The Nikko Toshogu was designed to accommodate large numbers of worshippers whilst at the same time exulting and commemorating the deity, and stressing timelessness. A unified style pervades all of the architecture utilizing a large number of building and decorative techniques, including lacquering, brightly coloured painting, and decorative metal fittings.
The shrine buildings are in constant need of maintenance. A short maintenance cycle of less than a few decades is required to maintain the shrine’s vivid colors.
Renovation and maintenance work was carried out continuously throughout the Edo Period after the construction of the shrine in 1617. These maintenance works were national projects led by the Tokugawa shogunate and were successful in preserving the magnificent beauty of the shrine. Major renovations in 1636 involved rebuilding almost all of the shrine buildings. The shrine one sees today is the result of that construction. Repairs were conducted again around half a century later, in 1688. This was a major project that involved dismantling the main buildings.
Maintenance and repair projects continued to be conducted even after administration of the shrine was transferred from the shogunate after the Meiji Restoration in 1867. After surviving through a number of periods of disrepair, a major renovation project was conducted from 1950 to 1986 during the Showa Period. The shrine is now listed by the government as a cultural property. The continuous preservation process and the shrine’s architectural value lead to the shrine being registered as a World Heritage site.
The shrine has continued to undergo continuous maintenance and repair, but a half-century has now passed since major repairs were made to the main shrine buildings at the start of the Showa renovation project. It is impossible to ignore the deterioration that has taken place in exterior decorative elements and wooden fixtures, and so the time has come again for a major renovation project to deal with the effects of aging.
Thus, a new renovation project was begun in 2007. Work is planned for the Honden (Main Hall), Ishinoma (Stone Chamber), and Haiden (Worship Hall) as well as for other major buildings and fixtures, including Tozai Sukibei (East/West See-Through Wall) and Shomen Karamon (Front Karamon Gate). Maintenance work is scheduled under a long-term plan that will be completed in 2024. This eighteen-year project has been named the Great Heisei Renovation and serves to commemorate the 400th anniversary (in 2015) of the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu.