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Two Shrines and a Temple: Nikko's Tōshō-gū

JAPAN | Sunday, 25 August 2019 | Views [94]

Yomeimon or Sunset Gate

Yomeimon or Sunset Gate

CONNIE DID INDEED SAVE THE BEST FOR THE LAST.  The Tōshō-gū Buddhist Temple is the cherry on the sundae that is Nikko.  The restoration for the 400th anniversary of Tōshō-gū won’t be completed until 2024, but it’s easy to forgive the remaining bits of scaffolding once you’ve seen how stunning the finished product will be.


     Omotemon and Diva Kings

Tōshō-gū was originally the mausoleum of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the warlord who established the shogunate that would rule Japan for 2½  centuries.  Seventeen years after Ieyasu’s death, his grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, along with 15,000 Japanese artisans began the two-year project which gave us Tōshō-gū.

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     Sacred Storehouse                         Refurbished detail

A pair of Deva kings guard Omotemon, the main gate.  Three Sacred Storehouse that  surround the courtyard contained one hundred types of costumes and implements for the 1200 people in the Thousand Warrior Procession.  These recently renovated buildings are covered in colorful murals including one of an elephant carved by a man who had never seen an elephant!


     If you didn't know what an elephant looked like — Sacred Storehouse

Another mural, this one eight panels of monkeys, that decorates the Royal Stables is said to be the source of the “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.”   In Japanese “mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru” or “hear not, speak not, see not,” the monkeys may be a play on the negation “zaru” and “saru” the word for monkey.  

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  Tickets and Monkey Mural                 mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru

We actually spent more time in the courtyard than we did in the shrine proper.  There are just so many details; dozens of stone and iron lanterns, elaborate candelabra, mythical beasts, a roaring dragon.  And my favorite, the kairo or corridor walls each with eight murals, four-feet long and carved from a single piece of wood.  All are (now) sparkly bright and most show peacocks in various displays.


                     Lanterns and Kairo Wall Reliefs

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     Right Kairo Wall Reliefs                          Peacock from single piece of wood

Your eyes — and a stairway — lead you to the Sunset Gate, or Yomeimon, where it was said that one could look until sunset and not tire of it, hence its name.   Legend says that those who built it place the final supporting pillar upside down for fear its perfection would arouse envy in the gods.  If those who did the fantastic restoration didn’t offend the gods, nothing will.  Besides, the gods probably, like Connie and I, would have been so busy looking at the colorful carvings and paintings, the stylized lions and dragons, the dancing girls and the Chinese sages, that they wouldn’t have noticed the pillar anyway.  We didn’t.  

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                      Guard Lions — Sunset Gate


      There be Dragons         


                         Chinese Sages


                                             Lion at Yomeimon Gate

Once through the spectacular Chinese Gate we were shunted to our right — the main worship halls are still undergoing restoration — and  under the famous “Sleeping Cat.”  This carving and that of “Two Flying Sparrows” on the other side of the gate are said to represent a peaceful future for the newly unified Japan.  (I guess it worked for 300 years.)  


       Chinese Gate

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   Sleeping Cat                                 Two Flying Sparrows

We panted and sweated along with the natives both young and not so young up, up, up past the Inukimon Gate the Inner Shrine Pagoda, Ieyasu’s tomb.

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     Inukimon Gate                            Inner Shrine Pagoda

It is worth remembering that while all this was going on, in North America the Pilgrims were still trying to figure out how to grow corn and make peace with the Indians.  And it’s sobering to realize how little we know about this rich culture and its history.  That’s why we keep on traveling.


    Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving 1621



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