Nikko, Japan is a small town of 80,000 at the entrance of Nikko National Park. It is north of Tokyo and known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The architectural masterpieces were constructed in the 17th century and are set in natural forest surroundings.
A Buddhist monk, Shodo Shonin, introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. He founded Rinnoji Temple and Futarasan Shrine, now World Heritage Sites.
World Heritage Sites of Nikko, Japan
1. Rinnoji Temple
Rinnoji Temple was established in 766 and features the largest wooden building in Nikko, the Three Buddha Hall. Inside are gold-leafed wooden statues of three Buddha images, each about eight meters tall.
Across from the Three Buddha Hall is Shoyoen, a small Japanese garden with a pond and maple trees. The garden dates to the Edo Period and is gorgeous in autumn.
2. Futarasan Shrine
Futarasan Shrine was established in 782 and is dedicated to Nikko’s three most sacred mountains. You are free to walk around except for a small paid area.
The Shinkyo Sacred Bridge belongs to Futarasan Shrine. It’s at the entrance of Nikko’s shrines and temples and is one of Japan’s finest bridges. The bridge was first built in the 8th century. However, the current style of vermilion lacquer is from 1636.
During the Edo Period, only generals and messengers of the Imperial Court were allowed to use the bridge. It wasn’t until 1973 that it opened to the public.
3. Toshogu Shrine
The founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu Tokugawa, wanted to be buried at this sacred place. A mausoleum was constructed at Toshogu Shrine in 1617 after his death. In 1636, his grandson made the site even grander with intricate woodcarvings and gold leaf.
Toshogu Shrine is a World Heritage Site.
The massive stone torii gate in front of the entrance to Toshogu Shrine was shipped from Kyushu and hauled over land to Nikko in 1618.
To the left of the gate is a five-story pagoda donated by a feudal lord in 1648. Unfortunately, it had to be rebuilt in 1818 because of fire.
Once inside the paid area, there are some remarkable buildings.
On the right, there are storehouses that feature large elephant carvings. The artist had never seen an elephant and designed them according to what he imagined. They are called imaginary elephants.
On the left is a horse stable with the famous carving of See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil. Monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses since ancient times.
Continuing on, the Yomeimon Gate is one of the most beautiful in Japan. There are more than 500 elaborate carvings depicting traditional stories, children playing, sages, and wise men.
There is a long flight of stairs up a forested hill to reach Tokugawa’s tomb.
At the gate before the stairs is a carving of a sleeping cat bathed in sunlight and surrounded by peonies. It is said to be a depiction of Nikko, which means sunlight.
Taiyuin is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun and grandson of Ieyasu. Iemitsu is known for imposing the policy of national isolation that lasted 200 years.
Taiyuin is part of Rinnoji Temple. The mausoleum was completed in 1653 and has similar architecture to Toshogu Shrine but slightly more modest, out of respect.
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Becki and Shawn
Japan Travel Specialists
Hi, we’re Becki and Shawn! We love Japan and are truly passionate about Japan and Japan travel.
We’ve lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for 20+ years, so we know where to go, what to see, and how to get there. Join us in Japan for an adventure of a lifetime!