Shizuoka’s Sacred Place
Kunozan Toshogu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, located on the Pacific coast of Japan in the south-east of Shizuoka. Its main hall was designed National Treasure, and thirteen of its other pavilions were listed in Japan’s Cultural Heritage. This place of great historical value is renowned for its fabulous paintings and ornaments.
The construction of Kunozan Toshogu dates back to 1617, from Ieyasu’s son‘s wish to glorify the feats of his father, who had died the precedent year. Tokugawa Ieyasu was indeed Japan’s unifier and he was the first shogun of Edo period (1603 – 1868). He was inhumed in Shizuoka following his will. It was only one year after he passed, and after he was elevated at the rank of deity that a part of his soul was symbolically transferred in Nikko, in the north of Tokyo. Several Toshogu are scattered throughout the archipelago as mausoleums for Tokugawa family but the original one is Kunozan Toshogu in Shizuoka.
The original Toshogu
The shrine is accessible by two paths:
- From Nihondaira Plateau: The top of this hill offers beautiful panoramic views on the surroundings of Mount Fuji on clear weather days. It is connected to Kunozan by a ropeway.
- From the foot of Kuno Hill, near the seaside. The torii ⛩️ gate, that marks the entrance to the sacred site, is to be found after an intersection around which are gathered restaurants and strawberries shops, the specialty of the area. The hiking on the hill lasts about twenty minutes, and there are exactly 1,159 steps to climb.
The arrival on the site of Kunozan is immediately rewarded by a beautiful vista on the seaside. The visitors’ entrance, a few steps higher, is the preliminary to the discovery of the mausoleum’s constructions. The climb continues to the great, bright red, sacred gate opening on a succession of small plazas. Each of them shelters a few pavilions, small but well ornamented.
A festival of exceptional colors
The main pavilion Shaden, surrounded by its own enclosure, stands out by its rich colors. Many elements, including the roofs, are covered with golden leaves, and the many paintings of vivid colors under the roofing, as well as the sumptuous red of the walls make it an exceptional construction. After climbing a few more stairways, Ieyasu’s tomb finally appears. The soberness of its stone material contrasts with the luxuriant Shaden below. Additionally, close to the entrance, a little museum displays armors and swords that belonged to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The wooden architecture is predominantly ancient and well-maintained, and renovation of the paintings are carried out every fifty years. It is recommended to take the time to detail all the ornaments and the refinement of the paintings of the main pavilion. Finding a better preservation work will be difficult.
Kunozan Toshogu is well worth climbing a thousand steps. Its decoration certainly make it one of the most beautiful sacred sites in Japan. The shrine is undeniably the pendant to Nikko’s exuberant Toshogu, but devoid of the touristic crowd. Off the beaten tracks, Kunozan Toshogu is a place to enjoy for its quietness, a jewel to visit when in the area.