Built in 1617 to deify Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate - the family that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868, the Toshogu Shrine differentiates itself from other Shinto Shrines with a wide palette of colors and lavish decorations. An impressive amount of gold leaf adorns the ornate structure. Sculptures - such as the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys greet visitors. It's believed that Toshogu, situated within an easy day trip of Tokyo, protects the capital and its people.
The shrine complex consists of more than a dozen religious buildings set within a forest of some 15,000 Japanese cypress trees planted in the 17th century. Made famous by the 300 carvings of mythical and symbolic beasts, such as dragons, giraffes, and lions, Toshogu is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan's most important and sacred destinations.
The closest train stations are Tobu and JR Nikko. From there, the shrine is a 30-40 minute walk or a 10 minute bus ride from the stations. Hours are 8:00am - 5:00pm from April - October and 8:00am - 4:00pm November through March. Admission costs 1300 yen (about $15USD) and grants access to all parts of the shrine complex. Japanese student groups, locals, and tourists visit Toshogu regularly so lines can be common and long.