Ladies and gentlemen, now we are in front of the entrance gate to the Toshogu. The Toshogu is a place where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined as a Shinto god. Shinto is the traditional and indigenous faith of Japanese people. Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. He was regarded as one of the gods after his death. This shrine is originally dating from 1617 but was reconstructed in 1636.
Please take a look at this tall stone gate. This kind of gateway is called torii in Japanese and can be found at all shrines. A shrine is a dwelling place for Shinto gods and torii is sort of a barrier against evil spirits. It is believed that it purifies people when they pass through.
This is the biggest stone torii constructed in the Edo period. Those stones were carried all the way from the southernmost of major islands of Japan, which is more than 1200 km or 700 miles away. It is said that piles of sandbags were used, like the construction of a pyramid when this torii was built.
Guess how many pieces of stone this gate consists of. This torii consists of 15 pieces of granite stone. (The uppermost crossbeam can be divided into four. The under beam that supports it is into three and the crossbar under them also into three. Behind the blue tablet there is one piece and each pillar is divided into two.) You might ask, why does this gate have that many pieces? Of course it helped people to carry and build torii. But there is another reason.
This gate is resistant to an earthquake. You can't see it from outside, but the top crossbars are actually hollow to make it lighter. Besides it, each piece is joined to other part with an axle.
So when a big earthquake hit this region nearly 50 years ago, this torii remained undamaged.
That tall building, on the left, is a five-storied pagoda. It originally dates to 1650 but was reconstructed in 1818. A pagoda is usually built to honor the Buddha but this was built for the memorial of Ieyasu's death.
This pagoda is 36 meters in height. Each story represents one of the five elements which are believed to compose the universe: 地、水、火、風、天 which mean the earth, water , fire, wind and heaven.
Do you notice the difference between the top one and the other four stories below? Look at carefully the roofs. The top story was built in Chinese style and other four stories are Japanese style. (You will find that the rafters of the first four stories run in parallel while those of the top story are spoke-wise.) This is one of the mysteries of the Toshogu. Some people say that the artisans did it to protect the pagoda from evil spirits because they are jealous of perfection.
This building doesn't have any floor. It contains a long suspended pole that swings like a pendulum. So it restores equilibrium in the event of an earthquake. The twelve animal symbols of the Japanese zodiac are carved just under the roof of the first story. These symbols represent the direction that they face and decorate the pagoda.
* What are the twelve zodiac signs? (十二支について・参考資料)
The Japanese zodiac signs are the result of zoning time and direction into twelve blocks. Each block is given a name of an animal based on the ancient Chinese concept that all time shifts were based on these twelve units. In Japan, zoning of the twelve-year cycle, with a different animal in each zone is fairly common. Each sign is believed to determine the character and destiny of a person who is born in that year. Ieyasu was born in 1542, in the year of the tiger and people thought he was brave and capable of ruling Japan like a lion, the king of beasts.
Now we are in the precincts of Toshogu Shrine. We see before us three colorful buildings, one on the right side and two just in front of us. They are Three Storehouses for storing costumes, weapons and tools used during the spring and autumn grand festivals of Toshogu Shrine.
The walls of the buildings consist of long pieces of wood. This structure serves as a kind of air conditioner. You know we have rainy season in summer, it's very hot and humid at that time. When the humidity is high, the wood swells and the swollen wood prevents wet air from entering the building.
On the wall of the left building, the Upper Storehouse, you see carvings of two strange animals. Can you guess what kind of animals they are? Yes, they are elephants. It is said, the painter and art director, Kano Tanyu, made the drawing for the carvings without seeing real elephants. These are one of the three famous carvings of Toshogu Shrine.
We find the second famous carving at the Holy Stable. Let's move on to the stable.
In this stable two white horses are kept. White horses are supposed to be sacred and they are dedicated to the gods of the shrine. Compared with other buildings, the stable is rather simple and not so colorful. This is the only unlacquered building in the whole precincts.
Now look at the monkey carvings on the wall. They consist of eight scenes, which symbolize eight phases of human life. Second from left is the most famous monkey carving "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil".
