"You think you've seen Japanese temples, and then you go to Nikko. Tosho-gu is like no other: lavish, luxurious and vibrant, amid beautiful natural scenery."
Ruth Hubbard - Travel Consultant
Written with characters meaning sunlight, the name Nikko has become synonymous with splendour. This is mainly due to the elaborate and highly decorative mausoleum of the first Tokugawa shogun - Tokugawa Ieyasu. Built in the mid-17th century and subsequently greatly aggrandised by Ieyasu’s grandson, the location of this monument pulled Nikko out of years of obscurity brought about by its decline as a training centre for Buddhist monks. The building of the shrine was also a shrewd political move with the vast cost of construction being passed on to the Daimyo class thus helping limit their wealth and power and reinforcing the position of the Tokugawa dynasty.
Nikko has long been a heartland of spirituality and provides a rich variety of experiences. The first thing that strikes most visitors upon arrival is the setting; nestled amidst sumptuous mountain scenery, the town offers eye-catching views in all seasons.
The town’s deep historical connection with Buddhism has certainly left its mark as temples and the tombs of prominent Buddhists are ubiquitous. The temples and shrines of Nikko are characterised by simplicity and austerity highlighting their function as places of worship. The Tosho-gu stands in opposition to this idea. Brightly painted in reds and greens with a cacophony of carvings, the Tosho-gu is more a celebration of the successes of the Tokugawa shogunate than a tribute to the principles of Tendai Buddhism represented by the, “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkeys. The site is often crowded with Japanese “pilgrims” giving little hint of the actuality that religion is moribund in Japan.
Away from the crowds and into the hills surrounding Nikko it is easy to understand why such a site is the centre of religious pilgrimage. Walking by Lake Chuzenji, it is possible to become fully immersed in nature especially during the autumn when the Japanese maple turns its glorious red.
Nikko is timeless Japan, superb artistry in a setting of spellbinding nature.