Kunozan Toshogu Shrine

Here I would like to talk a little about Kunozan Toshogu (sometimes spelled Tosho-gu) Shrine, which is perhaps one of the most historically important shrines in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is in central Japan, on the Pacific coast side. It is located at the top of Mt. Kuno and about 8.5km (5.3 miles) to the southwest of Shimizu Port. Since I live “relatively” close to this area, I have visited here several times privately or as a tour guide for international travelers. When you are not sure about where to visit in the middle of the Japanese Archipelago (I mean, between Osaka and Tokyo), this place is one of my recommendations.

Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, a Tokugawa's burial place

This Shinto shrine was built in 1617, and there are thirteen structures in total in the compound. All of them are the original buildings from the early 17th century and all of them are listed as Important Cultural Properties. And the main building (sanctuary) was designated as a National Treasure in 2010. This shrine was built to enshrine the soul of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu and to worship him as a deity.

Entrance Gate of Kunozan Toshogu

At the entrance of the shrine precinct stands a big two-storied gate called Romon. It was constructed around 1640 by the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, who was the grandson of Ieyasu. There is a large tablet on the gate. The kanji characters on it were autographed by non other than the emperor of Japan at that time. The characters can be read Tosho-Daigongen, which roughly means “Illuminator of the East”, which is the posthumous name of Ieyasu as a deity. Actually, “Toshogu shrine” means “the shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined”. Among many Toshogu shrines in Japan, this one is the first Toshogu and the most important one along with Nikko Toshogu in Tochigi Prefecture.

Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu is one of the most famous historical figures in Japan. He is the first Shogun of the Edo feudal government. Edo is present-day Tokyo. Shogun was a title given by the emperor of Japan to a feudal lord.

Kunozan Toshogu Shrine

When Lord Ieyasu was born in 1542, Japan was in turmoil. The nation was divided into many small countries and they always fought with each other. And at first Ieyasu was just one of those feudal lords and he fought many battles himself. And finally, he won a final, decisive battle in 1600, unified Japan and opened a feudal government in Edo. And this Edo government lasted for more than 260 years. It was a peaceful period (roughly speaking). So he united Japan and brought peace to the country. That is why he is still respected by many people.

Familiy crests of Tokugawa decorated on the roof of Kunozan Toshogu (Summar 5cmF2)

He spent his last days in Shizuoka, until he passed away in 1616 at the age of 75. And after his passing, his body was immediately carried to Mt. Kuno and buried there according to his will. One year later the shrine was built there by his son.

A garden lantern at Kunozan Toshogu

In Shinto tradition, it is believed that the soul of the person who contributed greatly to the country turns into Kami which means a Shinto deity, and becomes an object of worship. And when we visit the shrine and worship the person, we are in return given blessings of magical power by that person.

Photographs: taken at Kunozan Toshogu Shrine,
by Koji Ikuma, with Fuji X-T1 & Summar 5cmF2

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