History and Culture


Beginning of Mountain Worship in Nikko

In 766 when the capital of Japan was Nara, a Buddhist priest named Shodo Shonin (Saint Shodo), stepped into the mountains in Nikko and founded the Shihonryuji Temple (the origin of the Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple),: this was the beginning of the history of Nikko. Then, Shodo Shonin tried to climb the 2,486-high Mt. Nantaisan and reached to the top at the third attempt. Having founded okumiya (the rear shrine), and hongu (main shrine), there, he opened the Jinguji Temple (current Chuzenji Temple), by the Chuzenji Lake. From this time, Nikko’s prosperity began, as a sacred place of faith where Shintoism to worship the mountain god coexists with Buddhism to consider the mountains as the pure land of the Goddess of Mercy.

“Portrait of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu” (In Possession of the Homotsu-kan at Nikko Toshogu Shrine),

Splendorous and Flamboyant Shrine Constructed by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

Tokuga Ieyasu is the Shogun who established the Edo bakufu that was to be maintained for more than 250 years. Wishing to watch his country to be in peace, Ieyasu left a will to construct a small shrine in the mountain of Nikko and enshrine his bones. After Ieyasu had died in 1616, the shrine was constructed in Nikko next year to follow his will. Then, the shrine renovated into the current splendorous and flamboyant style of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun and Ieyasu’s grandson. Iemitsu wished to serve Ieyasu even after his death and ordered to construct the Taiyuin, the mausoleum of himself, in the mountain of Nikko. After that, Nikko was prospered as a town built around the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and more than 200,000 cedar trees were planted on the approach to the shrine by his subjects.

Secluded Area Where Fleeing Heike Warriors Inhabited Secretly

The battle between the Minamotos and the Tairas started in 1185 and divided Japan into two. It is said that some warriors of the Taira clan who defeated at the battle fled to this place, which was more than 1,000km away from the battle area, and inhabited secretly. They made their own communities by dangerous ravines near Yunishigawa and Kawamata to hide and escape from their enemy, and their ancestors have lived there for several hundred years quietly and secretly. Even now, they have maintained their own unique custom: for example, they do not emit smoke from their houses and do not keep dogs and hens, because of the big noise they make.

History from Development to Closure of Japan’s Largest-Scale Copper Mine

It is said that copper had been mined since the 16th century in the Ashio Copper Mine (Ashio dozan),. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Edo bakufu owned the copper mine. During this period, Ashio was known as the Japanese capital of copper and mined copper was used in a variety of ways ranging from construction of then the Edo (Tokyo), Castle and the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, to manufacturing of “kaneitsuho,” coins of that era. The copper was also exported to overseas countries from Nagasaki.
In its peak period in the Meiji period, the mine supplied nearly 40% of copper produced in Japan. However, the mine was forced to close in 1973, due to increased import from overseas mines and exhaustion of the vein.
Currently, tourist can not only imagine the days of prosperity of the mine by participating in the tour to the mine and learning its history and structure, but also see the activity to restore the trees and leaves on the mountain.


Sculptures Created by Gathering Highest Techniques of Best Craftsmen

The Nikko Toshogu Shrine houses more than 5,100 sculptures. One of the most famous one among them is the Yomeimon Gate, which is also known as the gate of higurashi (“all day long” in Japanese”),, because excellent sculptures and decoration techniques including coloring and painting of the first half of the 17th century are gathered together on the gate, and viewers cannot be bored even if he or she view the gate all day long. In addition to those sculptures, there are many excellent artworks in the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, such as Sleeping Cat, Three Monkeys of mizaru (see no evil),, kikazaru (hear no evil), and iwazaru (speak no evil),, and an imaginary elephant that Kano Tanyu drew based on his imagination. Although not so splendorous and flamboyant like the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuin that houses many artworks crafted by delicate and skilled craftsmanship is also something that you should not miss.

"Hyakuma Hyakushu no Ryu (Countless Dragons in an Immeasurable Large Room),” in the front shrine of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine (In Possession of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine),

Paintings Drawn by Kano Tanyu, a Great Master of Japanese-Style Painting

On the cells of the front shrines of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Taiyuin are paintings of many dragons. These dragons were drawn by Kano Tanyu, a great master of Japanese-style painting hired by Edo bakufu, and the Kano school led by him. In addition, visitors can view the painting of kirin and hakutaku (mythical Chinese animals), drawn on partition sliding doors in the Nikko Toshogu Shrine from the close position.

Architectural Style that Greatly Influenced Other Shrines

The main shrines of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Taiyuin mausoleum employ a unique architectural style for shrines, called “gongen-zukuri,” in which the main hall and worship hall are connected via a stone-paved room. Actually, this style had been existed from the older days, but became popular and was adopted by many shrines after construction of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.