nikkō: futarasan shrine & rinnoji taiyuin mausoleum and temple   8 comments

Saturday, July 29: After leaving Toshogu Shrine, I trudge through the rain down a long path edged with stone lanterns. I’m heading to Futarasan Shrine, founded in 782 by Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikkō.  The current building dates from 1619, making it the oldest shrine in Nikkō.

walkway to Futarasan Shrine

Futarasan (“two rough mountains”) Shrine is where the surrounding mountain deities are worshiped, and though not as fabulous in appearance as Toshogu, this atmospheric temple, set in the midst of towering Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar), is Nikkō’s spiritual heart.  The revered deities are related to Nikkō’s three most sacred mountains: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro.  The Shinkyo Bridge is also part of this shrine.

torii to Futarasan Shrine

The worship of mountains is an ancient Shinto practice that was integrated into Buddhism when it entered the area in the eighth century. The mountains, considered both as frightening guardian spirits and providers of life due to their flowing rivers, have been worshiped in the islands since Neolithic times (Japan experience: Futarasan Shrine).

I’m afraid I don’t know the significance of the various figures of Futarasan Shrine, but some of them seem quite fierce.

lion at Futarasan Shrine

Haiden at Futarasan Shrine

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

Below is the Daikoku-den, with an interesting figure standing outside and beautifully decorated ceilings inside. While I’m inside, I suddenly can’t take pictures because my camera card is full.  When I put a new one into my camera, I can’t get it to work and I take it in and out and turn my camera off and on, to no avail.  After sulking about a bit, I decide to remove the battery and then put it back in.  Voila, that solves the problem.  It’s so annoying and frustrating to have problems with a camera while traveling.


figure at Daikoku-den

ceiling inside Daikoku-den

Many of the cedar trees have been chopped down and the trunks are preserved at this shrine.

cedar trunk

There are smaller shrine areas within Futarasan Shrine where people solemnly worship.  One area has a pond. Another has a boulder pile topped with small white pebbles.  Yet another has a pile of wooden hearts.  I don’t know the meaning of any of these little sacred spots.

Futarasan Shrine

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

I leave Futarasan and continue walking down another long path to Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple.  The mausoleum was built for Third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. Taiyuin is the posthumous name of Iemitsu.  Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum was built in the same architectural technique and style as Toshogu Shrine, but on a smaller and more modest scale.  I enjoy this shrine more than Toshogu mainly because there are so few people here. 🙂

entrance to Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

stone lanterns at Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

water pavilion at Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum and Temple

After leaving the water pavilion, I climb steps to the lavishly decorated Nitenmon Gate, guarded by two heavenly kings.

Nitenmon Gate

A drum tower stands to the left of the gate, and a belfry to the right.


The Nitenmon Gate is gorgeous with its vivid colors and fanciful wood carvings.

details of Nitenmon Gate

details of Nitenmon Gate

details of Nitenmon Gate

Nitenmon Gate

The Karamon Gate stands in front of the praying hall (Haiden).  A pair of cranes and a white dragon embellish its transom. Karamon means Chinese and the gate is gilded with pure gold. Pigeons are carved on the decorative fence.

Karamon Gate

Karamon Gate’s decorative fence

Inside the Karamon is the Haiden, or Worship Hall, the main structure of Taiyuin. It is designated as a National Treasure.  The Honden, the Inner Shrine, is connected under the same roof to the Haiden, in the shape of an H.  Prayers to Iemitsu are offered here.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Next to the halls at an innermost area is Tokugawa Iemitsu’s mausoleum.  The design is influenced by Chinese Ming Dynasty architecture called Ryugu Zukuri.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Mausoleum

details of Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

It’s time for me to make my way out of this shrine to my next destination, so I retrace my steps through the various gates.

Nitenmon Gate

Nitenmon Gate

I love studying the detailed carvings on the elaborate Nitenmon Gate.


I make my way past the belfry and the drum tower.

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple

Next, I retrace my steps back down the hill past Futarasan Shrine and then past Toshogu Shrine to Rinnoji Temple, which appears to be going through a major renovation.


8 responses to “nikkō: futarasan shrine & rinnoji taiyuin mausoleum and temple

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  1. Gosh this does look like heavy rain, I’m surprised you got so many good photos. I need to backtrack on your posts as I have probably missed several whilst I had family visiting.

    • It was a miserable day and so disappointing, Jude. At least the shrines were beautiful to see, even if it was nearly impossible to get any decent pictures of them. You’re nice to say I got any good photos. I’ve been so depressed about going back to edit them; that’s why it’s taken me so long to write these posts. 🙂

  2. Even on such a rainy day your photos are lovely, Cathy. They have a beautiful softness to them. What a pretty place to visit.

    • Thanks so much, Carol. I’m glad you like the photos with their “softness.” I was so frustrated with that heavy rain, juggling my umbrella and camera and having to keep wiping off my camera lens. It is such a beautiful place and now I’ll have to always wonder what it’s like on a sunny day. 🙂

  3. Once again, I like the details (on the gate) but I think my favourite picture is second from the end. I just live the mossy greenness of it.

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