The pinnacle of Japanese shrine architecture, Nikko’s construction employed
4.5 million artists and craftsmen for 17 months and cost the equivalent of 40 billion yen.
It enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun and one of Japan’s three great unifiers.

As the Nikko Section contains over 100 highly-detailed images, I have split
the section into three pages. This first page covers the entrance area and the
Lower Level. The second page covers the Yomeimon Gate and the Tozai Kairo
including the Tozai Kairo’s ornate exterior nature panels. The third page covers the
Upper Level, including the Honsha (central shrine) and Okusha (inner shrine).
I have provided a hyperlinked index to the entire three-page section on
each page, so you can navigate to any part of Nikko if you want to.

This section shows a little over half of the images in the Nikko Portfolios.

Click an image to open a larger version.
Use your back button to return to this page.
Composites will open in a second window.

Nikko Section Index

— Links are grouped by pages —

The Entrance
The Tale of the Three Monkeys
The Lower Level


The Yomeimon Gate
Tozai Kairo (Colonnade)
Tozai Kairo exterior panels

The Upper Level
Honsha (central shrine)
Okusha (innermost shrine)


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Nikko Toshogu Shrine is in the following Galleries (Direct Link) —

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Lower Level

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Honsha and Okusha


Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Two hours northeast of Tokyo by train, in the Cryptomeria forests around Mt. Nantai, lies Nikko, the site
of the premiere Toshogu Shrine and Ieyasu Tokugawa’s tomb.  This magnificent architecture blends
with the forest to create a visual and spiritual impression that is awe-inspiring and truly memorable.
Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine represents the pinnacle of Japanese Shrine architecture. Below you will
find a very comprehensive set of images of the Toshogu Shrine. I’ve tried to cover it completely.


There’s a saying in Japan:


“See Nikko before you die”.


It cost the equivalent of 40 billion yen in today’s currency to build... that’s a $333 million shrine. ( ! )
4.5 million people worked on the shrine for 17 months to complete the construction. The very finest
of Japan’s artists and sculptors (especially sculptors), and the best craftsmen were on the project.


Nikko is an amazing place.
I tried to cover it completely.
The most extensive section
of the Japan portfolio, I have
used more wide thumbnails
than usual. The buildings and
decorations are very detailed
and quite ornate, extensively
sculpted and painted, and the
location in a forest adds detail
due to the fine needles. This is
an unbelievably detailed place.


Because of all the needles
and detailed sculpturing of
the buildings, file sizes can
grow larger. I used more of
the wide thumbnails so that
enough detail is exhibited in
display images and to allow
easier decisions on which of
the larger images to open.  I
guarantee you’ll find it worth
the time to open many of the
 large versions of these shots.


The Entrance


Nikko Forest Koma-inu 8072

This Koma-inu (Lion-Dog) is standing guard over a
small shrine outside of the Toshogu Shrine entrance.

Some of the images on this page were created from the
full-sized versions, thus the text in title bars will be smaller.


Nikko Forest Jizo Dosojin 8076

Dosojin are protective stone markers, placed on roads, borders, forest paths, mountain passes, etc. Jizo is the guardian of travelers and pilgrims, so a Dosojin representing Jizo Bosatsu is a common sight, especially on a mountain path near a shrine. This type is also called a sekibutsu.


Nikko Forest Nyoirin Kannon Dosojin 8073

Nyoirin Kannon is most often represented carrying the Wish Granting Jewel, but not in this case. Nyoirin Kannon is often represented as the six-armed Shingon version (at Shitennoji). This Dosojin Nyorin Kannon is a two-armed version seated on a lotus, with the right arm in a characteristic position.


Nikko Forest Sekibutsu 8076

Sekibutsu is literally a Stone Buddha. This can refer to
small Jizo statues like the one above, or enormous cliff
carvings. This one protects the hokora shown at right.


Nikko Forest Hokora Shrine 8070

A Hokora is a miniature Shinto shrine. The name originally
derived from the word for a Kami (Shinto deity) repository.
Often, small communities erected a hokora as a local shrine.


