Shrine Overview -- World Heritage Site

Almost all of the present-day shrine complex was rebuilt in 1636, twenty years after Tokugawa Ieyasu’s enshrinement. Fifty-five buildings, including Yomeimon Gate (designated a National Treasure), were completed in just one year and five months. According to the shrine’s financial records, the cost was equivalent to of ¥40 billion in today’s money. The renovation project was administered by Akimoto Yasutomo, the governor of Tajima Province, and the actual construction and carpentry work was the responsibility of master carpenter Kora Bungo Munehiro.

One of the special features of the shrine complex is the use of paths and stairways that follow the natural topography of the site, allowing the arrangement of the shrine buildings in a pleasing balance to create a solemn, religious atmosphere. The buildings are lacquered and decorated with vibrant colors, and the pillars and other structures are covered in a multitude of carvings. The carvings are not simply design elements; they convey expressions of religious belief as well as scholarship and philosophy.

The shrine complex was registered as a World Heritage site in December 1999.

Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate)

Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate)

Designated an Important Cultural Property Ishidorii Gate was dedicated in 1618 by Kuroda Nagamasa, the feudal lord of Kyushu Chikuzen (present day Fukuoka Prefecture). The stone for the gate was transported by ship from Kyushu to Koyama and then manually hauled over land to Nikko.

Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda)

Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda)

Designated an Important Cultural Property The Gojunoto Pagoda was dedicated in 1648 by Sakai Tadakatsu, the feudal lord of Obama in Wakasa Province (present day Fukui Prefecture). It was destroyed by fire in 1815 and rebuilt in 1818 by Sakai Tadayuki, a feudal lord of the same lineage.

Omotemon (Front Gate)

Omotemon (Front Gate)

Designated an Important Cultural Property Omotemon Gate is the first gate at Toshogu Shrine. It is also called Nio Gate because of the two guardian deity statues positioned on the left and right.

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)

Designated Important Cultural Properties Sanjiko is a collective designation for three buildings: Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse), Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse), and Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse). Harnesses and costumes used in the Procession of 1,000 Samurai, (a part of the Sacred Processions held in spring and fall), are kept in the storehouses. Large elephant carvings by Kano Tanyu adorn the gable of Kamijinko Storehouse. They are known as the “Imaginary Elephants.”

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

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

Designated an Important Cultural Property Shinkyusha Stable is a stable for the shrine’s sacred horses. There is a frieze of eight panels of carvings of monkeys running around the building, depicting the lives of ordinary people. Monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses since ancient times. The “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” carving of three monkeys is particularly famous.

Omizuya (Water Purification Building)

Omizuya (Water Purification Building)

Designated an Important Cultural Property This building is used to purify body and mind by washing one’s hands and rinsing out one’s mouth before worshiping the enshrined deity. The basin was dedicated in 1618 by Nabeshima Katsushige, feudal lord of Kyushu-Saga.

Yomeimon Gate

Yomeimon Gate

Designated a National Treasure One of the most beautiful gates in Japan, Yomeimon Gate is said to have been given the name “Main Gate of the Imperial Court.” It is also called “Gate of the Setting Sun” because one could gaze upon it all day and never tire. It is covered with over 500 carvings depicting traditional anecdotes, children playing, sages and wise men.

Kairo (Corridor)

Kairo (Corridor)

Designated a National Treasure The exterior wall of the building extending to the left and right of Yomeimon Gate is decorated with flower and bird carvings that are considered among the best in Japan. All the carvings are single-panel openwork painted in vivid colors.

Karamon Gate

Karamon Gate

Designated a National Treasure The entire gate is painted with a white powder chalk. It features intricate carvings of Kyoyu and Soho (legendary Chinese sages), an audience with the emperor, and other scenes.

Gohonsha (Main Shrine)

Gohonsha (Main Shrine)

Designated a National Treasure The Main Shrine consists of the Honden (Main Hall), Ishinoma (Stone Chamber), and Haiden (Worship Hall). It is the most important area at Toshogu Shrine. Annual festivals and events are conducted here. Haiden Hall is flanked by the Shogun Chakuzanoma (Shogun’s Chamber) and Hosshinno Chakuzanoma (Prince’s Chamber).

Shinyosha (Portable Shrine House)

Shinyosha (Portable Shrine House)

Designated an Important Cultural Property The-Shinyosha houses the three portable shrines used in the Sacred Processions conducted in spring and fall (May 18 and October 17).

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

Kitoden (Prayer Hall)

Designated an Important Cultural Property Weddings, rituals for new-born babies, and other ceremonies are held here.

Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat)

Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat)

Designated a National Treasure Traditionally attributed to the master carver Hidari Jingorou, this carving of a cat dozing while surrounded by peonies and bathed in sunlight is also said to be a depiction of nikko (sunlight).

Okumiya (Inner Shrine)

Okumiya (Inner Shrine)

Designated an Important Cultural Property This is the tomb of the enshrined deity. It consists of the Haiden (Worship Hall), Inukimon Gate, and Gohoto (Two-Story Pagoda).

Treasure House

Treasure House

Museum of Art

Museum of Art

Butokuden Hall

Butokuden Hall

Designated a Registered Tangible Cultural Property

Kyakuden (Visitors Hall) and Shamusho (Administrative Office)

Kyakuden (Visitors Hall) and Shamusho (Administrative Office)

These facilities are used to welcome visitors, worshipers, and festival participants. They also broadly serve as a venue for tea ceremonies, concerts, and other events.