Toshogu Shrine was built in 1617 to honor Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the dynasty that ruled Japan for more than 250 years. It's one of Japan’s finest and best-preserved Shinto shrines, surrounded by a Japanese cypress forest in the popular but still peaceful town of Nikko.
Toshogu Shrine is part of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s exceptionally lavish, with intricately carved beams, rich colors, and layers of gold leaf across more than 12 buildings. Though it is a Shinto shrine, elements of Buddhism can be seen in the structures’ pagados and entryways.
Located just 2.5 hours from Tokyo, Nikko is a popular day trip destination. Full-day tours typically include round-trip transportation from Japan’s capital, and allow you to visit Toshogu Shrine along with top attractions such as Nikko National Park, Lake Chuzenji, and Kegon Falls. If you’d rather visit independently, a Nikko Pass provides access to most shrines along with some local trains and buses. If you plan to stay overnight, look for a cozy ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).
Things to Know Before You Go
- Look for the carved “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys, as well as other carved animals.
- Renovations of the shrine will continue until 2024. This is unlikely to disrupt your visit significantly because the buildings are being renovated two at a time, leaving most open for viewing.
- Because it’s located in the mountains, Nikko can be much colder than Tokyo. Bring extra layers of clothing, especially if you plan to visit in winter.
How to Get There
From central parts of Tokyo, take the local Japan Rail (JR) Nikko Line or the Tobu Nikko line to Nikko. For speedy access, take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo or Ueno station to Utsunomiya station, and then take the JR Nikko line the rest of the way. Toshogu Shrine is a short bus ride, or a 30- to 40-minute walk uphill, from the main train station.
When to Get There
Toshogu Shrine is open year-round, with slightly extended opening hours during the summer. It’s very popular with international and Japanese visitors, but weekends and national holidays tend to be busier. Visit midweek to avoid crowds.
If you have more time to spend in Nikko, be sure to visit Lake Chuzenji in the mountains above the city. The bus ride there is an experience in itself, featuring sharply zigzagging switchbacks. Hiking trails surround the lake and there’s a picturesque waterfall.