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Toshogu Temple: the shrine of the 3 wise monkeys

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Toshōgu Temple

Today I want to introduce you to one of the most famous Asian sanctuaries thanks to its great knowledge, the 3 wise monkeys. We arrived in the city of Nikko in Japan to visit the Toshogu Temple.

Undoubtedly, if you want to travel to Japan, you will not be able to forget to visit this wonderful temple that will teach you great truths about life and simply contemplating it will not make you indifferent.

over 350 years

Temple of the Three Wise Monkeys

This ancient temple is over 350 years oldto be exact he has 382 years standing as it was built in the Edo period (also known as the Tokugawa period). It is interesting to know that this building was built in honor of the first shogun (soldier and leader) Ieyasu Tokugawa, precisely to commemorate his death. Who had the initiative to set up this mausoleum? Well, Iemitsu, Tokugawa’s grandson, gave a great honor to his grandfather and also he will be remembered forever, and it’s true!

It is a national treasure of Japan

The Toshogu Temple, considered a national treasure of the country, has inside a sculpture of The 3 wise or mystical monkeys They teach us much more than it seems just by looking at them.

During your visit you will be able to observe this sculpture where these three monkeys cover their eyes, ears and mouth with their hands. Surely you have seen this image many times because it has traveled the world countless times and now with social networks much more and faster.

The Three Temple Monkeys

Toshogu Temple Monkeys

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Did you know that this sculpture represents the concept of denial? Yes, it’s not very difficult to interpret, just analyze the image a bit and we can see that these 3 monkeys are implicitly telling us: Mizaru (“I don’t see”), Kikazaru (“I don’t hear”) and Iwazaru (“I don’t speak”). But what exactly do these three cute monkeys mean? They have two interpretations that will definitely make you think about how you currently live and what is the best thing to do:

  • Denying evil. These three little monkeys, according to Japanese tradition, want to tell us that we must refuse to listen, to see and to speak evil. Undoubtedly, a wise view of reality because only in this way can we find inner peace and peace with others, something essential for us to be happy with each other!
  • Do not be afraid. Another equally consistent interpretation that should not be ignored is what these three animals represent: escape from absolute fear. How? Don’t see, don’t hear, don’t say. Japanese culture is always very interesting.

Toshōgu Temple

Access to Toshogu Temple

Let’s continue talking about the Temple itself. It is important to underline that the architecture of the temple is rather particular because it mixes the Buddhist style, that of the indigenous Japanese religion Shinto and Stupa (type of architecture having to contain relics and funerary objects). We also recommend bringing a camera to capture images of the colorful buildings and garish decorations…as you’ll love being able to see them again and show them to your loved ones once you’ve left.

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Entrance to Toshogu Temple is through the main gate which is a traditional Japanese bow named Tori. In this way, the border between the profane and the sacred is marked, something very important to be able to feel the grandeur of the place just by entering it.

You don’t have to be an architect to notice that the structure is quite symmetrical and that opaque vertical rectangles have been used inside to delimit the spaces.

We also inform you that a big party takes place there: “The Great Toshogu Festival”. It is a huge procession where you can see people dressed as samurai, something that can certainly be very interesting to see. If you want to attend, you must go to the place on May 14, because it is the day of the celebration of this holiday.

Other curiosities to know

Entrance to Toshogu Temple

Toshogu Temple is also known as a Shinto shrine to the kami of leyasu (the spirit of leyasu) who died in 1616 and founded the Tokugawa shogunate, a military dynasty that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867.

15,000 artisans were needed

To create the shrine that was to be worthy of the shogun, it took 15,000 craftsmen who worked for two years with no less than 2.5 million gold leaf. The consecration of the spirit of leyasu is recreated twice a year in the procession of the Thousand Warriors.

It is characterized by its exuberant architecture

Unlike other Shinto shrines which are characterized by a more minimalist architecture to integrate them into the environment, Toshogu is a riot of colors, gold, cuts, birds, flowers, dancers and sages. which are around the building and worth photographing.

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All this exuberance is praised by many visitors, they see it as an imposing and very beautiful temple. But since the colors are for tastes, there are also other people who think it’s something vulgar and that it should be otherwise. The reality is that there is a great contrast between the exuberance of the chapel and the leyasu mausoleum, which is simple and austere.

The most famous elements of the Toshogu

One of the most famous elements of the temple is the one I mentioned above about the three wise monkeys, but that’s not all, there is also the sacred stable where an imperial white horse is kept (gift from New Zealand). Another of the famous elements is a sleeping cat and a depiction of an elephant but it doesn’t really look like an elephant.

buddhist elements

Although it is a Shinto shrine, Toshogo Temple contains several Buddhist elements such as over seven thousand scrolls of sacred texts and a formal Buddhist entrance gate as well as the presence of two Deva kings.

So remember that if you go to Japan, you cannot forget to visit this temple to see it first hand. You will surely love it!

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