Kunozan Toshogu is the first Shinto shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the powerful shogun who united Japan. It is said that Ieyasu’s body is buried at Kunozan and not the world renowned Nikko Toshogu.
Our family has traveled extensively throughout Japan for many years but we never fail to take away something new from each of our excursion. Behind every destination, it appears to come with its own fascinating history, rich saga, and notable charm. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine was no exception; the visit was full of surprises and a memory our family will never forget.
Where is Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is situated in southwest of Tokyo and it takes 2.5 hrs by car and a little over 2 hours by public transportation from Tokyo. It’s east of Shizuoka City (20 min by car) near Suruga Bay.
Getting to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
We arrived at the shrine entrance slightly late in the day as we started from Yokohama in the morning and had made a few stops along the way. After parking our vehicle, we didn’t see anyone around but saw the large stone torri gate so we knew we were in the right place.
We figured the shrine would be at the end of the initial stone pathway so we didn’t think much of it. Oh boy, were we wrong! It caught us completely off guard when we learned that visitors must climb 1,159 steps uphill to get to the shrine. In the rain, on really slippery stone steps. Yikes!
The kids were grumbling (almost) all the way up the ascend. We didn’t blame them because they have had a long day. With some cheering on from their Ojisan (grandpa) who is as fit as a fiddle, we finally reached Ichi-no-mon gate, 909 steps up the hill. Just 200 more to go!
At last, 200 steps later, we are at the shrine. With more steps waiting for us!
What is Toshogu Shrine
Toshogu are Shinto shrines dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) and there are hundreds of Toshogu all over Japan. We’ve previously shared our visit to the grand and beautiful Toshogu in Nikko.
Tokugawa Ieyasu is a legendary historical figure in Japan as the first shogun to unify the country (1603) under his rule. The Tokugawa clan subsequently ruled the country for over 250 years until the Meiji Era.
What makes Kunozan’s Toshogu unique? It’s the very first one! Tokugawa Ieyasu had passed away in the nearby Sumpu Castle and instructed to be buried at Kunozan.
The shrine, now classified as a national treasure, is over 400 years old and was built by master craftsman Nakai Masakiyo. It is also the model for all the Toshogu in Japan including the one in Nikko.
The Mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu
After the shrine entrance, we followed the path through the shrine ground. Kunozan Toshogu is not quite as large as the one in Nikko, but it is every bit as spectacular. The furbishing is decorated with elaborate gold accents and the historical significance is profound. These types of shrine building are not typically seen in Japan.
The shrine resides on a hill but the steps are manageable compared to the earlier climb.
As we got closer to the Shaden (main shrine building), the steps to shrine were blocked off and visitors needed to take an alternate path to the right. The path leads visitors pass several shrine buildings that include Kagura Hall, Shinko, and Hie Shrine.
Shaden – Main Shrine Building
The visitor’s path eventually leads to a beautiful gate and the Shaden. Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined in the main building, built by Nakai Masakiyo. It is built in Gongen-Zukuri style with a stone floor room connecting the inner shrine and worship hall. This room has a significant importance as it connects the realm of gods and mortals.
Following the entrance of Shaden from the right to the left, we continued the path that leads visitors to the mausoleum.
The design of the gates and various shrine sections are very similar to the feeling at Nikko’s Toshogu.
Tokugawa Ieyasu Mausoleum
At the end of the path and up the steps is Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum. There was a bit of a surreal moment because we always thought the mausoleum was in Nikko.
It’s startling to think that the remains for one of Japan’s greatest rulers could be there and most people weren’t even aware of it. Over the past 400 years, the mausoleum has rarely been opened. The tower faces west per Ieyasu’s instructions.
There is a little controversy where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains really lies. Is it in Kunozan or Nikko? Many believe that Kunozan was the original burial place and the body was moved to Nikko while other believe that only the spirit was moved to Nikko. The answer will probably never be revealed as neither of the shrine will open their mausoleum.
Regardless, Kunozan’s Toshogu Shrine is truly a work of art and absolutely gorgeous to visit. As we ponder what we have learned, the 1,159 steps of descend will give us plenty of time to reflect and chat about.
There is an easier way to get to Kunozan Toshogu through Nihondaira Ropeway. The ropeway was built in 1967 and prior to the ropeway, the only way to get to the shrine is by climbing the steps. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an option for us to ride the ropeway down as it was completely opposite end of the mountain from where we parked.
We hope you enjoyed our visit to Kunozan Toshogu. We’ll continue our travel to Hamamatsu and eat some eel and gyoza!