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World Heritage / Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Criteria: (i) (iv) (vi) | Date of Inscription: 1999 | Location: Tochigi Prefecture | Justification for Inscription


Things to see

Toshogu Shrine

Yomeimon (Yoimeimon Gate)
Yomeimon (Yoimeimon Gate)
San-saru (Three Monkeys)
San-saru (Three Monkeys)
Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat)
Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat)
Toshogu Shrine was erected in 1617 by Tokugawa Hidetada for his father, Ieyasu. According to the elder Tokugawa's last will and testament he desired to be enshrined and rest forever in Nikko to serve as a guardian of Japan.
In 1636, the third shogun Iemitsu implemented "the restoration in the Kan-ei era" and this large-scale project completed the construction of 35 buildings in just 18 months at a cost equivalent to 40 billion yen in today's money; an indication of the Tokugawa Shogunate's true power. A further 20 buildings have since been added and of the total, 8 of Toshogu Shrine's buildings are now designated as national treasures and a further 45 buildings listed as important cultural properties.
Honsha (Central Shrine)
The Honsha is the most important place in Toshogu Shrine although the shrine consists of the Honden (Main Hall) in addition to the Ishi-no-ma (Room of Stone) and the Haiden (Haiden Oratory), all in the "Gongenzukuri Style." The Honden is regarded as the most sacred place in Toshogu Shrine and, according to Hakurakuten, a poet from ancient China, the sculptures of tapirs set on its door are symbols of peace in the shape of a beast that feeds on steel and copper and thus cannot survive in wartime when many weapons are produced using these materials. To that end, these sculptures are said to represent a desire for everlasting peace.
The Ishi-no-ma, although said a "Room of Stone" actually has a tatami floor and used to be regarded as an important space linking the world of the gods (in the Honden) and the human world (the Haiden).
The ceiling in the Haiden is covered with one hundred dragons painted by Kano Tan-yu and his assistants while the partition doors also display the works of Kano Tan-yu in the form of a "qilin"(on the right) and a "hakutaku" (on the left). Both are mythical Chinese creatures. A qilin was thought to appear in peaceful times and a "hakutaku," to appear for the only greatest of leaders - such as Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Karamon (Karamon Gate)
The Karamon is the main gate of the Honsha. Painted white and decorated with dragons of rosewood and ebony, it also features over 400 carvings of small flowers. The sculptures of "The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" and other tales of wisdom from ancient China are seen on the upper portion of the gate.
Yomeimon (Yomeimon Gate)
The Yomeimon Gate is 11.1m high, 7m wide and 4.4m deep. Admired as the ultimate in craft and decorative workmanship techniques of early Edo era, it has over 500 carvings and it is said to inspire people to stay to view these decorations all day long. With its variety of carvings of imaginary beasts including dragons, qilins and dragon horses it comes more down to earth with a range of impressive carvings of children.
Twelve white pillars, each with spiral-shaped carvings, all look similar but the extreme left pillar is called "reversing amulet" after its reversed spiral. Pillars in the same style are also used for the Haiden and the Honden in the Honsha.
San-saru (Three Monkeys)
In ancient Japan, it was said that monkeys protected horses from disease. For this reason, eight panels of monkey type sculptures were set on the wall of the shrine's sacred horse stables. The most famous are of course the three monkeys posing in the familiar "see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil" manner.
Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat)
One of the most famous sculptures at Toshogu Shrine is the Nemuri-neko. Set above the entrance of Okusha Inner Shrine in the eastern corridor, this lovely cat is believed to represent a peaceful world. A sculpture of a sparrow is placed on one side of the cat and so, if ever woken, the cat would eat the sparrow - an unlikely event as the cat will supposedly sleep forever.
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