Japanese Art – Nikko

In Nikko are two Shinto shrines, the Tosho-gu and the Futara-jinsha, as well as a Buddhist monastery, the Rinno-ji. Tosho-gu shrine is of world-wide fame, being the mausoleum of Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was erected in 1617 ; but was rebuilt in 1636 by the third Shogun Iemitsu, in the remarkably short time of one year and a half. It is universally held as the most gorgeous specimen of Rococo architecture in Japan. All the buildings are most ingeniously situated on a narrow hillside with nature for their back ground.

The main approach passes through a large stone torii, 27 ft. high, erected in 1618.

A richly-colored five-storied stupa, about 120 ft. high, stands on the left as one faces the main entrance. It was re-erected in 1817. At the top of the first flight of stone steps stands the red Nio-mon gate in which are installed two figures of Nio and two golden lions. Passing through this gate, one will see on the right three red lacquered storehouses deco-rated with carvings in rich colors ; and on the left about one hundred stone lanterns dedicated to the shrine by daimyo or feudel lords, and a sacred stable constructed of plain wood. At the end of the pavement that passes between the storehouses and the stable is a pavilion deco-rated with colorful carvings and gilded metal fittings that shelters a stone fountain. Beside the pavilion stands a square building, the Rinzo, in which are kept all the collections of Buddhist scriptures.

Yömei-mon gate is approached by steep flight of stone steps. Because its architecture is the most elaborate of all the buildings, this famous gate is popularly called Higurashino-mon or ” Day-Spending gate,” as visitors are so captivated by its beauty that they are in danger of forgeting the time while admiring it . It is a two-storied gateway with three-column intervals, and a roof with carved gables. The construction of the cornice is most complicated, all the brackets being lacquered in black, and the chamfered parts in gold. Between the groups of brackets are inserted statuettes of Chinese sages.. The pillars are ornamented with birds and animals in bas-relief, circular in shape, like applique. Among the animals is a tiger called the ” Tiger of the Grain ” because the natural grain of the wood represents his stripes. The embellishments on this gate are principally of a sculptural nature, painted in rich colors. The ornamentation, however, harmonizes so skilfully with the surrounding landscape that there is no vulgarity in over-elaboration. The galleries extending from the gate are filled with wonderful polychromatic carvings of phoenixes, peacocks and other birds of gorgeous plumage.

In front of this gate, stand a tall chandelier and two lanterns, all three of bronze, which were dedicated to the shrine by the ruler of Holland in 1636..

On either side of the passage stands a drum tower and a bell tower. Behind the former, stands a magnificent Buddhist chapel, the Honji-do in which is enshrined Yakushi, the healing Buddha whom Ieyasu worshipped as his tutelary Buddha.

On the ceiling of the sanctum is painted in ink a dragon by Kano Yasunobu, called the Naki-ryu or crying dragon, because it cries like a bell ringing if one claps his hands beneath its head.

Returning through the Yomei-mon gate we see, on our left, the Shin-yo-den or black lacquered storehouse’ of the sacred portable shrines ; and on the right the Kagura-den, a stage for sacred dances. Next, we come to the innermost gate, the Kara-mon which is also elaborately decorated with many colored carvings.

Inside the Kara-mon gate stands the main shrine, composed of the Hai-den or hall for worship, the Ishi-no-ma or stone-floored chamber, and are innermost shrine sumptuously ornamented with painted sculptures.

The style of this shrine is the Gongen-zukuri, one of popular type of Shinto architecture.

As one leaves the eastern gallery of the Yomei-mon, one may see the famous sleeping cat among the carvings of the freize, then reach the Sakashita-mon from which starts a series of long, winding flights of stone steps about two hundred altogether. Here are the farthest recesses of the Tosho-gu, where stands the tomb of Ieyasu to whom the Tosho-gu shrine is dedicated.

The Tosho-gu is on the whole the best example of mausoleum architecture, developed in the early Edo Period, or the early part of the 17th century.

On the west of the Tosho-gu shrine is the Daiyuin, dedicated to the third Shogun Iemitsu. The Daiyu-in was completed in 1653 ; the general plan is similar to that of the Tosho-gu, although it contains more Buddhistic elements than the Tosho-g. It belongs to the Rinno-ji monastery of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.