Rinno-ji Temple stone path

Shrines and Temples of Nikkō

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that aims to promote world peace and security through international cooperation in education, the sciences, and culture. UNESCO has also established international cooperation agreements to secure World Heritage Sites (a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention) of cultural and Natural importance.

In 1999 UNESCO World Heritage Site listed the Shrines and Temples of Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture, in Japan as a World Heritage. It is comprised of 103 buildings or structures and the natural setting surrounding them. The buildings belong to one Buddhist temple (Rinnō-ji) two Shinto shrines (Futarasan Shrine and Tōshō-gū). Nine of the buildings are designated National Treasures of Japan while the other 94 structures are Important Cultural Properties.

Rinno-ji Temple Main Hall

Rinno-ji Temple Main Hall.


Rinnō-ji (輪王寺) are Tendai Buddhist temple buildings that was established in 766 by the Buddhist monk Shōdō Shōnin (735–817). It was built deep in the mountains of Japan and attracted other Buddhist monks who were looking for solitude. Today, it is still considered to be an important base for ascetic training among the Tendai monks.

The popular buildings in Rinnō-ji is the Sanbutsudō (Three Buddha Hall). It features gold-leafed statues of Amida, Senju Kannon ( Kannon with a thousand arms) and Bato Kannon (Kannon with a horse’s head). These deities are considered as Buddhist manifestations of Nikko’s three mountain kami enshrined at Futarasan Shrine.

Futarasan shrine

Futarasan shrine.

Futarasan Shrine

Futarasan jinja enshrines the Shinto kamis Ōkuninushi (Great Land Master, the originally the ruler of Izumo Province), Tagorihime (one of the three goddesses of Munakata), and Ajisukitakahikone (god of thunder). The shrine got its name from Mount Nantai, also called Futarasan. Mount Nantai (man’s body) provides water for the rice paddies in low lying areas, and it is also in the shape of phallic stone rods making it an important example in the ancient mountain cult. It was designated as the chief Shinto shrine of the former Shimotsuke province during the Heian period.  In the Meiji-Showa periods from 1871 through 1946, it was ranked as one of the nationally significant shrines of Japan.

Nikko Toshogu shrine

Nikko Toshogu shrine.

Nikkō Tōshō-gū

Tōshō-gū is any Shinto shrine that enshrines  Tokugawa Ieyasu (January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616). Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate which essentially began from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.  Ieyasu took power in 1600 and received the appointment as shōgun in 1603. He abdicated from the position in 1605 but remained in power until his death in 1616.

Nikkō Tōshō-gū  was built by Tokugawa retainer Tōdō Takatora. During the Edo period The Tokugawa shogunate held statelt processions from Edo to the Nikkō Tōshō-gū along the Nikkō Kaidō, one of the five routes at the time. The shrine celebrates annual spring and autumn festivals that reenact these occasions and are known as “processions of a thousand warriors”.