Nikko Tokugawa Stele 8465

Stele with inscription “Toshogu” and gold Tokugawa kamon (family crest, three Hollyhocks)
in front of the Ishidorii (stone torii) leading to the Omotemon (front gate) at Nikko Toshogu shrine.


Nikko Ishidorii 8472

The Ishidorii (Stone Torii) gate is 30 feet (9 meters) tall and is the largest Edo-period stone Torii
in Japan (and one of the three best stone Torii... the other two exceptional stone Torii are at the
Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura). It was constructed
of 15 pieces of granite, and is designed to move rather than collapse in an earthquake. The
width of each step leading to the Ishidorii gets narrower as you climb, and the height gets
lower. This is to correct for perspective... it makes it look higher and further than it is.

In the distance beyond the Ishidorii is the Omotemon gate with its Nio sculptures.

The exquisite Cryptomeria (Sugi) trees seen throughout this section are a member
of the Cypress family. They are endemic to Japan, and are the National Tree.


Nikko Gojunoto 8835

The five-story pagoda (gojunoto) at Nikko has no floors inside. A 2 foot diameter pillar is suspended by a chain from the level of the fourth story to within 5 inches of the ground floor to stabilize the structure during earthquakes or high winds.


Nikko Gojunoto 8841

The Nikko pagoda is 118 feet tall and was contributed in 1650 by Sakai Tadakatsu (the  Governor), but it burned in 1815. His descendants rebuilt it in 1818. There are no floors inside. It has sculptures of animals on the first level depicting the twelve zodiac signs and the twelve directions, and a sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai is enshrined inside the pagoda.


Nikko Gojunoto 8497

It was a nightmare to achieve a decent exposure of the sunlit pagoda against
a white sky, so I gave up the sky and exposed for the fluorescing vermilion paint.


Nikko Gojunoto detail 8858

Detail of the first two levels of the Nikko Gojunoto.
The brilliant vermilion paint fluoresced when the sun hit it.

The normally dull color of the shadowed pagoda explodes into blinding red in the sunlight.


Nikko Gojunoto 8858


Nikko Gojunoto detail 0020

These two images were taken the same day with two different cameras.
The one on the right was shot a bit earlier, and to try to pull color against the
horrendously bright sky, I used the most expedient method... I just cropped the
sky out of the shot in-camera. Once I was sure I had a usable shot I just waited until
the pagoda fluoresced and got the other shots, white sky or no white sky. I guess you
can tell that I was completely obsessed with getting a usable shot of this pagoda.

Compare these with the lower-saturated shot below right. Most of the time I
was in Nikko, the sun was on the other side of the pagoda, as it is below.


Nikko Gojunoto 8390, 8488
(Composite will open in a second tab or window)

The image on the left was taken from behind the pagoda.


Nikko Bronze Lantern 8119

A Kondo-doro (gilded bronze lantern), one of the most
interesting lanterns of all those I saw at the many shrines
and temples of Japan, with Tokugawa hollyhock kamon,
dragons, koma-inu lion-dogs, and a Hoju sacred jewel.


Nikko Lanterns 8495

A row of stone lanterns donated by Daimyo (feudal lords)
from all over Japan lines the path from the south entrance.
Buddhist sutra states that it is virtuous to offer light to the
Buddha (the lanterns are symbolic offerings to Buddha).


Nikko Lanterns 8491

Ishidoro (stone lanterns) lined up outside the outer wall of the lower level at Nikko Toshogu Shrine.


Nikko Nio Ungyoh 8366


Nikko Nio Agyoh 8366
(Kongo-rikishi guardians)

The Nio, which can be seen in the image of the Ishidorii (in the two rectangular openings in
the Omotemon Gate beyond the Torii), are 13 feet (4 meters) tall. The gate used to be called
Nio-mon because of them, but when the Meiji government demanded the separation of Shinto
and Buddhism the Nio were relocated to the Taiyuin Mausoleum and the name of the gate was
changed to Omotemon (Front Gate). The statues were reinstalled in the Omotemon Gate in 1897.


