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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.