toshogu Shrine, which is being renovated. Sadly, I’m unable to take pictures of it. Designated a National Treasure, it consists of the Honden (Main Hall), Ishinoma (Stone Chamber), and Haiden (Worship Hall).

As you can see, my camera lens keeps getting wet and I have a few smudges on my photos.

Karamon Gate

Karamon Gate

The Shinyosha houses the three portable shrines used in the Sacred Processions conducted in spring and fall (May 18 and October 17).

Shinyosha (Portable Shrine House)

Sakashitamon Gate marks the start of a long flight of stairs that leads uphill through the woods to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616), the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which effectively ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Sakashitamon Gate

Ieyasu was known to be careful and bold, yet calculating, switching sides when it benefited him. He was not very well liked nor personally popular, but he was feared and he was respected for his leadership and his cunning. He was also at times merciless and cruel, and though he was at first tolerant of Christianity, that changed after 1613 when Christian executions sharply rose.

The Kitoden (Prayer Hall) holds weddings, rituals for new-born babies, and other ceremonies.

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

guardian at Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

huge cedar tree

By the time I’m getting ready to leave Toshogu, the crowds have descended, as can be seen in this picture.  I’m glad I got here early.  I didn’t expect to encounter many people on such a rainy day, but of course I should know better by now.  Nothing keeps the Japanese inside on a weekend day!

a colorful group photo

moss-covered lanterns

cedar tree

It is a shame that I happen to visit this most elaborate of Japan’s shrines on such a miserable day.  But as it is likely I will not visit this place again in my lifetime, there is no choice but to soldier on.  And that’s exactly what I do as I leave Toshogu Shrine and walk down a long pathway toward Futarasan Shrine.

 

 

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7 responses to “nikkō: a rainy morning at toshogu shrine

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  1. All the details are exquisite, but I particularly like the monkey frieze. I almost feel wet reading this, but I have to remind myself you said it was warm and muggy so I wouldn’t be cold as I would be here if it rained like that. All the same, I think i’d have given up long before you did!

    • Thanks for telling me to look in spam because I found your comment here. All three of them, actually! I marked them NOT SPAM, but then they still didn’t appear and I found them in pending. I wonder why? Anyway, thanks for your comment. Believe me, I thought of giving up many times on this trip, and you will find a couple of times where I actually did give up. This day was probably one of my worst-weather travel days of all time, in addition to the two weeks Mike visited me in China (that was a cold rain and we both got sick). I have been putting off writing about this trip because the pictures depressed me so! However, the ornate and elaborate Toshogu is still beautiful in the rain, and I did suffer through it and was still bowled over by it. It was very warm and muggy; I was soaked inside and out. I loved that monkey frieze too!

      • Oh good! I’ve been trying to remember who else I commented on yesterday but I guess some comments will be lost forever. I think Mike’s visit to China must be before I followed you: I think I found you towards the end of that trip.

      • Hopefully you’ll remember where you commented, but maybe they’ll check their spam folders and find them even if you don’t bring it up.

        Poor Mike; he flew to the other side of the world for his only two-week vacation, and it was cold, rainy and foggy every single day except one. He returned home miserably sick and I had a lingering cold for the next two weeks when my son came to visit and we traveled around Yunnan province. Ugh.

      • Poor Mike indeed!

  2. I love the monkey frieze.

  3. My comments today keep ending up in spam 😦

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