Once we decided to make the move to Japan and started doing our research on what to see and where to visit, we came across a place called Nikkō.

With a combination of beautiful architecture, stunning temples, and gorgeous landscapes, Nikkō is one of Japan’s top destinations and one that should not be overlooked when visiting Japan.

toshogu shrine

Because of the much anticipated 2020 Tokyo Olympics, many places around the country are taking time to renovate and revamp popular shrines, temples, and world heritage sites, such as the ones found in Nikkō.

Thankfully, most of the renovations to the more popular sites in Nikkō are now finished, so we thought it was finally the time to check them out.

Because there’s a lot to see in Nikkō, today I’ll be writing about our visit to Tōshōgū Shrine.

Tōshōgū Shrine:

 Tōshōgū Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage shrine and temple complex, and is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I was a bit worried that it would look like every other temple we’ve visited, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Nikko

Once you reach the entrance, you walk up a set of stairs that bring you to the temple complex. After passing Rinnoji Temple and the Nikkō Tōshōgū Museum, you arrive at one of the most beautiful and unique sites I’ve seen here in Japan.

toshogu shrine

 There is so much you can see at Tōshōgū, but here is what we thought were the best parts of the complex:

Gojunto (Five-Story Pagoda):

 This beautiful pagoda is right near the ticket counter, and has been designated as an “important cultural property.” In 1815 it was destroyed in a fire, but rebuilt three years later.

Nikko

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses):

 After you walk through the main gate, you reach the three sacred storehouses.

nikko

nikko

Inside these storehouses are various harnesses and costumes that are used in the Procession of 1,000 Samurai that’s held each spring and and fall. At first, they didn’t look like anything special until we noticed the carvings of the “Imaginary Elephants.”

nikko

Nikko

These “elephants” were carved by someone who had never seen an actual elephant before, and reminded me of Falkor in the NeverEnding Story.

nikko

Shinkyusha (Sacred Stable) and Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys):

Across from the storehouses is the Sacred Stable with carvings of the Three Wise Monkeys – also called the Three Mystic Apes.

nikko

At first glance, I didn’t realize that the Sacred Stable was actually a working stable, until we came back around a second time. Inside the Sacred Stable stands a Sacred Horse, one of many that take turns throughout the day “serving” the Shrine.

nikko

Along with the Sacred Horse, visitors come to see the Three Wise Monkeys – which are said to be the guardians of horses. The “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” carvings were recently re-painted, and are more appealing to tourists than ever before.

nikko

Yomeimon Gate:

We found ourselves distracted by the cute monkey keychains for sale, and of course, the hilarious elephants and mischievous monkeys. But then we turned around and saw what was blocked by the storehouses – the golden Yomeimon Gate.

nikko

Another name for this gate is the “Gate of the Setting Sun” because you could look at it forever and not get tired of it. Also a National Treasure, this is one of the most beautiful gates that I’ve seen in Japan.

nikko

From far away I was enraptured by the golden hues, but when we got closer, I realized that the details are what make this gate special.

nikko

Fierce dragons, feudal lords and ladies, and birds are just a few of the carvings that stood out to me, but if I had been able to look at it longer, I’m sure there would be new details that would catch my attention.

nikko

Honjido Hall (The Crying Dragon):

nikko

To the left of the Yomeimon Gate is the Honjido Hall.

No pictures or video were allowed in this hall, but it’s definitely worth checking out. After taking off our shoes, we stepped into the hall where a priest gives a special demonstration of the “Crying Dragon.” The priest took two wooden pieces and hit them together right under the head of a dragon painting on the ceiling. Because of the acoustics of the room, a bright ringing sound is heard, but only in that specific spot in the room.

Nemurineko (The Sleeping Cat): 

nikko

After we left Honjido Hall, we made our way up to see Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Masoleum. To get there, you walk through the Sakashitamon Gate, which has a famous carving of the Sleeping Cat.

The cat is sleeping next to peonies and is supposed to represent Nikkō because it’s bathed in sunlight (the name Nikkō means “sunlight”).

nikko

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Mausoleum:

Once we passed through the gate, we reached a long stairwell that brought us up to the mausoleum. There were a lot of people walking up with us, but it only took about five minutes to make the ascent.

nikko

The stairs are steep, but I loved the walk up, surrounded by giant trees and soft green moss. At the top, there’s a resting area, and lots of vending machines that only sell one thing: green tea.

nikko

The mausoleum itself wasn’t as grand as one might expect. In fact, I’ve seen more intricate and elaborate tombs in America. It definitely fit in well with the nature around it, but not something I would walk up those steps for again.

nikko

Honden (The Main Shrine Building):

toshogu shrine

We didn’t go inside the main hall, but visitors are able to go inside to pray and admire the ornate decorations and carvings. Keep in mind that pictures and video are not allowed inside the hall.

Is Tōshōgū Shrine worth the trip? 

toshogu shrine

Yes. Yes! YES!

 Even if you only come to Nikkō to see the Shrine, it would be worth the trip. Over our spring break trip (which I’ll be writing about soon), Caleb joked about me having “shrine fatigue,” but man is that accurate!

After a while, shrines and temples in Japan start to morph together in my mind. Sure they can be beautiful, but as someone who isn’t Buddhist or Japanese, they don’t have too much meaning for me.

I write all of that to say that I was really impressed with Tōshōgu, and genuinely enjoyed looking at the carvings and ornate details. It’s one place I’ll never forget, and will forever recommend to other travelers.

Visiting Information:

toshogu shrine

Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Open year round with no closing days.

Fees: 

Shrine Museum Shrine & Museum
1300 yen 1000 yen 2100 yen

Location: