To spend some peaceful and soothing time in the nature’s lap, look no further than touring the Shrines and Temples of Nikko that quaintly lies on the Honshu Island’s mountains in Tochigi prefecture. Spectacular mountainous background, scintillating waterfalls and amazing hot springs – Nikko temple complex abounds in natural charm and provides a feast of surprises to devotees, nature enthusiasts and cultural as well as history buffs visiting here.
Nikko’s two Shinto shrines (Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Shrine) and a Buddhist temple (Rinnoji Temple), along with its mind blowing surroundings, have been long revered as a sacred site. Its sanctity amid three holy mountains of the region such as Mt. Nantai, Mt. Taro and Mt. Nyoho, in addition to its well preserved architectural marvel, fetched the temple complex of Nikko a place among the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1999. Further, among 103 buildings within the temple grounds, nine are categorized as National Treasures and more than 90 as Important Cultural Properties.
History of Shrines and Temples of Nikko
The Shrines and Temples of Nikko has a long history that date back to the eighth century when Shodo Shonin – a Buddhist monk – succeeded in reaching the summit of Mt. Nantai and built a structure on its slope. Since then, it has been considered a sacred spot. Under the patronage of the Kamakura Shogunate, Nikko flourished and became the most significant place of worship in Kanto region during the 12th century. An important milestone in the history of the temple complex was the erection of Toshogu Shrine to bury and enshrine the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate), as per his will, in 1617. 19 years later, the Toshogu Shrine underwent large scale renovations as per the order of Iemitsu Tokugawa – the grandson of Ieyasu.
It then became an opulent work of art and most of the structures now seen within the Toshogu Shrine were built during this period. In fact, the Toshogu Shrine now stands as a proud representation of the glory and supremacy of Tokugawa family that was in reign for more than 250 years. Later, the Tokugawa government also contributed for the construction of Futarasan Shrine and Rinnoji Temple. During the later part of the 19th century, the Meiji government took steps to divide the temple precincts into three sections. As such, they were handed over to separate religious groups: Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Shrine to the Shinto sect and Rinnoji to the Buddhist sect.
Highlights and Features of Shrines and Temples of Nikko
Nikko temple complex largely reflects the Edo period’s architectural style. According to Shinto cult, the nature possesses a consecrated meaning and is considered an object of reverence. To this end, Nikko’s shrines and temple including Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Rinnoji Temple serve as a perfect example of a traditional Japanese devout centre that pleasingly fit into its natural setting. A forest filled with outstanding Japanese cedar plantation that date back to the 17th century adds to the charm and sacredness of the temple complex.
Built using the most advanced technique of the time - Toshogu Shrine has to its credit a multitude of outstanding buildings, gates and lanterns, apart from an elegant five-story pagoda. Also known as Higurashi-mon, the two layered Yomei-mon Gate deserves a special note with its more than 500 astonishing carvings.
Equally worth mentioning are its highlights like Karamon Gate with sculptures that depict the legend of ‘the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove,’ figure of the Three Wise Monkeys that are sculpted on the Shinyosha and elucidates the famous saying, ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,’ and the 220 meters long Corridor with graceful sculptures that are known for its translucent carvings. Sprawling over an area of about 3,500 hectares that comprise Nikko Mountain Range and Kegon Falls, the Futarasan shrine is devoted to three deities such as Okuninushi, Ajisukitakahikone and Tagorihime. At Futarasan shrine’s precincts, you’ll come across a variety of interesting highlights that range from Ghost Lantern in which flames shifts in a strange way and Spiritual Fountain of Futara with therapeutic properties to cure eye diseases to more than 100 swords and Shinkyo or Sacred Bridge whose usage was once restricted to just Shoguns.
Otherwise known as Nikko-san – Rinnoji Temple was built by Shodo during the eighth century. With 15 buildings of historic significance, the temple presents a plethora of attractions by way of Sanbutsudo, where the images of Senju Kannon, Bato Kannon and Amida Nyorai are enshrined and Taiyuin, which is the tomb of Tokugawa Iemitsu that has been built in typical Edo period architecture style.
Nikko National Park
- Opening Hours: Seven days a week from 08:00 to 16:00
- Remarks: There are also three theme parks close to Nikko.
The best time to visit Nikko is from April to October.
There are plenty of accommodation choices to suit every range.
Nikko has some finest restaurants where you can sample traditional Japanese fares at decent rates.
- Tel: Get in touch with the Nikko Information Centre on 0288 53 4511
- How to get there: Nikko is easily access from Tokyo. One of the best ways to reach the place is to catch a train from Tokyo’s Asakusa station. Alternatively, you can also take advantage of car rentals. • Sitting adjacent to the temple complex is Nikko National Park with hiking trails, waterfalls and several scenic spots. So do fit in activities like trekking, hiking and sightseeing while your visit to the temple complex.