The Oldest Toshogu Shrine: Kunozan Toshogu
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
When the Toshogu Shrine is mentioned, the one which usually comes up to mind is the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko of Tochigi prefecture. It's a shame that not many are aware of the other one known as Kunozan Toshogu Shrine located in Shizuoka city of Shizuoka prefecture. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine was built in 1617 and is the oldest Toshogu Shrine in Japan. While the buildings of the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, the whole Mount Kuno is designated as a National Historic Site.
There are two ways to get to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine; the first is by getting on the Nihondaira Ropeway (approximately 5 minutes) from the top of Nihondaira, and the second is by taking the traditional route of climbing up 1,159 stone steps (approximately 20 minutes) from the foot of Mount Kuno. If you are not physically and mentally prepared to climb up over 1,000 stone steps, I strongly advise you to take the ropeway. If you are travelling by public transportation, you could take a public bus from JR Shizuoka station.
*JR Shizuoka station is less than an hour by shinkansen bullet train from JR Tokyo station
Once you reach Nihondaira, you could purchase the ropeway ticket at the ticket office where you will receive not just 1 piece but 2 or 3 pieces of tickets. The ticket numbered with ① and ④ is for the ropeway, the ticket numbered with ② is for the entrance to the shrine, and the ticket numbered with ③ is for the entrance to the museum. The return ropeway uses the same ticket, so make sure to not lose it! The ropeway is a short 5 minutes ride and you will get to see a beautiful scenery of sea and Suruga Bay, the mountains, the forests.
Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is a Shinto shrine and the original burial place of the first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and is thus the oldest of the Tōshō-gū shrines in the country. Before Tokugawa Ieyasu's death, he gave an instruction to have his remains buried at Kunozan. Thus, begins the construction of a shrine by master carpenter Nakai Masakiyo. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine became a model for other Toshogu shrines all over Japan, hence the similarity in the structures and designs. If you visit the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, you may notice the resemblance between the two shrines.
The main shrine building known as shaden is where Tokugawa Ieyasu was enshrined. It was built in a style referred to as Gongen-Zukuri where the inner sanctuary and worship hall are connected with an Ishi-no-ma (room with stone floor). The Ishi-no-ma style that started at Kunozan Toshogu became a new architectural standard for shrines and temples. The Ishi-no-ma is an important space connecting the worship hall (haiden) and the main sanctuary (honden).
The mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu is called Shinbyo. This stone mausoleum is said to contain the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu. A 5.5 meters tall stone tower is erected to face west, as instructed by Tokugawa Ieyasu. A year after his death, his spirit was enshrine at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, but somehow there's a belief that Tokugawa Ieyasu's remains were relocated to Nikko Toshogu Shrine, although it remains open for debate up to this day.
Another site worthy of visit is the Kunozan Toshogu Museum. Over 2,000 cultural assets related to Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors are on display. You will find many fascinating items such as battle armors, weapons, as well as personal items which were preserved and passed down for generations. The most treasured item is a western clock given by King Philip III of Spain in 1611. It was proof of international diplomacy and a message of peace that travelled across the ocean more than 400 years ago.
For a first time visit to Japan, I would suggest you to plan a visit to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine before you visit Nikko Toshogu Shrine. If otherwise, it is still worth to check out this historical shrine in Shizuoka city!
Official website: https://www.toshogu.or.jp/english/