Experience Japanese History At Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
Come and experience the era of Samurai and Shogun’s first hand at the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine. This article will prepare you to fully appreciate this Japanese National Treasure. The burial place of first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate Ieyasu Tokugawa spread a message of peace that echoed around the world.
What Is Kunozan Toshogu?
Kunozan Toshogu is a Shinto Shrine in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture west along the southern coast of Japan around 100 mi (150 km) from Tokyo. It is the original burial place of the founder, and first Shogun, of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu Tokugawa. It was built over 400 years ago as the last wish of Ieyasu Tokugawa that he be buried in Shizuoka, where he had spent his final years.
A master carpenter of the time, Masakiyo Nakai, was chosen to build the shrine. This being the first and oldest of the Toshogu Shrines became the basis for other Toshogu shrines all over Japan, including the world-famous Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The beautifully decorated Kunozan Toshogu Shrine was designated as a National Treasure in 2010 and many of the structures at the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine are classified as Japanese National Important Cultural Properties.
Enshrined Kami (Deities)
The Honden contains three spaces where the deities are enshrined. In the center, Ieyasu Tokugawa is enshrined and on either side of him are Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, two famous military general of the period.
Although Ieyasu Tokugawa was originally buried at Kunozan Toshogu, Ieyasu’s grandson, the third Shogun Iemitsu, had his grandfather’s remains transferred to Nikko Toshogu Shrine, against his wishes. However, there was an important spiritual reason for this. If you draw a line from the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine it will pass through Mt. Fuji which is a very important spiritual spot in Japan.
It is said that while Ieyasu Tokugawa’s remains may be in Nikko, his soul resides at the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine.
Who was Ieyasu Tokugawa?
Ieyasu Tokugawa was the founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He is one of the three unifiers of modern Japan along with Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi. He was the first Shogun of the Edo period after winning the civil wars of the Sengoku period which brought a peace to Japan that lasted for 265 years.
However, born January 31st 1543, the world Ieyasu was born into was anything but peaceful. He was taken and held hostage several times before he was even 10 years old. Ieyasu who had several different names during his life spent most of his life until his coming of age at 15 as a hostage of one samurai lord or another.
Sengoku Period, The Warring States
A period of nearly constant war, alliances and betrayals Ieyasu spent most of his 73 years at war and waging various campaigns against other samurai lords. Ieyasu led many attacks himself gradually increasing his power and influence through military genius, and more than a little luck. He was once hit by two bullets, firearms having recently been introduced to Japan by the Portuguese, however both were stopped by his armor!!
In 1590, Ieyasu’s 30,000 samurai, allied with the much larger 160,000 samurai of a competing lord Hideyoshi defeated the Hojo clan. The Hojo clan were the last independent samurai lords from the Kanto region of eastern Japan. Following their victory, Ieyasu agreed to give up his own home province to the more powerful Hideyoshi and move himself and his vassals to the Kanto region. A risky move but within a few years Ieyasu had become the 2nd most powerful man in Japan. There is a Japanese proverb which comes from this bold move, “Ieyasu won the Empire by retreating”.
At the final major battle of the Warring States period, the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Ieyasu’s Eastern Army defeated the Western Army. Although this is considered to be the unofficial beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate it took another 3 years to consolidate his position and power.
4 Seasons At Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
The shrine is surrounded by beautiful nature and is stunning to visit at any time of the year. With views over the ocean and of Mt. Fuji one can enjoy the scenery, the sunsets, as well as all the history and culture when you visit the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine.
With plum and cherry blossom in full bloom, it is the prettiest season of the year here at the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine. On April 17th, Ieyasu’s life day, a memorial festival called “Goreisai” is held here with the head of the Tokugawa family being a priest. This is the most important yearly event at the Shrine.
After the rainy season, the forest of Mt. Kunozan paints itself with fresh green and the soothing sea breeze from the Suruga Bay refreshes your body and soul. Enjoy walking through the Shrine’s peaceful grounds gently lit by the sunshine filtering through foliage.
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is a great spot to enjoy the changing color of the leaves in Autumn. The best time to visit is from late November to early December when the leaves have the most vibrant pigment. Visitors can take a rope way up to the Shrine and take in amazing views of the mountain in autumn colors.
The first festival of the year to pray for prosperity of the Imperial Household, the nation’s prosperity and world peace starts as soon as the clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day. A large number of people visit the Shrine to offer their first prayers for the year as well as to watch the first sunrise of the year from Mt. Kunozan.
Kunozan Toshogu Museum
Just outside the temple there is the Kunozan Toshogu Museum which houses various items of religious importance from the Edo period. Items donated by the Tokugawa Shogunate and its retainers. These include a European clock from the 1600’s given to Ieyasu Tokugawa by King Philip III of Spain in 1611. Having never been used to tell time, this clock is in its original condition the only one of its kind in the whole world. There are over 2,000 arts and crafts objects in the Museum including over 40 swords, 63 suits of armour, clothing, paintings and personal effects.
Visit The Burial Place Of Japan’s Greatest Samurai
Visit the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine and experience this fascinating romanticized period of Japanese history first hand! If you would like to come and learn more about the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine and Ieyasu Tokugawa, why not do so with an expert guide.
From Tokyo to Shizuoka
It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Station to Shizuoka Station.
Access to the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
As there is no road to the top of Mt. Kunozan, there is no access to the Shrine by car. There are two ways to get to the shrine, the first is the Nihondaira Ropeway from the top of Nihondaira. The Ropeway takes approximately 5 minutes (please check the following link below for the most up to date pricing). Or for those feeling more energetic the stone stairway from the foot of Mt. Kunozan consists of 1,159 steps and takes around 20 minutes.
From the Shizuoka Shimizu Interchange on the Tomei Expressway it takes about 40 minutes to get to get to the shrine.
From the JR Shizuoka Station, it is around 50 minutes by bus or 30 minutes by taxi to get to Shrine.
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
Address: 390 Negoya, Suruga Ward, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture 422-8011
Tel: +81 54-237-2438
April 1st - September 30th: 8:30 – 17:00
October 1st - March 31st: 8:30 – 16:00
Shrine: Adults 500 yen, Children 200 yen
Museum: Adults 400 yen, Children 150 yen
Combination Ticket: Adults 800 yen, Children 300 yen
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