Kunozan Toshogu: The Original Burial Place of Ieyasu Tokugawa
Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture is a tourist spot often visited by many visitors to Japan. For its gorgeously decorated architectures and vintage pieces of art as well as the convenient location reachable about 2 hours by train from Tokyo, the shrine is especially popular among tourists from outside Japan.
While it is commonly known that the shrine of Nikko Toshogu was constructed to enshrine Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first general of the Tokugawa shogunate, did you know that the actual remains of Ieyasu are laid at another place? The actual burial place of Ieyasu is the shrine we are introducing to you here; Kunozan Toshogu Shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is located in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture, about 200 kilometers west to Tokyo. When Ieyasu died in 1616, his son Hidetada, the second general of the Tokugawa shogunate, founded the shrine.
Mt. Kunozan is on Tokaido, one of Japan’s major highways running east to west, and used to have a castle built by Shingen Takeda, the famous warlord who was one of the formidable rivals of Ieyasu, as the defensive stronghold of the city once called “Sunpu.” That Ieyasu wanted his burial place to be located here is said to suggest his strong will that he was determined to become god after his death and continue to protect the land of Edo, the metropolis he ruled, against enemies.
Ieyasu Tokugawa, the First General of the Tokugawa Shogunate
Ieyasu Tokugawa is one of the most notable samurais in Japanese history who survived the long Sengoku (civil war) period and became the first general of the Tokugawa shogunate regime, which lasted for 265 years from 1603 and 1868. He started his path to power first from Mikawa (eastern part of the present Aichi Prefecture), placed all the warlords around the nation under his influence after the death of Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi and finally laid the foundation for the long period of peaceful reign to follow. After abdicating his position as a shogun to his son, Hidetada, Ieyasu moved to Suruga (present Shizuoka City), where he spent his childhood, and spent his last days.
Difference between Kunozan Toshogu of Nikko Toshogu
久能山東照宮 ― 日光東照宮
Yomeimon Gate of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, flickr.com
The construction of Nikko Toshogu Shrine was started around the same time as Kunozan Toshogu Shrine and in 1617, one year after Ieyasu was buried in Kunozan, his enshrined soul was separated and moved to Nikko. The separated soul at Nikko was worshipped as god as it was at Kunozan. Back then, as the unrest of the war period had not quite been quenched completely and some warlords were still exhibiting disquieting behaviors, Ieyasu established these shrines in Kunozan and Nikko, respectively as the guardian deity in the west and the north, and prayed for the peace and security of the Edo shogunate.
It had long been argued whether the body of Ieyasu was actually moved to Nikko when his soul was separately enshrined there. But it is now believed that his body was kept at Kunozan based on some evidences including the fact that the successive generals of the Tokugawa shogunate visited the shrine in Kunozan on the anniversaries of Ieyasu’s death. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is thus considered an actual place where the soul of Ieyasu rests.
Kunozan Toshogu’s Points of Interest
1. Shrine Hall
The shrine hall of Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, which was designated as a national treasure in 2010, was built in a style called “Gongen Zukuri” and the same architectural style was later applied to Nikko Toshogu. The construction of the shrine hall started right after the death of Ieyasu, and the shogunate poured all its resources and completed the construction in only a matter of one year and 7 months.
2. Omotesando Stone Steps
This long stone stairway leads from the stone shrine gate at the bottom all the way along 1,159 steps up to the summit of Mt. Kunozan. Ichinomon Gate is located halfway up the stairway and overlooks a magnificent view of Suruga Bay.
This mausoleum, where the body of Ieyasu rests, is located at the very end of the shrine site. The approach to the mausoleum is lined by stone lanterns, which were dedicated by the samurais who served Ieyasu. The space around here is filled with holy and serene atmosphere.
Access to the Shrine and the Tourist Spots in the Vicinity
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is reachable in 2 hours from Tokyo, or 2 hours and a half from Osaka, which makes it a great day trip destination. In the vicinity of the shrine is the pine woods of Miho No Matsubara, which was registered as a UNESCO world heritage in 2013, as well as the Toro remains, the notable archeological site from before the 3rd century. So the area around the shrine is a perfect place to learn about Japanese history from ancient to early modern times. The area also boasts fresh seafood from Suruga Bay, green tea, orange, sakura shrimp and other blessings of nature and allows you to enjoy a variety of delicacies.
A tour to visit Kuno Toshogun Shrine and get close to the soul of Ieyasu Tokugawa, one of the most notable samurais in Japanese history, and fully enjoy the nature and culture of the land he loved is definitely more than recommendable.
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