Feudal, Edo period Japan (1603 - 1867) was founded and ruled by the fearsome Tokugawa shogunate. It was an era of prosperity, cultural evolution, strict social order and isolation from the outside world. The Sakoku 'closed country' Edict of 1635 forbade citizens from leaving Japan and by 1641 all foreigners were barred from entering the country. 
The first Edo shogun was Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the three 'Great Unifiers' of Japan – Daimyo (feudal lords) who brought peace, unity and stability to the land after years of fractured chaos. It is in the spectacular Tosho-gu Shinto Shrine at Nikko where Ieyasu's remains found their final resting place alongside the already ancient Futarasan Shrine and the Buddhist Rinno-ji Temple.

Sanbutsudo (Three Buddha Hall), Rinno-ji Temple founded in 766 by Shodo Shonen, a Tendai Buddhist monk

Both Rinno-ji and Futarasan were founded in the eighth century whereas Tosho-gu was built in 1617 by Ieyasu's son and inheritor of the title of Shogun, Hidetada Tokugawa. Tohso-gu was later lavishly expanded by Ieyasu's grandson Iemitsu to better demonstrate the power and the glory of the Tokugawa shogunate. Most of the buildings at all three religious grounds actually date from the 17th century or later.
​​​​​​​The shoguns ruled Japan from Edo, present-day Tokyo, through a combination of cunning statesmanship and brutal military might. Although the Emperor was still technically the supreme ruler, true power and authority lay within the shogunate. Imperial rule was not reinstated until the events of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when Edo fell to the forces of Emperor Meiji and the Tokugawa shogunate was effectively dismantled.

Dai Goma-do (Holy Fire Temple) at the Rinno-ji Temple

The temples and shrines preserved at Nikko still function as places of worship and serve as a tantalising window into Edo-period Japan. It was a 250-year chapter in the country's history that saw a wealth of social, artistic and intellectual development occur, free from the destructive effects internal strife and European empire-building.
The Shinkyo (sacred bridge) over the Daiya-gawa river, and nearby dragon fountain, both on the approach to Nikko's shrines and temples. The bridge is considered part of the Futarasan Shrine

Ishi-dorii, a stone torii beyond which is Omote-mon, the first gateway into the Tosho-gu Shrine. Torii symbolically mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred at Shinto shrines

Deva guardian (or Nio) at the Omote-mon gate and Kamijinko (far right), a sacred storehouse at Tosho-gu Shrine. This Nio represents the concept of un-gyo, an ending or death, symbolised by his closed mouth

Entrance to the Kyozo, or Holy Scripture Hall, which contains over 7,000 Buddhist scrolls (Tosho-gu Shrine)

The five-storey pagoda Goju-no-to, Tosho-gu Shrine. The five storeys represent the five elements of Buddhist cosmology - bottom-most chi (earth), sui (water), ka (fire), fu (air) and ku (void or spirit) at the top pointing skywards
Rows of stone lanterns, or Toro, in the Dai-doro style (platform lamps). These Toro also represent the five Buddhist elements.

Steps up to Yomei-mon, the two-storey second gateway into the Tosho-gu Shrine. Also known as the Sunset or Sunlight Gate

The Koro (Drum Tower) on the west side of the Yomei-mon, entrance to the Tosho-gu Shrine

Komainu (lion-dog) sculptures adorning the gold leaf covered Yomei-mon gate. Komainu come in pairs and ward off evil. The open and closed mouths represent the beginning and ending of all things

The outer wall of an enclosed corridor known as Tozai Kairo (left) and the Koro drum tower (near right) and Shoro bell house (far right) at Tosho-gu. Drumming signals the start of festivals whilst the bell ringing signals their end

Carvings on the Tozai Kairo enclosed corridor which forms an outer wall on either side of the Yomei-mon gate

Three Wise Monkeys carving on the wall of the Shinkyusha (sacred stable) building Tosho-gu Shrine. Carved by Hidari Jingoro, their names are Mizaru (sees no evil), Kikazaru (hears no evil) and Iwazaru (speaks no evil)

Examples of bronze lanterns, or Toro, found throughout the shrines and temples of Nikko. The section that encases the lantern's flame symbolises Ka, or fire, one of the five Buddhist elements. 

Mikoshi, or portable sacred shrines, at the Shin-yosha building. Mikoshi are used to transport deities between shrines or amongst the people during religious festivals. The central Mikoshi carries the deified spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu

Suibansha – a water basin used for the ritual cleansing of your hands and mouth prior to entering the Taiyuin Reibyo, the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, grandson of Ieyasu

Looking back at the Nitenmon Gate, entrance to Taiyuin Reibyo. The mausoleum is a sub-temple of the Rinno-ji Temple

The Haiden (worship hall) at Taiyuin Reibyo. The mausoleum's buildings are all very similar in style to Tosho-gu Shrine, though they are deliberately not as grand, out of deference to Ieyasu Tokugawa

Back to Sanbutsudo Temple in Rinno-ji now with twice the monkish goodness

Nikko Visitor Centre and an interested tourist

Downtown Nikko and the train station (below) where parties are not permitted on the platform

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