You may wonder, why monkeys here? Do monkeys have anything to do with the stable? It is believed in ancient times that the monkey can protect horses from being sick. The history book says, we had the custom until about the 16th century that horses and monkeys were kept together in a stable.
This is the Yomei-mon Gate. It is registered as a national treasure. It is 37 feet in height, (11.1 m), 23 feet in width, (7 m), and 15 feet in depth, (4.4 m). Two statues called Zuijin on both sides are Shinto style guardians. The gate is decorated with as many as 508 elaborate carvings. You can spend a whole day in front of this gate and never get tired of it. That is why the gate is also called "Higurashi-gomon" or "a day-spending gate."
There are 194 carvings of dragons, Chinese lions, giraffes and other imaginary animals. They are guardian animals and they are always watching the gate. In the center of the white beam under the "Tosho-Dai-Gon-Gen" tablet, there is a flying dragon which was carved from a single tree-trunk. It is one of the masterpieces in this shrine. A dragon is believed to have mysterious power, and is also believed to be a symbol of king. On the both sides of the flying dragon are dragons with hoofs. They can run very fast.
One of the features of the Yomei-mon Gate is the carvings of figures. Only the Yomei-mon Gate and the Kara-mon Gate have carvings such as these. And they are said to signify the political philosophy of Ieyasu and Tokugawa government. Just under the flying dragon, 30 carvings are placed on the balcony around the building. They are carvings of children at play. It is believed that they symbolize the ideal peaceful world that Ieyasu and Tokugawa government constructed. As for the carvings of men's figures, they came from ancient Chinese folk tales and legends.
Let's go to the other side of the gate and I will tell you more mysterious story there. When you go through, don't miss dragons painted on the ceiling, but don't stop.
There are four columns in front of us. They have spiral geometrical patterns on them. The patterns on one of them were purposely carved upside-down. I wonder if you can find it. Do you know why? (If someone finds it) Yes. That particular pillar is called "Mayoke Bashira", means the column to avert evil spirits. The reason is that evil spirits are always jealous of perfection and are ready to destroy "perfect" things. Leaving the building incomplete by carving the pattern upside-down, we can turn away the attention of evil spirits.
We are now just in front of the Karamon Gate or Chinese Gate. It is the gate to the main shrine called the Honsha. Kara means China, Mon means gate.
Karamon is a small gate which is 3 meters in width and 2 meters in depth, but it is very important. In the Edo period, only feudal lords called Daimyo and top rank officials were allowed to go through it.
As you see, this gate is decorated with 611 exquisite carvings and designated as a national treasure. The wooden statues on the lintel are old Chinese. The man sitting on the chair is the Emperor Shun. You will see various kinds of carvings on the walls. On the roof there are four animals watching over this gate day and night. By the way, you will see a carving of a crane which is widely known as the JAL logotype.
Why don't you take time and enjoy gazing at the gate. Let's move to the Honsha. Will you come this way? I am sorry to trouble you, but you are supposed to take off your footwear here.
The Sanctuary (Honsha), the most sacred building in Toshogu is made up of three chambers.
This building is a perfect realization of the Gongen-zukuri, a type of Japanese architectural style. (Gongen=incarnation, Zukuri=construction)
The Haiden is divided into three parts: the room for the imperial family, the room for the Shogun and the central room. The ceiling of the central room is divided into 100 coffers with pictures of dragons. And on the walls of this room, you can see 36 pictures of waka poets of the Heian period (794-1192).
The lower room behind the Hall of Worship is called the Ishinoma (Stone Room) where stones are placed underneath the tatami-mat. Ishinoma connects the Hall of Worship with the Honden where the holy spirits are enshrined.
You will notice the dishes with fish, rice, vegetables, salt and sake on the altar. They are offered by the priests every morning and taken away every evening. The ceiling is covered with many pictures of phoenixes.
The Honden, Ishinoma and Haiden, built in 1636, have not undergone any alteration except that the roofing materials were replaced for the purpose of maintenance in 1654 and the stone foundations of the Honden were replaced in 1690.
(Text written by USGG Members)