History of Nikko Japan's Toshogu Shrine with Patrick Lovell

History of Nikko Japan's Toshogu Shrine with Patrick Lovell


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Two hours drive northeast of Tokyo is the Nikko Tosho-gu complex– an awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage site. Together with the Shinto Futarasan Shrine and the Tendai-shu Buddhist Rinno-ji, it is one of Japan’s must-see destinations and together we will enjoy an illustrated presentation of its key features and symbolic icons. 

Beginning from the Shinkyo bridge at the end of the Nikko Kaido road, we’ll learn about the structures and history behind the Tosho-gu (a religious script) and its principal deity, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Centuries ago, Daimyo made regular stately processions from Edo to the Tosho-gu along the Nikko Kaido to pay their respects to the deity of Ieyasu. 

Nikko Kaido is one of the popular gokaido (5 highways) designated by the shogunate and which started at Nihonbashi in Edo, today’s Tokyo. The Tosho-gu represents the end of the highway where we find the oku-in where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined – and from where he protects the Japanese nation from evil.

Most of the structures we’ll discuss date back to the 1640s and 50s – when the third shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, enlarged the Tosho-gu to its present iteration. The impressive five-story pagoda at the entrance to the Tosho-gu was donated by a daimyo in 1650, but it was burned down and was rebuilt in 1818 in Chinese and Japanese style. Each story represents a Buddhist element – earth, water, fire, wind, and aether (or void) – in ascending order and we can enjoy both Buddhist and Shinto elements in the Tosho-gu today.

Our discussion will also explore the richly decorated Yomeimon, the central gate that is also known as higurashi-no-mon. We will get a close look at the intricate carvings that decorate the surface of the buildings, fences, and gates and how they were built. We will also learn about the symbolic gifts held here from daimyo warlords and foreign nations like Holland and Korea.

Led by an expert in Japanese history, our conversation will provide an overview of this historic Japanese shrine and its layered significance to the region’s religious majorities – from past to present. Designed to inspire curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away prepared to enjoy their own future visits to Nikko Tosho-gu.

Patrick Lovell completed a BA in Education and Asian History at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, where he followed his interest in Asia and particularly Japanese history, and culture. After a study abroad semester in a Japanese family he taught Japanese history at Nishimachi International School, Tokyo, founded by the Meiji period Matsukata Masayoshi’s grand daughter Tané Matsukata, and adult education Japanese history courses at Temple University, Tokyo Campus. Patrick has spent 50 years in Japan and witnessed first-hand the end of Japan’s heady economic revival and the rise and fall of the speculative land bubble in the early 90s. Patrick has been providing custom history/cultural tours throughout Japan for 15 years and is a 35 year practitioner of Buyo traditional Japanese dance. He maintains his Japanese karasansui garden in Nikko where he makes his home.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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