Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Nikko's star attraction.
This elaborate shrine complex reached full completion in 1636 and is the final resting place of the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu. You can visit the legendary leader’s remains here, but it’s really the ornate, colorful buildings set against a deep-green forested backdrop that steal the Japan-is-incredibly-gorgeous show.
The shrine’s precinct consists of 55 buildings set in a poetic mist-laden forest. Grown from a single mausoleum, the complex is estimated to have cost the modern equivalent of 40 billion yen and required the manpower of over 400,000 carpenters, over the course of 17 months.
One of the stunning features of this shrine are the decorative wood carvings, once lavishly embellished with gold leaf, that adorn the gates and exterior walls of countless buildings.
What do the monkeys mean?
The two-story Yomeimon Gate, a designated national treasure otherwise known as Sunlight Gate, exhibits an astonishing collection of 500 wood carvings. Once you pass through this symbolic gate of Toshogu, another famous animal ornamentation awaits; that of the Sleeping Cat curled at the top of Sakashita-mon Gate.
Keep your eyes peeled, as these wooden sculptures are as beautiful as they are small.
Once you’re at the foot of Sakashita-mon Gate, get ready to climb a flight of 207 stone steps within the tranquil forest backdrop until you reach the tomb of Ieyasu. While the climb may seem daunting, Nikko’s stunning natural surroundings make the trek to the tomb more than worth it.