Nikko Shinkyo 8535

The Sacred Horse stable (Shinkyo or Shinkyu)
houses two white horses which are used for the
thousand-person Samurai-style processions.


Nikko Shinkyo 8355

The Sansaru (three monkeys) panels are
on the exterior. Monkeys were kept as guardians
in stables until the Muromachi period (1336-1573).


Nikko Shinkyo detail 8539

I have provided this detail image without watermark.

As you can see from image 8355 above right, there are eight panels.
Unfortunately, I took closeups of only the front five panels the day before,
and as you can see from the image above right, the sun was on the other 3,
stopping me from taking them that afternoon. I forgot to get them the next day.

To compensate, below are large images of the five Hidari Jingoro Shinkyo panels I did take.

Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Nikko Toshogu Shrine is in the following Galleries (Direct Link) —

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Lower Level

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Honsha and Okusha


The Tale of the Three Monkeys

Carved by the famous sculptor Hidari Jingoro, the panels on the Shinkyo
(Sacred Horse Stable) tell the Tale of the Three Monkeys. The most famous of
them is Mizaru; Iwazaru; Kikazaru (See no Evil, Speak no Evil, Hear no Evil).

Monkeys are associated with the Shinkyo because it was believed that monkeys protect horses.

Built in 1636 in Shoin-zukuri style (the style used for feudal lord’s residences),
the Shinkyo is the only unpainted bare wood building in the Nikko Toshogu shrine.


Shinkyo Panel One 8107

The mother monkey looks into the future of her child;
the child looks into the mother’s face with trust.


Shinkyo Panel Two 8105

See no Evil; Speak no Evil; Hear no Evil.


Shinkyo Panel Three 8108

The child prepares for independence.


Shinkyo Panel Four 8109

Look to the sky with great ambition (clouds symbolize ambition).


Shinkyo Panel Five 8110

Live your life with honor; friends look out for one another.

The three panels I didn’t shoot are:

              6. Fall in Love;
              7. Two married monkeys (Life is like a Tidal Wave);
              8. Pregnant Monkey (Child monkey becomes a Mother some day)

Return to the Index at the top of this page

The Lower Level


Nikko Kamijinko Kyozo 8524

This is the lower level of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

From the left are the Omizuya (where visitors wash their hands before entering the Shrine),
Kyozo (where the sacred Sutras are kept), Karadou Torii gate (first bronze Torii in Japan),
the steps leading up to the next level, and on the right is the Kamijinko, one of three sacred
storehouses built in Azekura-zukuri style. On the Kamijinko can be seen the sculptures of
the Imaginary Elephants (they were created by artists who had never seen an elephant).


Nikko Shimojinko 8098

Azekura-zukuri architecture

The three storehouses just inside the Omotemon gate are built in the Azekura-zukuri style of shrine architecture.

The design was copied from the Shosoin storehouse at the Todaiji temple in Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. and a National Treasure of Japan. Built in 756, the Shosoin is the oldest and largest building of its type. It is a log building especially designed to preserve its contents in Japan’s humid climate. The far less ornate Shosoin is the earliest example of an environmentally controlled building, and it was the Imperial Repository of Japan until it was just recently replaced with a modern concrete building. Shosoin still houses 9000 items, including instruments, clothing, art, documents, and items from 8th c. China, India, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia.

Azekura-zukuri buildings are supported on heavy posts and have raised floors. The logs are cut in a triangular section (although some Azekura buildings use round or square logs) and the apex of the triangle is out, so the inner walls are flat.

Click here to see an image of a treasure building in the
Azekura-zukuri style built at the same time as the Shosoin

The storehouses hold costumes and equipment for the Togyosai Festival, a 1000-person Samurai style procession where the Mikoshi (palanquins for the deities) are carried to the Futarasan shrine.


Nikko Omizuya 8811

Nikko’s Chozuya is called Omizuya (Mizu means
water). This is where visitors purify for the shrine
by washing their hands and mouth with water.
(detail crops are linked from images below)

To the right, a shot of the Kamijinko taken
late the afternoon before. I have posted a
large version (9601200) to allow you to
examine the architectural details and the
carvings of the “Imaginary Elephants”.


Nikko Kamijinko 8100


Nikko Omizuya detail 8809
(Image will open in a second window)

Recently restored (a 15-year project) by Mr. Yoshihara Hokusai,
who rediscovered the ancient Kano school technique of Mitsuda-e, a paint
mixing and application technique resistant to UV light and water (lost in the Meiji era).


Nikko Omizuya detail 8116
(Composite will open in a second window)

The restoration depicts what the paintings by the Kano School
artists looked like when completed in the early 17th century.
Several buildings were completed before Mr. Hokusai
died in 1998. His 35-step process using 7 colors
was not taught to an apprentice, but he did
teach craftsmen how to apply the paint.


Nikko Kamijinko detail 8111c

Detail of the “Imaginary Elephants” from the Kamijinko.
Note the clawed feet, horse-like tails and manes, and funnel-shaped ears.

The sculptures and buildings at Nikko were painted by Kano Tanyu and
his assistants of the famed Kano school of painting using the Mitsuda-e technique.


Nikko Kamijinko 8126

The front of the Kamijinko Sacred Storehouse, constructed in Azekura-zukuri style.

Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Nikko Toshogu Shrine is in the following Galleries (Direct Link) —

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Lower Level

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Honsha and Okusha


Nikko Kamijinko Shoro 8546

The front of the Kamijinko with the Shoro (bell tower) in the background.


Nikko Bronze Torii Kyozo 8529

Detail of the first level of Nikko, showing the bronze torii that Tokugawa Iemitsu
had his craftsmen build for Ieyasu’s shrine. It cost the equivalent of 200 million yen.

This was the first bronze torii in Japan. There are lotus flowers at the foot of the pillars.
This is very unusual at a Shinto shrine because the lotus is associated with Buddhism.


Nikko Kyozo Koro 8542

The Kyozo is the storehouse for Sutras (sacred books on Buddhism).
The Koro is used to store the drums, and houses the suspended drum used to toll the hours.


Nikko Kyozo Koro 8121

Taken late the previous afternoon. The light was very sketchy that day, as shadows
and haze often conspired with the location of the sun to yield poor results. In this particular
case things worked out pretty well after some serious processing magic on this and the next shot.


Nikko Kyozo detail 8124

As you can see, the combination of light angle and color temperature along with
the natural diffusion caused by the haze actually helped by reducing the shadows
and lending a pleasing color to the Kyozo. Sometimes it just works out that way.


Nikko Kyozo 8559

The front of the Kyozo Sutra Storehouse.


Nikko Kyozo 8794

The Kyozo (sutra storehouse) from the top of the stairs at the far right in image 8542 (two above).


Nikko Shoro 8304

The Shoro (bell tower) stands on one side of
the Yomeimon gate, and the very similar Koro
(drum tower) stands on the other side of the gate.

They are nearly identical, but the Shoro has more
carvings (78 vs. 38) and the carvings on the Shoro
are crane, dragon, giraffe (a single-horned dragon
with a two-part hoof), flying dragons, and waves.
The Koro has turtles, dragons and clouds.


Nikko Korean Bell Shoro 8345

The Korean bell was donated by the emissaries from Korea who came to celebrate
the birth of Tokugawa Iemitsu’s son Ietsuna, who later became the 4th Tokugawa Shogun.


Nikko Shoro detail 8304

A large detail crop reprocessed to bring out the detail in the carvings.


Yakushi-do detail 8334

To illustrate the level of interior detail, two images
from the entrance lintel and interior crown work of the
Yakushi-do (Yakushi Nyorai Hall) next to the Koro.


Yakushi-do detail 8342

Note the nature carvings and painted detail.


Click banner above to go to the Nikko 2 page.


Click banner above to go to the Nikko 3 page.

Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Nikko Toshogu Shrine is in the following Galleries (Direct Link) —

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Lower Level

Nikko Toshogu Shrine: Honsha and Okusha


Return to the Shinto Shrines index page


Return to the Master Index on the Japan Select page