A Very Short History of Kunozan Toshogu and Tokugawa Ieyasu
Kunozan Toshogu is one of the many shrines in Japan that are dedicated to the late famous leader Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616). Who after many military accomplishments such as the battle of Sekigahara was appointed Shogun by Emperor Go-Yozei in 1603 and after the Siege of Osaka (1614–1615) Tokugawa Ieyasu had defeated the last of his opposition and had ensured that the Tokugawa Shogunate would rule over Japan for the next 250 years.
After he passed away in 1616, Tokugawa Ieyasu's remains were buried at the Gongens Mausoleum at Kunozan Toshogu after the request to be posthumously deified after death in order to protect his descendants from evil. The location of his remains is shrouded in mystery as many people believe that after the first anniversary of his death the remains were reburied at Nikko Toshogu, however neither of the shrines have offered to open the graves.
It is because of the many accomplishments of Tokugawa Ieyasu that many people visit Kunozan Toshogu to pray for the safety of their family, academic success, health and protection against danger.
Kunozan Toshogu shrine was built in 1617 after Tokugawa Ieyasu's son Hidetada, the second shogun, ordered the construction. Kunozan houses a number of buildings such as a sanctuary, hall for sacred dances, a drum tower and the mausoleum which have all been designated as important cultural properties by the Japanese Government.
The many buildings housed inside Kunozan Toshogu are painted bright red and are decorated with gold accents such as the Haiden and Honden halls. There are also a number of detailed paintings located on the Shrine such as phoenixes and Komainu which along with other animals are found carved into the architecture. Overall the artistic and architectural design of Kunozan Toshogu is impressive and is fitting to the name national treasure.
Also, although Tokugawa Ieyasu is the main "Kami" (god) at Kunozan Toshogu, there are also two secondary "Kami" who were enshrined after the Meiji Restoration. They are the two powerful warlords, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
How to Reach Kunozan Toshogu
Photo by Masao on Flickr
There are two ways to reach Kunozan Toshogu, one of which involves climbing up the side of Mount Kunozan and the other is taking the ropeway from Nihondaira Plateau. If you don't mind the climb, the first option is ideal as it offers some impressive views of Suruga Bay and nearby ocean cities such as Mochimune and Yaizu. There are in total 1159 stone steps to the shrine, which are climbed each day by the Priests and Shrine Maidens. The second option, which is probably more preferable to people with time restrictions, is also not disappointing as it offers amazing views of the bay, and the seasonal changing colours of the mountain are breathtaking.
Photo by Zairon [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
When to Visit
Although Kunozan Toshogu is open 365 days a year, it is at its best during the seasons of spring and autumn. During the season of spring you can find numerous cherry blossoms flowering around the area and in autumn the surrounding tree leaves switch various shades of red, orange, yellow and purple which stand out against the red and gold architecture. Aside from the amazing foliage displays, there are also a number of festivals. At the beginning of the year there's the Spring Festival, which is held on the 17th and 18th of February, and on the 17th of April there is the annual festival of the shrine. Towards the end of the year, on October 17th, there is the Fall Festival, which is dedicated to Prince Ieyasu and provides visitors with a chance to view some traditional dancing.
On Mt. Kuno, there is also a museum dedicated to Kunozan Toshogu, which houses a collection of over 2,000 cultural assets relating to the late shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, including swords, armour, goggles and a Dutch mechanical clock that was presented to Tokugawa Ieyasu as a diplomatic present. For the price of ¥800, or ¥300 for children, the museum allows visitors to get a good image of what Japan was like in the past. If you take a quick ride on the ropeway back across to Nihondaira you can experience beautiful views from the observatory and viewing spots.
On a clear day in autumn and winter you can see the snow-covered top of Mt. Fuji, as well as the Izu Peninsula and Suruga Bay. If you feel up to it, there is also a 60-minute hiking trail that takes you from the top of Nihondaira to Kusanagi Station. It takes you through a forest and green tea fields, which are quite enjoyable year-round.