The pearl of Nikko
Major renovation works from 2007 to 2024 (by two buildings at the same time turns)
One can hardly plan a stay, even a short one, at Nikko, without considering a visit to the Togoshu, its most attractive feature. The shrine, an extensive set of richly-decorated buildings, is organized around the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. One of Japan’s shogun and a key figure of Japanese history, he gave his name to the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled over Japan for more than 250 years until the Meiji restoration.
Even though certain documents mention 1636 as the date of construction, the complex spread gradually around the Mausoleum under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s son Hidetada in the first half of the 17th century and then under that of his grandson Iemitsu. Construction is believed to have cost 40 billion current yens 💴. Several buildings of the Togoshu shrine either became Unesco World Heritage sites in 1999 or have received official recognition from the Japanese Government as National Treasures and Major Cultural Property.
Dozens of variously-sized buildings, each more richly decorated than the last, spread over these extensive premises in the heart of the forest of Nikko National Park. The unusual mix of Shinto shrines and Buddhist buildings gives the Shinto architecture a grandiose dimension. Simplicity is simply not the point, and the ornate buildings offer a wealth of colors and details, including gold leaf decorations which may surprise careful observers.
Some of the most famous and most interesting of the Togoshu buildings include:
- The entrance building, an immense torii ⛩️ (Ishidorii) at the end of the large, straight, uphill path;
- The five-story pagoda (Gojunoto) which you see as soon as you pass through the entrance building;
- Three other successive gateways leading further into the shrine (Omotemon, the famous Yomeimon and finally Karamon);
- The three beautiful sacred warehouses (Sanjinko).
In the midst of this architectural profusion, you will even be able to contemplate one of the original representations of the three wise monkeys (Sanzaru).
Despite the crowds, Togoshu is pervaded with a peculiar atmosphere which is well worth the high price of the entrance ticket. A few extra hundred yens will open the doors of the Treasure House for you as well as those of the Museum of Art, built recently.
A modern hotel 🏨 (Koyoen) was also recently built to accommodate visitors in Japanese or Western style bedrooms, a sign that the number of tourists has increased dramatically since the beginning of the 21st century.